So. We've got five attractive young women locked up in a mental institute in the mid-1960's. We've got a harsh Nurse Ratchet character in full-on severe white outfit complete with stockings who administers tranquilizers to the overly upset by means of a hypodermic more suitable to calming a plunging horse. Don't forget the brutish ward guard! Always essential that character. And, another requirement, we've got a treating physician who is committed to "experimental therapy". Our lead character, the beautiful, blond and troubled Kristen will be strapped to a gurney and administered electroshock from a machine that would be more at home in the back of a welder's truck. Trays of shiny wicked surgical instruments will be displayed for the viewer more than once. Leather and steel restraints? Check. Straitjackets? Check. We've even got a group shower scene. We have, in other words, all the fixins for a classic exploitation flick. There's just one serious problem: this isn't an exploitation flick.
The 'R' rating this movie received must have been for the violent, one-by-one deaths of the unfortunate patients, because it sure wasn't for nudity. Yah, there is that group shower scene, but that was mandated by federal law requiring shower scenes in movies featuring imprisoned young ladies. At least it felt that way. The scene doesn't especially advance the plot, and the showering isn't particularly erotic unless maybe you have a bare shoulder and wet hair fetish. No. Despite the ostensible premise and the overt trappings, this movie is trying very hard to be a supernatural horror thriller with a sharp twist at the end. Does it succeed?
Well, if you're trying to be a horror thriller, then there must be horror and there must be thrills, preferably combined. There is a bit of horror: the imprisoned disturbed young women must meet their gruesome dooms after all. How about a lobotomy by steel probe through the eye socket? Or perhaps you prefer electro-therapy with the amps set way above 'healthy'? So we've got some horror. It's the thrills that are mostly missing.
Now with that suspiciously sinister physician and his penchant for experimentation, you'd think that he's just gotta be responsible when the girls on the ward begin to go missing. Why won't the nurse and doctor just tell Kristen what happened to the missing girls?! But that theory gets disposed of pretty quickly. Instead, the plot takes a too conventional turn when it is revealed rather early that the source of evil is none other than 'Alice', a former inmate of the ward. Alice is dead-with-a-grudge, so now she's haunting the ward as a repulsively decaying walking corpse picking off her former ward chums.
Why is it so difficult to make a straight-up supernatural horror movie? I think part of the problem is context. Movies like "Saw" and "Hostel" set a high bar for torture gross-out. If you choose not to out-do your competition on the gore aspect (and really, who needs to?), then you simply must capture your audience with a fresh story. Making up an engaging new tale is admittedly hard. Jaded audiences will bite down on the bait like a hungry bass if you can give them a new ironic turn to consider in an otherwise by-the-numbers horror flick. But this film just doesn't deliver anything new. With the murders being carried out by a rotting corpse/ghost, the eerie doctor, Nurse Ratchet, and the ward guard become reduced to little more than foils for the plucky Kristen to overcome as she undertakes increasingly desperate escape attempts.
I did mention there was a sharp twist at the end, right? That concluding turn is rather sudden and will explain much of what might have mystified you throughout the movie. But the solution is far too pat and will leave you feeling cheated. Trust me, you've seen it all before. And that's just the problem.