From time to time you’ll run across an odd, unpolished gem among the rubble pile of half-assed, incompetent, direct-to-DVD zombie movies. Insanitarium, despite some notable issues, is one such movie. The story follows a young man named Jack Romero (see what they did there?) who gets himself committed to an insane asylum to try to rescue his sister Lilly. Once inside, he finds a mad scientist is using the patients to experiment with a nanotech compound that turns its users into raging, flesh-hungry freaks. Before long, all hell breaks loose (naturally) in the form of mobs of hungry patients running amok.
The plot is admittedly pretty run of the mill. In fact, the film is little more than a pastiche of elements from other movies. A good chunk of 28 Days Later, a little Silence of the Lambs, some One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, even a splash or two of the insane asylum scenes form Terminator 2 for good measure. Is that a crime? I don’t think it is. The elements could be integrated a little better, but the bottom line is they all work together and the end result is enjoyable.
That’s due in large part to a solid cast of veteran character actors and some solid newcomers. Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) does a nice turn as a poor man’s Hannibal Lecter. Peter Stormare (Steve Buscemi’s partner in Fargo, Karl Hungus/Nihilist No. 1 from The Big Lebowski) delivers a great, scenery-chewing performance as mad-scientist Dr. Gianetti. Jesse Metcalfe does a competent job as Jack, the lead, and Olivia Munn (G4’s Attack of the Show) is surprisingly good as a sympathetic staff member.
First time writer/director Jeff Buhler (who also wrote Midnight Meat Train) delivers a solid, well-paced and entertaining B-movie. The story, as mentioned, is nothing special but the script is solid. There are parts that feel rushed and some of the developments are abrupt, but it’s not like there was a lot for the audience to puzzle out. Why slow down for an unnecessary explanation? In finest B-movie tradition there is a tremendous amount of gore, all of which looks great. There’s also a gratuitous rape (or faux rape? it isn’t really clear) and some gratuitous nudity, which is an underutilized resource in modern genre film.
Now, about those zombies. From a purist standpoint, they aren’t zombies. They are clearly still alive. Some of them are even relatively intelligent. But they do eat people, infect people and run around in shrieking zombielike hordes. In other words, they’re close enough for government work. They are clearly inspired by the Rage zombies of 28 Days Later, but if you don’t consider those zombies — and I know a lot of you don’t — you certainly aren’t going to consider these zombies. I’d put them on a parallel, quasi-zombie track, but if there was a single line of dialog inserted exclaiming, “They’re dead! But still somehow alive,” without any other changes, no one would question their zombieness. Either way, they look essentially normal apart from white-irised eyes (a cool look) and a tendency to run around covered in blood and gore due to their predilection toward eating people.
Taken for what it is, Insanitarium is quite good. Blood, guts and mayhem, with a side order of boobies, are all delivered in a solid, if somewhat unoriginal package. It looks good, it moves at a solid clip and, despite being kind of dumb on a fundamental level, it never insults your intelligence. That easily puts it in the top tier of films of this kind.