Horror Hospital (1973)

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth!”

If, as a film buff, one ventures into “Castle Horror” there is a small room atop one of the high towers in the West Wing with a door painted in a patchwork of lurid, hallucinogenic, colours (sic). There is a sign on the door that reads, Warning: Things are about to get very British.

This room is filled with piles of flared trousers, Afghan coats, beads, high heeled shoes for blokes, bright red blood that looks like cheap paint (because it is), and half-smoked joints. It is home to blokes with huge gypsy creams (sideburns to you), unruly beards, and yellow teeth standing at the bar drinking warm beer or scotch without ice. Fit naked birds smoking hand rolled cigarettes walk about being both fit and naked. The place smells of gasoline, incense and sex. There are long knives, axes, and power tools laying around so watch where you sit down. Welcome to “Retro British Horror Madness”.

It is in this room that you will find all the pieces of the Horror Hospital jigsaw. To call Horror Hospital “Retro British Horror Madness” is the very least one can do. The scripted insanity on display in Horror Hospital is glorious.

The first time I watched Horror Hospital it was quite disconcerting because it was all so bloody Seventies, so bloody awful, so bloody funny, and so bloody INSANE that I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. Every scene was more wacky than the last and it starts off by being utterly nuts…

A Rolls Royce is parked in a forest. In the back of the Rolls, dressed in black, is brooding, stone-faced, Doctor Christian Storm, played by Brit Horror Royalty Michael Gough. Beside him sits a dwarf called Frederick played by Skip Wilson (Vampire Circus, Corridors of Blood, Masque of the Red Death). Be prepared, Skip steals every scene he is in. Two young, hip, groovy teens appear in the distance, running, running, running through the forest, all covered in blood. Doctor Storm nods to the driver. The Rolls glides forward.

“Make a clean job of it, Frederick,” warns Doctor Storm, “The car was washed this morning.”

Frederick pulls a lever and a huge blade swings out from the side of the Rolls. The two young, hip, groovy teens keep running, running, running, and then CHOP! both their heads fall into a basket, also hanging from the side of the Rolls. And we’re off (just like the heads)!

Despite what you may be thinking this is not a crap horror movie that is now unintentionally funny decades later. Oh no, no, no! This was a brilliant horror comedy that was meant to be as laugh out loud outrageous as it was and still is today. Here’s a plot paragraph (ooh crikey, that’s a big one!) …

Songwriter Jason (played by Brit 70’s sex comedy icon Robin Askwith) is fed up with being fed up so he takes a chance on visiting “Hairy Holidays”, a travel agency that specializes in out of the ordinary holidays (vacations to you). Here we get a cameo from the great and wonderful Dennis Price (Vampyros Lesbos). Jason takes a chance on visiting a health farm called Brittlehurst Manor. On the train journey there, it’s way out in the country you see, he meets Judy (a fit bird soon to be naked) who just happens to be going to the same place to find her long, lost aunt. When they get to the Manor they are met by Frederick (‘ere, wasn’t he the dwarf who cut off the heads?), Judy’s long lost Aunt, the mysterious Doctor Storm, and a bunch of silent, grey faced teens with fresh scars on their foreheads, who appear to do anything the good (bad) doctor tells them. What on earth is going on?

Considering the first scene that we went over just now, to suggest that the movie slowly spirals into madness would be a tad unhinged in itself. The movie is a swirling whirlpool of madness that we are fortunate enough to get dropped into and carried away with.

I recently revisited Horror Hospital (hence the reivew) and I’d forgotten just how much fun it is. Given all the bloody awful supposed to be serious utter crap horror we have to wade through every year, Horror Hospital is a joy to watch and re-watch.

Some may question whether Horror Hospital was meant to be funny but having Robin Askwith as the lead is a big clue that this was never intended to be serious. The star of Queen Kong, Carry On Girls, and all of the “Confessions” movies, this was Robin’s first starring role and, in retrospect, it can be seen as the blueprint for the roles that made him famous.

Robin Askwith is a Brit icon for me as his first movie was Lindsay Anderson’s If … and he also had parts in The Flesh and Blood Show, No Sex Please, We’re British, and Britannia Hospital (Lindsay Anderson again).

If you want more solid proof that it was meant to be funny, a quick listen to the commentary track on the DVD / blu-ray with producer Richard Gordon proves very enlightening. Gordon is clear to explain that the script was written as a comedy vehicle for Robin within the horror realm. Additionally, the crew behind the camera were some of the best in the business (who worked on 2001 A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, James Bond, you name it).

Upon its release the movie was hailed by ‘real’ film critics of the day (The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer et al) for it’s blending of the macabre and high camp. They’re not wrong. Coming a full two years before a certain Rocky Horror Picture Show hit the screens, Horror Hospital did fun, fresh, and freak-out mental in the British style first. It even starts with a song by a hairy Seventies rock band followed by a punch-up! What’s not to like?

Ultimately Horror Hospital requires a high PCT. It is also a movie worthy of creating a new category, that of Laughtastic, because it’s so bloody funny. Despite the earlier warning that ‘Things are about to get very British’ there is nothing too obscure or too “British” about Horror Hospital. Its madness can be enjoyed by any and all.

Horror Hospital delivers more laughs than The Wicker Man and more gore than The Railway Children.

Two word review: Retro gold.

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