Stonehearst Asylum aka Eliza Graves (2014)
Warning: Today's review is a little bit of whining, a little bit of Edgar Allen Poe, and the rest is a movie that takes place in the southern provinces of France. You have been warned.
Well, yesterday really sucked. If you have a blog you know what I'm talking about. All the videos that weren't directly from YouTube disappeared and frantic people were trying to get help to find out what happened. Guess what? NOBODY got help. It just decided to start working again. I had tried to replace a couple with videos I uploaded to YouTube but the video police slammed them down and spanked me for using third party content. One they just outright deleted. Nice.
So I'm trying to figure out what to do and... things freeze. Then they stop. Then I get sad faces on every page I try to access. Yes, the freaking internet went down again. ALL DAY. With us that includes our cell phones and apparently there were MANY very unhappy people because trying to call both tech numbers resulted in a busy signal before the number even finished dialing. Crap.
I really wanted to do this movie quick mostly because of Jim Sturgess, who I first saw in the movie Across The Universe and I have an ick-crush on. Just kidding. Right now, I actually have an ick-crush on Eric Balfour. What? What's an ick-crush? It's a crush that if the person you have it on ever found out they'd look at you, grimace and say "Ick!"
So the hubby has been telling me I need to be as funny as I used to be. And that would be what on a scale from one to ten??? What is 'as funny'? Okay, maybe the movies haven't been stupid enough, so I watched one this morning, Dark Ride (2006) which, as far as teenage slasher flicks go, is as stupid as one can get. I mean REALLY dumb.
I had it figured out in the first ten minutes (and I was right). The teenagers even got slaughtered in the order I guessed. And it was dumb, dumb, dumb. Huh, somehow I still don't feel very amusing. To hell with it, on to the movie...
I usually really don't like period pieces. They're long, they're dark, and they're boring. This one? Meh, it wobbled between good and duh through most of it, with a twist ending that I thought wasn't terribly original, but since Edgar Allan Poe wrote the original story, I guess back then it was.
Then I did something smart (I know, I'm scared too!). I took a break from writing this review and thought about how could Poe write a romantic type story as this movie portrays it? I thought about it some more (okay I confess, I actually was stuffing my face with Red Vines) and I started seeing the creepy.
Trouble is, the way the direction and the production was handled (and I was VERY scared to see Mel Gibson as one of the producers), it took what was actually a very creepy situation and tried to run it through the washing machine a couple of times with bleach to see if they could make it look any better. They didn't.
The movie, directed by Brad Anderson (who did Session 9 - if you ever want to see an abandoned asylum movie done right, watch that one), is based on Poe's short story, "The System Of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether."
I laughed so hard I... nah, I just went huh, that's kind of clever. The main reason I watched it though was the strong cast - Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, Sir Ben Kingsley and a brief appearance by his son Edmund, David Thewlis and others that seemed to guarantee a sure winner.
Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope.
Oh the movie was GOOD in those boring ways people like to talk about movies. It had beautiful cinematography, a great director, and solid performances, I'll give them that. But if this is a tale right out of ole' Mr. Poe, they must have screwed around with it some. I DO read and I like Poe so I read over this short story and yeah, very little of the original story remains.
The written story contained a really cool sentence where the doctor (who is not identified at first) sees a beautiful woman but wonders if she is sane because she had "a certain restless brilliancy about her eyes which half led me to imagine she was not (sane)."
Some of the treatments sounded pretty good to me too: "We put much faith in amusements of a simple kind, such as music, dancing, gymnastic exercises generally, cards, certain classes of books, and so forth. We affected to treat each individual as if for some ordinary physical disorder, and the word ‘lunacy’ was never employed."
"A great point was to set each lunatic to guard the actions of all the others. To repose confidence in the understanding or discretion of a madman, is to gain him body and soul. In this way we were enabled to dispense with an expensive body of keepers.” “And you had no punishments of any kind?” “None.” “And you never confined your patients?” “Very rarely."
But this is not really Poe's story per se, so lets get on with the movie. We first see an Oxford demonstration of a woman who cannot stand to be touched - the Professor giving the lecture is rough when touching her, which causes her to seize but not before she tells the audience she is 'not mad'. The Professor explains that guilty people claim to be innocent, and mad people claim to be sane. His methods are rigid, rough and inhumane (in my opinion).
We then see that one of the doctors from there is sent to an out-of-the-way asylum in France (although it was filmed in Bulgaria) to train in asylum medicine. Duh.
It's nearing the turn of the century. The doctor, who identifies himself as Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) meets Dr. Silas Lamb (Sir Ben Kingsley). Dr. Lamb had no idea anyone was coming, but the mail in 1899 isn't ideal and they need the help so he takes him on. To Edward's surprise, the "system of soothing" (Poe's words) seems to be in effect and there doesn't seem to be any order to the place at all. In fact it seems to be the total opposite of what Oxford was teaching.
Dr. Newgate also discovers that the woman shown in the demonstration at Oxford is now at the same asylum - duh. He's obviously enchanted with her but can't even be a gentleman and kiss her hand without her having a fit.
His first clue that something is amiss with this situation (besides the unorthodox treatments) is that a big feast is prepared for the staff and patients alike - the main dish being squirrel meat. He is sitting across from Eliza (duh) who kicks his leg, causing him to spill his drink. When she guides him to a place to clean up, she says he has to leave - NOW.
This movie would have been mercifully short if he'd just done that, but noises from the boiler pipes leads him into the basement, where in cages he finds sick, starving people begging for release. They tell him that THEY are the staff of the hospital, were overcome by Lamb and his cronies, and now the crazies run the place. Hmm... that sounds pretty familiar too but - meh.
The one claiming to be the real superintendent of the place, Dr. Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine) begs Dr. Newgate to help them as the cold and damp have sickened many of them and they are barely given anything to eat - not to mention they're not supposed to be locked up. To prove he's not lying, he tells Dr. Newgate where he hid Lamb's file to show he's a patient, not a doctor.
He finds it. The guy is one class A nutjob. Today they would say 'Oh no, that's not politically correct, he was obviously suffering from PTSD and Bipolar disorder.' But here, I get to say he's nuttier than a fruitcake, crazier than a shithouse rat, more insane than Randy Quaid, and nastier than two starving dogs fighting over one bone. Good enough?
So Dr. Newgate's got a major problem. He's being watched 24 hours a day, yet trying to sneak food, water and medicine to the staff trapped in the basement. He's puzzled to hear that Dr. Salt believes in the rough type of treatment he learned about at Oxford - all those horrible things you see in other movies - the scalding baths, being confined to a chair and have cold water poured over your head and other goodies.
When Dr. Lamb finds that he's been discovered, he keeps his cool and to get revenge on Dr. Salt reveals his 'invention' - basically the first (I doubt it but it keeps the story going) electro-shock therapy machine. It is the only time he strays from his 'gentling' treatment and he uses it on Dr. Salt until the man no longer remembers who he is or anyone else for that matter.
Dr. Newgate's close to being found out so he's got to get out of there but he won't leave without Eliza. His obsession... well, let's address that later. He decides to try the same thing Lamb did to the real staff - spike the champagne with chloral hydrate (since this has so many names, let's just call it a knock-out drug). But he's discovered, the crazies don't drink the drug and things go, to excuse the expression, crazier.
But in one of those last-minute saves, just before Dr. Newgate is subject to the shock treatments, he shows Dr. Lamb a picture that was the primary reason he went nuts in the first place. How did he get it? There is a freaking lot of duhs in the movie 'cause when the plot gets stuck, something just pops up and they say 'Oh, THAT'S lucky!' Pffft...
It seems Dr. Lamb was in the war, and after trying to do research to find out which one, I found a whole freaking page of wars so forget it... anyway, he was a field doctor and he entered a tent full of those injured. They were all suffering, most had lost limbs, but what freaked him out most was a child (they intimated it to be a drummer boy) with both arms cut off. He lost it - he shot every person in the tent and tried to kill himself but gee whiz, he was out of bullets and apparently you're only allowed six bullets per war.
So now both Dr. Lamb and Dr. Salt sit at a table together, both permanently out of their skulls, so to speak. Dr. Newgate leaves the asylum in the care of a matron and takes Eliza out of there.
So we have to have a kicker, right? Can't just have it to be happily every after... two gentlemen show up, one to work at the asylum, the other to pick up his wife. One is the real Dr. Newgate, the other is Eliza's husband. D'oh! Oops, I mean DUH!!!!
We get a flashback of Eliza's time at Cambridge - after she was taken out of the classroom, another patient was being wheeled in. WHO WAS IT? TELL ME! C'MON, PUT DOWN YOUR CHEETOS AND YOUR BEER AND TELL ME!!!
Just kidding - it was of course the man pretending to be Dr. Newgate. His condition was one in which he actually has no identity of his own that he can remember so he kind of latches onto an identity of another person, usually a doctor.
The last scene shows him and Eliza, quite happy in a beautiful asylum in Tuscany, Italy, as Dr. and Mrs. Lamb.
Nice ending no? NO. And this is why I'm glad I had some time to think about this.
Dr. Newgate was NOT a doctor. He was a patient suffering from a serious condition. He saw Eliza and became obsessed with her, to the point of breaking out of the hospital, taking on his doctor's identity (And how come Eliza didn't know that? Dr. Newgate was HER doctor too!), he travelled a great distance to reach the hospital where she was sent. So, a doctor stalked her. You may clap at that sentence if you wish.
He then continues the charade and treats people - when he has no medical training. After he finds out that the crazies are running the asylum, for a man in need of a hospital who cannot be on his own, how is it that all of a sudden he's smart enough to outwit a whole prisoner gang and take care of the imprisoned staff?
And THEN when things come to a head, he and Eliza take off together - still with no identity of his own. That is why he takes the identity of Dr. Lamb when he again becomes a doctor at another asylum.
So two insane people are now running an asylum instead of having at least one who was a REAL doctor. How frightening is that?