Ah, the anthology! Sadly, it’s missing from all of the networks these days, especially as it was designed in its classic format. Great guest stars. Separate stories to air each week. Impressive direction and top-notch storytelling. All of that and much, much more. In fact, is it any wonder that the ultimate anthology program for the ages – Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE – still to this day ranks as one of the best-produced television programs ever? No doubt you’d be amazed as I have been in going back recently to watch some of those hours and half-hours. Don’t trouble yourself with the various re-imaginings and reboots that have taken place throughout the years; go back and watch the original. If you do, then you’ll maybe see what a little gem like SANITARIUM is a missed opportunity. I suspect (as I’ll detail below) that the driving force behind it was a similar venue – this one focusing on the mentally ill – and that could’ve been a wild ride, indeed.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
SANITARIUM is an anthology picture that combines three stories, all set against the backdrop of a rather creepy sanitarium. The first story involves a famous artist (played by John Glover) who’s struggling with a kind of agoraphobia-like condition; yet when he starts hearing voices coming from his art sculptures he’s tempted to do some very wicked things. The second story explores what happens when a little boy struggling under an oppressive father suddenly learns he can imagine a monstrosity which – as fate would have it – might just be the answer to all of his prayers. The final story (and the most interesting) tells the tale of a disillusioned college professor and his fall from grace – he believed all of those Mayan prophecies regarding the end of the world, and that put him on a path to consider some unspeakably evil deeds!
Unless I miss my guess (and, yes, I’ve been wrong before, many times!), I suspect that SANITARIUM came to life by way of a proposed anthology program that failed to achieve a pick-up request from some pay-cable network. After all, there’s enough star clout in here – McDowell’s still writing checks on an impressive career, and John Glover certainly isn’t small potatoes – and I’d imagine some producer and/or company came up with the idea of tying these separate stories of magic, mystery, and madness together under the central rubric of “exploring insanity.” And, to be fair, that’s a fascinating idea in and of itself – who wouldn’t be drawn to various character-driven examinations of the various mental illnesses available to sufferers around the world? Casting McDowell as the chief psychiatrist and thus giving him a venue with which to serve (as he does) as a participant as well as the program’s narrator was a stroke of genius. While it’s unfortunate it achieved no pick-up (if that’s the case), I feel lucky to have seen these three episodes; if Lou Diamond Phillips’ story is an indication, then there could’ve been some great things to come, indeed.
Glover’s work is impressive. The middle is, largely, forgettable, as it all involves a twist ending that’s entirely predictable. But Phillips gives a terrifically nuanced performance of a man losing his mind and the price that heavy burden brought to all of those around him. (Or did it? Stay tuned for a sequence after the initial credits that might cause you to think again!)
As I’ve suggested, it’s all very TWILIGHT ZONE, and who never liked that?
SANATARIUM (2013) was produced by Remy Carter, Kerry Valderrama, Kevin Stanford, and Alok Khera. DVD distribution is being handled through RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, this is a smartly produced series of short films, and no expense was spared in providing these flicks with the highest caliber sight and sound, along with some impressive cinematography. Sadly – as is often the case with these smaller releases – there are no special features to speak of; not that it would’ve greatly enhanced the experience, it would’ve been nice to have a little ‘something’ by way of interviews or even a behind-the-scenes featurette that could’ve explored where and when this ‘anthology’ came about.
RECOMMENDED. As anthologies go, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. The first installment – featuring an artist who takes commands from his art – has been done before (twice that I can think of in similar anthology format) – but benefits from a solid lead performance from the always reliable John Glover. The second – a young boy who imagines himself a monster in order to defeat a real-life one – feels like a rejected TWILIGHT ZONE script that could’ve benefitted from another draft. The last – a scientist finds himself mentally thwarted (and betrayed) by his die-hard beliefs involving the Mayan calendar – is the most fulfilling, and, with some effort, could easily have been a stand-alone motion picture. If you average out the scores, then you’re in line for a perfectly acceptable evening of entertainment.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of SANITARIUM by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.