Dr. Potter arrives to assist the benevolent Dr. Bain at a small asylum for the criminally insane. The worst of the patients, however, don’t trust the new doctor and when the lights go out in the town, they’ll let him know just how much.
Largely overlooked when it was released, this film has become a cult film due in large part to its all-star cast. Donald Pleasence is the kindly Dr. Bain and, as only Pleasence can, takes the role of a peace-and-love doctor who sees only the good in people and makes him a little creepy. Jack Palance is terrifying as always as a paranoid schizophrenic who is convinced that the new doctor wants to kill them all. Martin Landau stands out as a deranged pyromaniac who wants the world and everyone in it to burn in the fires of his own Hell.
That focus sells the film itself short, though. The rest of the cast (notably Dwight Schultz and Erland van Lidth) all shine as well. The pacing is solid and the film, despite any gore or even much blood, delivers scares anyway. This isn’t a film that will terrify you, but it will creep you out with its sense of looming dread. There aren’t a lot of “moneyshots” here, but you’ll feel the mounting tension before each one, waiting for it to pop. This is an intelligent scary movie which rewards you for watching it, rather than leading you by the nose from one corpse to the next.
This is one of the great original “slashers”, albeit with a small bodycount and very little blood. This film, instead, uses actual tension and pacing to keep you scared and afraid to be alone in the dark.