I’ve been trekking for months through the jungles of Todd Sheets’ filmography in search of SOV treasure, beating back zombies, paddling rivers of blood, subsisting only on cheese and the mulleted guides who die along the way. My expedition has had highs and lows. From a technical standpoint, none of Sheets’ early efforts are “good”, but some are tremendously fun, whereas others, like this one, are not. Nightmare Asylum is borderline unwatchable for multiple reasons. Join me as I take a look.
A frightened, raven-haired woman (Lori Hassle) runs up a stairwell, past an obvious exit. She comes to a pair of doors. The first door is locked. The second one opens. Nightmare Asylum!
The camera spins as she wanders into an elevator, giving us a glimpse of how disorienting this experience will be. She blindly gropes at the walls. It’s light enough to see there is nothing on them. She feels her way down some foggy hallways. A hooded figure pursues her. Despite walking slowly, it sneaks up behind her. Nightmare Asylum!
The woman trips up more stairs. The hooded figure, a pasty, mustachioed fellow, grabs her feet. She kicks free and comes to what looks like another dead end. A quick scan reveals a tunnel concealed by a curtain. She crawls through.
Writing and casting is credited to Roger Williams, a fictional character from Dominion. Editing was done by “The Chopper”. I thought it said “The Chooper”. Barf Bags were supplied by Mrs. Buttersworth. For who? The crew? What does that mean? They puked on pancakes shooting their own movie?
Cut to: a man stuck in a giant novelty mousetrap, gnawing on a severed head. He says something we can’t hear. The location audio is so low it’s practically muted. He motions to the woman for help. She tries lifting the bar off him until a second baddie in black wielding a chainsaw interrupts.
The camera lingers on a sign reading “Gallery of Wax”. I was wondering where we are. My guess was a funhouse. In any event, it’s not an asylum. An over-caffeinated Matthew Lewis wearing a lab coat grabs the woman from around a corner. He places a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. “You were almost dead meat there for sure.”
She pushes him away.
“Wait a minute! Who are you?!” Lewis screams. “Huh? Huh?! Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?” Yes, he asks nine times.
“WeLl, I aM sPiDeR!” Lewis, henceforth referred to as Spider, quavers. If you strain, you can make out most of their conversation.
Lisa doesn’t know where she is or how she got here. I love movies about strangers waking up someplace unfamiliar and working together/completing challenges to escape. The Cube series, Saw II, DeathTube, Predators… they do it right. Nightmare Asylum‘s execution is not great. I mean that in more ways than one; its kills are super fake looking, too.
“You’re in Never-never-land.” Spider informs Lisa. The address of the farmhouse in Goblin is 1375 Northeast Neverland Lane. The concert venue in Dominion is the Neverland Arena. Sheets must have been a big Michael Jackson fan. There is a quick shot of a hideous wax sculpture of Pinhead. I hope it’s not meant to be “real”. “W-w-why were you r-r-running like [that]?” Spider stammers.
Lisa recounts being chased by a bad guy in black. It was two, actually. Two bad guys in black. We later learn they are zombies. Or demons.
Spider insists that she meet his “family” and pulls her down a hallway, past another exit. They disappear into fog, then crawl through a pipe to a room with three men — a mentally checked out snake charmer, an excitable creep named Jimiah who I think is supposed to be inbred, and Pops, their leader. Lisa explains again how she was chased.
Jimiah shouts “Damien Voorhees!” in reference to the zombie-demon with the chainsaw. He’s holding a severed foot he hasn’t found yet.
Spider takes off his lab coat. The quiet dialogue is drowned out by hissing. Next, it’s music. I only know what they say because I re-watched the talky parts with headphones on, which seemed to level the audio. It might as well be silent without them.
Pops reminds Spider that he was tasked with bringing food back. Spider sends Jimiah out in his place. His search is accompanied by the reverberating sounds from the scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where Pam falls into the bone room. There are three or four pieces of music that play nonstop for the rest of the movie — the TCM sounds, an original synth theme or two, and “Mars, the Bringer of War”. There is no rhyme or reason as to which scenes get which piece(s) of music. Jimiah returns with the severed foot he already had. Pops compares it to “Select Pizza” (must be a regional thing). In a moment, him knowing what that is won’t make any sense. Edit: Duh, it was probably Celeste.
Spider is curious to know where Lisa came from. I’m curious to know what stops the zombie-demons from entering this room. Outside, Lisa answers. Spider has no concept of outside. He asks Pops to explain.
He doesn’t know either. “Outside this tube?”
“No, no, outside.” Lisa responds. “Beautiful blue skies. Birds singing. Outside.”
Pops laughs her off like she’s crazy.
Spider quotes the female Cenobite. “We have always been here.” If he’s been here his whole life with at least two killers running around, did he really have to ask Lisa why she was running?
Elsewhere, Jenny Admire and Mike Hellman huddle together. Admire is in Mexican sugar skull makeup. Hellman has something on his face too. Admire has the mentality of a child. She never speaks or lets go of her doll. A cheap Halloween decoration pops out of a casket. The two crawl through Spider’s tube. They’re apparently part of his “family”. Pops instructs them to find something for dinner.
Spider is talking to Lisa again with his lab coat back on. This looks like more of their convo from earlier. Lisa tells him it’s great outside because you’re in control of your life. I mean, duh. Spider gives her a necklace. She hugs him. He recoils in horror. “What did you do to me?!” Ok, this is stupid. I get it. He’s had minimal human contact.
Jimiah runs by. Damien Voorhees punches him over some railing. He lands in a graveyard. Hands reach up, pulling him under. The camera pans over three styrofoam headstones for John Carpenter, Stephen King, and Wes Craven. That’s right, they’re zombies.
Jimiah awakens tied to a hospital bed. In walks a nameless mad doctor wearing a butcher’s apron (director Todd Sheets under the pseudonym “Edgar Lovecraft” playing every member of the Sawyer family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 simultaneously). The credits list him as “Doctor”. He looks like Dave Mustaine dressed as Leatherface, talks like Chop-Top mixed with The Cook, and loves quoting TCM2. He swings a machete down into Jimiah’s right titty. The shot of it swinging is from the machete’s point of view. Sheets does this a lot with different objects. Doctor cackles maniacally while mutilating his victim. He claims the South shall rise again, a Two Thousand Maniacs! reference. Using a hacksaw, he cuts the body in half at the waist.
Lisa’s memory of outside is fading. Spider leads her to a bed and has her lie down. She falls asleep. That’s an awful idea. Spider runs away looking distraught. All that talk about freedom filled him with hope. Lisa forgetting destroyed those hopes. A baddie in a black robe and cheap Halloween mask attacks him. It chokes him with an arm protruding from its head while punching him in the ribs with its other two arms. They tussle to the floor. Spider knocks it unconscious with a baseball bat. This is the first of several unconvincing fight scenes. Spider gets up and sees another masked baddie, Michael Myers, and stitched-up zombie Jimiah shambling toward him.
Doctor suddenly has Lisa bound and gagged to a chair. His son Sonny (Jerry Angell, who I’m pretty sure is older than Sheets) apologizes for snapping an arm off a skeleton. Doctor scolds him for ruining his toys. Their exchange has “Look what your brother did to the door!” vibes. Damien Voorhees appears. They nail Lisa’s hands to her chair, then turn their attention to grey-haired Veronica Orr, who they also have restrained. They put nails in her mouth and tape it shut. Somehow, this kills her. Next on their hit list is Charles Monroe. They attempt to extract information from him. When he doesn’t comply, they get mildly racist. Doctor drops a “you people” and accuses him of conspiring to take away his… something. Sonny calls him a honky (?!) while cutting out his tongue with scissors. Monroe dies. These victims are weak as the dickens. Escape artist Lisa magically removes the nails from her hands and unties herself without anyone noticing. Meanwhile, Spider fights Jimiah.
Lisa wanders into a morgue. Doctor pops out of a metal cabinet or fridge. He refrains from killing her because she remembers outside. How does he know that? He wants her to bring him more victims so he can practice procedures on them, specifically, some kind of ear implant. Lisa refuses, prompting psychological torment. Doctor calls her a bitch hog (another Chop-Top-ism), swings his machete around, and mocks her screams. After four minutes of this, he stuffs her into the fridge. She should have agreed and just not returned.
Lisa warps to a hallway, where Hellman and Admire find her. Hellman asks if she knows Spider. Lisa’s wounds only now start to bleed. There’s a shot of a Regan MacNeil dummy.
Sonny is inside a chair. The seat is gone. He’s sitting with his ass on the ground and his knees to his chest. Doctor yells at him for playing with mannequin heads and listening to cassette tapes instead of luring more victims to their wax museum. One minute, he claims he needs corpses to feed his pet monsters. The next, he’s chastising Sonny for not putting them out with the garbage.
Doctor’s voice is supremely annoying — if you can hear it, that is. He and Sonny talk for a week. Much of their ad-libbed dialogue is repetitive nonsense peppered with TCM2 quotes. They drop classics such as “lick my plate”, “music is my life”, and the deep cut “oh, my aching banana”. Doctor keeps doing this weird dance where he jabs his machete at the ground like a pogo stick. I swear he yells “Oh Lord!” and “What are you doin’, boy?!” fifty times each.
Afterward, the survivors just run around bumping into each other for a while. Lisa meets back up with Spider. At forty-four minutes, she finally thinks to ask “What’s with all these exit signs?”
“Th-th-they don’t m-mean anything.” Spider stammers. No, th-th-they’ll take you to the demons.”
You can’t see or hear me, but I’m sighing and rubbing my forehead. At least Sheets addressed it. Sonny pops out of a door and nabs Lisa, whereas Admire is pulled through the ground by those dead masters of horror. Spider eventually fights Sheets. A random victim’s innards (ramen noodles and liver) are squished around by a zombie. Doctor stops fighting Spider long enough to sprout devil horns and command Sonny to throw Lisa into “the zombie pit” (a room, not a pit).
Admire erupts from a pile of rubble. She floats toward the ceiling. Her face mutates into a gooey mess of bladder effects, resulting in the growth of spikes. What’s happening? Why is she evil? Will Lisa finally escape, regaining her memory? Will Spider ever taste freedom? Who gets a broomstick rammed up their ass? Tune in and find out.
Nightmare Asylum was Todd Sheets’ second full-length feature. It was shot in December, 1989/early 1990 at The Devil’s Dark Side haunted house in Kansas City, Missouri. The attraction appears to have shut down around the millennium. Its website was last captured by the Wayback Machine April 27th, 1999. Its owner, Myron Cramer, passed away recently.
I’ll try not to be overly critical here. This was the longest hour I’ve spent with a movie in quite some time — hour-and-a-half to two hours, actually, as I went back and figured out what they were saying. Nightmare Asylum is a true endurance test. It suffers from a lot of the same problems as Sheets’ debut, Zombie Rampage, which had a lengthy, troubled production. It’s sloppy, jumpy, makes little sense, feels improvised, and, as mentioned above, has inaudible dialogue. The scenes don’t flow well at all. I’d be surprised if there was a script. Do yourself a favor and skip ahead a few years to Sheets’ better stuff.
The movie was put out in ’92 by David DeCoteau’s Cinema Home Video label, based out of Hollywood. The cover art is a weird, posterized sketch of a corpse. The back has no screenshots. The blurb is ludicrously hyperbolic, calling it “one of the craziest, wildest, most shocking films of the last decade”, also claiming it features “some of the best special effects you’re likely to witness this lifetime”. They may consider that “marketing”, but lying is its name. Blatant false advertising. The only thing the ugly release does right is mention The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, indirectly acknowledging the similarities.
Nightmare Asylum later appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, as well as the 6-pack “Morbid Mutilations”. Letterboxd user Warren says the Cinema Home Video VHS starts with a message stating the movie is intended to simulate a nightmare and is a re-edit (how can a first release be a re-edit?). Assuming he’s right, is that the truth, or just something Sheets came up with to cover his ass when he realized how disjointed his movie is? The cropped, faux-widescreen version uploaded to YouTube by Brain Damage Films does not have this message.
A trailer contains additional footage of police tape, Jimiah getting slashed in the head, Doctor scooping his brains out, and Jimiah’s eviscerated corpse. Why are there multiple versions of all of Sheets’ movies?
Funnily, the patient in Brain Damage Films’ thumbnail is also on the DVD cover of Blood Shack AKA The Chooper, a favorite of mine. Note his makeup and nails. These stock photos were probably shot the same day!