There is something refreshing about a film that opens with a mad-scientist, Dr. Storm (Michael Gough), chasing down a couple of escapees from his experiments and then beheading them with a blade built into his limousine (including a pop-out head catching basket). You know exactly what you’re getting in a film when it opens that way. That’s Horror Hospital.
After the spot-on horror opening, we cut to Jason (Robin Askwith) a pop songwriter working with a band in London. Only he and the band aren’t getting along, ending with him getting punched in the face and kicked out. Jason decides he needs to take a break and happens to find an ad for “Hairy Holidays” a rather dodgy sounding travel agent, but their pricing fits his budget. He goes to see them and meets Pollack (Dennis Price), the sleazy owner who books Jason into a spa retreat at the pseudo-health farm Brittlehurst Manor.
While on the train ride out Jason meets Judy (Vanessa Shaw). Judy is heading to the same destination, not for a spa treatment, but to meet her Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock) who owns the place. Judy’s never met this aunt but wants to try and get to know her so she wrote Harris and said she was coming.
Jason and Judy hit it off during the trip and she invites him to ride to the manor house with her because she asked Aunt Harris to have a car sent for them. They wait for an hour at the station, but no car comes so they decide to walk. On the way they are met by a couple of guys on motorbikes who work for Dr. Storm. Storm runs the health spa and apparently is partners with Judy’s Aunt Harris.
Judy finds she isn’t particularly welcome at the spa. In fact, Aunt Harris wrote back telling her not to come. However, Fredrick (Skip Martin) Dr. Storm’s dwarf assistant, didn’t post the letter. Since they weren’t ready for Judy to come, there is only one room available so Judy and Jason are forced to share. They don’t seem to mind and, in true free-wheeling 70s fashion, the pair are making the sign of the two-backed whale before dinner is served.
At dinner, they meet the other residents of the home. They’re all 20 somethings like Jason and Judy, but their skin is pale, their eyes are dull and lifeless, and they all have a prominent scar running from hairline to eyebrow on the right side of their heads.
It isn’t long before Jason and Judy learn the truth; Dr. Storm has been conducting experiments on humans. He wants to create beings he can control. Through lobotomy and the implanting of some control circuits in the brain, he can make his subjects become mindless zombies that do his every wish. Now Jason and Judy have to escape the clutches of the mad Dr. Storm who’s determined to make them his next victims.
Horror Hospital is a low-budget British horror/comedy from writer/director Anthony Balch. Balch came up with the title first and wrote a film to match it while at the Cannes film festival. The movie is clever and very aware of what it is, with lots of little humorous asides, particularly from Skip Martin’s character Fredrick, the diminutive ‘Igor’ to Storm’s mad scientist. Gough, who would go on to play Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman films, is excellent as Dr. Storm, the amoral scientist bent on completing his experiments and killing anyone who gets in his way.
The film’s tongue-in-cheek nature makes it easy to watch. It’s particularly fun to watch Robin Askwith’s Jason play the quasi-hero of the film. He’s not a great hero, even stopping to munch on a piece of pie as they are trying to escape from Storm and his henchmen. However, there’s something endearing about Jason that makes him fun to watch, especially as he has one clumsy fight after another with Storm’s henchmen, making one wonder if Judy is going to have to come save him.
If you’re looking for a deep, intellectually stimulating horror film that poses real questions about morality and the truth of the human condition… Horror Hospital is not it. If you’re looking for a funny little grindhouse movie with goofy characters, a good dose of overly red 70s FX blood and a touch of nudity to keep it interesting, check out Horror Hospital. Just remember to watch out for Dr. Storm’s limo. They paid extra at the dealer for that head-chopping option so they’re going to use it.