I love early ‘70’s British horror flicks. While their U.S. counterparts were dabbling in darker subject matter and employing grungier visual styles, the British films were still very much rooted in traditional horror. Sure, the films featured psychedelic colors, swingin’ music, and era-appropriate slang, but take away the window dressing and you still had conventional themes, with stories revolving around vampires, mad scientists, haunted houses, or witchcraft. I’m fascinated by the way the filmmakers of the period merged the gothic stylings of classic horror with the swinging sensibilities of the post-Mod culture, oftentimes with hilariously camp results. A perfect example of this somewhat awkward amalgamation is the 1973 cult fave, Horror Hospital (aka – The Computer Killers).
Jason (Robin Askwith) is a London-based songwriter who, after a falling out with his “band”, opts to take a trip to get his head together. After a brief visit to a highly flirtatious travel agent, Jason settles on one of the trips offered in the “Hairy Holidays” pamphlet - a vacation in the country at a retreat run by Dr. Christian Storm (Michael Gough). On the train ride there, Jason meets the lovely Judy (Vanessa Shaw), whose Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock) just so happens to co-own the estate to which Jason is headed.
The two hit it off quite nicely and, upon arriving at the “resort”, smoke copious amounts of marijuana, get naked, and almost have sex before they are summoned to dinner. Downstairs the couple are introduced to their fellow “guests” - a gaggle of green skinned hippies with massive frontal lobotomy scars. Of course, neither seem remotely fazed by this, and only react when one of the hippies lashes out hysterically. Jason and Judy return to their room and make love (this, despite being accosted by a salacious dwarf toting a bag of decapitated heads and a bathroom sink that spews blood).
Later that night, Jason decides to go off to investigate the manse, but, when he returns, Judy is gone! The next morning, Storm comes to Jason’s room and offers to take him on a tour of his laboratory, where he is amassing a small army (well, more like a baker’s dozen) of computer controlled, super-strong hippy zombies! Storm shows off his creations by having them lift weights and do synchronized gymnastics routines before informing Jason that he, too, will soon be joining their ranks!
Horror Hospital is a silly and hugely entertaining bit of horror camp, replete with midget henchmen, mutated monsters, bodacious babes, and gallons of red/orange gore. It’s a mishmash of 50’s b-movie mad scientist hokum and swinging ‘70’s sex farce, with groan-inducing dialogue and an absolutely ludicrous premise, but that’s what makes it so much fun. Gough (who is perhaps best known to American audiences as “Alfred” from the pre-Christopher Nolan Batman films) hams it up as Storm, while Mick Jagger/Brian Jones clone, Askwith, is the embodiment of ‘70’s swagger and attitude. Vanessa Shaw, meanwhile, is as easy on the eyes as ever, and finally seeing this one in its uncensored form (I never got around to picking up Elite’s long out-of-print DVD) is the fact that we get to see that much more of her!
While it’s impossible to take the film seriously, one can’t deny that Horror Hospital is one fine looking movie. Shot in gorgeous Eastmancolor in the equally attractive Hertfordshire countryside, the film looks absolutely stunning on DVD thanks to Dark Sky’s meticulous restoration. Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (which, unlike Elite’s release, is enhanced for 16x9 televisions), the image is crisp, vibrant, and remarkably clean. There’s the occasional sign of print damage and some excess grain in darker scenes, but, otherwise, this transfer looks as good as many new releases! There’s an almost tangible sense of depth to the image, with lush, velvety blacks pushing the eye-popping color to the forefront. The audio quality isn’t quite up to the level of the transfer, but it’s more than serviceable, with a robust mix that works all corners of the room, and crystal clear dialogue. I did find the music swells occasionally bordered on distorted, but that’s nit-picking.
Dark Sky Films manages to drum up a couple of extras for this release, including a feature-length commentary by producer Richard Gordon and moderator, Tom Weaver, as well as a collection of stills, posters, and lobby cards.
Fans of early seventies horror flicks, especially those of the Euro-sleaze variety, will absolutely adore Horror Hospital as it’s as absurdly entertaining and outrageous as they come, but with the added bonus of being extremely well-crafted and gorgeously filmed. Dark Sky Films have done a commendable job of restoring this lost gem to all of its vibrant, Eastmancolor glory, making this an easy recommendation for my fellow connoisseurs of cinematic curiosities.