The movie industry is a fickle beast, and even the best box office analyst can't always predict if a major blockbuster is going to rocket to the top of the charts, or die a miserable, embarrassing floppy death at the bottom. Luckily, for one studio that's not a problem as their movies always make bank. Also, incidentally, their movies are also always pretty terrible.
The Asylum is a low-budget straight to home release movie studio that specializes in a certain type of controversial visual experience. Their business model involves creating extremely low-budget (usually under a million dollar) 'rip-offs' of upcoming blockbusters (known as 'mockbusters') in an extremely short time. Of course, as a result, the quality of such movies is pretty low, however this doesn't stop them making back their money. At least part of their income is dependant on customers mistakenly buying their extremely similarly named titles, instead of the actual blockbuster they're copying.
However, today we're going to have a look at which are the legitimately 'best' Asylum movies. Don't get me wrong, these movies are still very bad, but they are also the titles which are much better than they had any business being. Since Asylum movies are rarely critically reviewed or rated, I have scoured the internet to find comments and audience reviews which at least remotely support the inclusion of each movie on this list.
Paranormal Entity (2009)
Mockbuster of Paranormal Activity
IMDB Rating: 4.5
Stars: Shane Van Dyke, Erin Marie Hogan, Fia Perera
- Directed by: Shane Van Dyke
Considering Paranormal Activity itself was made for a paltry sum, it's not surprising The Asylum were able to pull off a visually similar mockbuster. It seems they were at least partially successful, as Paranormal Entity has one of the highest Asylum ratings on IMDB - a lofty 4.5.
Within its audience reviews is such gushing praise as "genuinely spooky", "surprisingly good" and "not sorry I watched it". Some even suggested it was almost better than Paranormal Activity, with one review claiming:
I will say that next to "Paranormal Activity" this film almost comes out superior, originality issues aside. While I found the first version of this story to be a solid, suspenseful build-up to a satisfying pay-off, I felt that the "rip-off" was in fact more suspenseful throughout.
Check out the trailer below:
H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (2006)
Mockbuster of War of The Worlds
IMDB Rating: 3.3
Stars: C. Thomas Howell, Rhett Giles, Jake Busey
- Directed by: David Michael Latt
One of the Asylum's original favorite tactics was to adapt the work of dead authors on which the copyright has elapsed. When they did this with War of the Worlds in 2005, they accidentally stumbled upon their winning 'mockbuster' formula. The title, which was almost named exactly the same as Steven Spielberg's bigger budget version, garnered a lot of interest in Blockbuster stores, leading The Asylum to begin concentrating almost exclusively on mockbusters.
But is their version of War of the Worlds any good?
Well, some even go so far to suggest it is better than Spielberg's, claiming it avoid the "clunky plotholes" of its more well known rival, even if the special effects weren't as good. Another reviewer went so far as to claim:
With a little (very little) spit and polish, there's no reason in the world director David Michael Latt's version of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" couldn't have been a major theatrical release on par with Steven Spielberg's bigger-budget version of the same story (released practically simultaneously with this film). As it stands, this is simply one of the finest direct-to-video flicks to come in out in recent years and a damned good movie it is, too.
Watch the trailer below:
When A Killer Calls (2006)
Mockbuster of When A Stranger Calls
IMDB Rating: 4.3
- Stars: Rebekah Kockan, Robert Buckley, Mark Irvingsen
- Directed by: Peter Mervis
When A Killer Calls was also one of The Asylum's more successful films, primarily because it is only one word away form the mainstream horror it was imitating. It is also, one of the best received.
Many audience reviews cite it as having a "professional look" while others praised its apparent "sickness" and "depravity". In fact, When A Killer Calls might be preferred by horror-fans disappointed with When A Stranger Calls PG-13 rating. One reviewer claimed:
While Stranger was rated PG-13, Killer is unrated offering up graphic violence, nudity and language. Killer is obviously low budget, with passable-at-best special effects for the gore, though the acting is surprisingly decent for the most part.
See the stabbing-filled trailer below:
- Mockbuster of Transformers
- IMDB Rating: 1.7
- Stars: Matthew Wolf, Amy Weber, Eliza Swenson
- Directed by: Leigh Scott
OK, so Transmorphers is one of the worst rated Asylum movies on IMDB, but this seems to be because it fooled many, many people who subsequently gave it 1 star reviews out of sheer disappointment.
In reality, the film probably isn't much better than that, but it does have its fans, some of which cite it as having more heart than Michael Bay's big budget blockbuster. Although acknowledging its terrible CGI (with one reviewer stating, "criticizing Transmorphers for its CGI would be akin to complaining a holiday to the Arctic was ruined because it was too cold"), audience reviewers did accept it's an entertaining film which is perhaps more akin to Battlestar Galactica/The Matrix than the actual Transformers. Some also accepted they enjoyed it more than Bay's version, adding:
I fully recommend Transmorphers and I can honestly say I enjoyed it more than Transformers itself (although Megan Fox was sorely missed).
Oh, there's also a lesbian subplot if that's your thing.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (2010)
Mockbuster of Sherlock Holmes
- IMDB Rating: 3.7
- Stars: Ben Syder, Gareth David-Lloyd, Dominic Keating
- Directed by: Rachel Goldenberg
Following the same strategy as War of the Worlds, The Asylum also whacked Arthur Conan Doyle's name on the front of this title in order to slightly differentiate their version of Sherlock Holmes from Robert Downy Jr's. The T-Rexes, giant squids and dragons on the DVD cover should have also given that away.
Although it is in no way related to any Sherlock Holmes story (somewhat negating the inclusion of the author's name in the title) The Asylum's Sherlock Holmes has been praised as one of the best, with some suggesting it is truer to the characters. One audience reviewer stated:
First, they were truer to the character of Holmes and Watson than the Guy Ritchie abortion recently released. It would appear the writers actually READ something by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Others praise the CGI, plot and production design, claiming:
The sets and settings were very nice and most of the outdoor scenes were beautiful. But the best were the special effects: the monsters and the Rube Goldberg machines.
Decide for yourself in the trailer below:
Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012)
Mockbuster of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
IMDB Rating: 3.1
Stars: Bill Oberst Jr., Kent Igleheart, Rhianna Van Helton
- Directed by: Richard Schenkman
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter might not have been a mainstream blockbuster, but Asylum weren't going to pass up the opportunity to show the 16th US President as a paranormal ass-kicker -- and apparently it's one they relished.
Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies is another of Asylum's best received movies, with many praising its indie look, as well as the Presidential performance of Bill Oberst Jr. One audience reviewer claimed:
On the plus side, there were terrific costumes, the camera boxing by the DP was fantastic and the acting was good overall, but Bill Oberst Jr. was ABSOLUTELY excellent. Loved the story and the way the writers worked in historical lines in the name of butt whoopin, "emancipate this!" They had fun creating it and it showed.
Others also commended its weaving of real history into the zombie narrative, with another reviewer stating:
Throughout the movie the Gettysburg Address kept developing. A phrase here, a paragraph there, all naturally flowing from the action in the movie. I have never enjoyed an Asylum script this much.
Check out the trailer below:
I Am Omega (2007)
Mockbuster of I Am Legend
IMDB Rating: 3.3
Stars: Mark Dacasos, Geoff Meed, Jennifer Lee Wiggins
- Directed by: Griff Furst
For this movie, Asylum decided to side-step the Warner Bros. lawyers by combining the names of two movies based on the same Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend and The Omega Man.
Much like the above example, vampires have once again been replaced by zombies and its down to Mark Dacasos (of Hawaii Five-0 and Iron Chef fame) to dispatch them single-handedly using his impressive martial arts skills.
Although, Dacasos might not be due Academy glory for his acting, many reviewers highlighted his "undoubted ability to kick ass". Others pointed out the impressive location scouting and good action editing.
It was even compared favorably to the Will Smith version, with at least one reviewer claiming it was better in almost every way:
It will be pointed out ad nauseum that this movie is a deliberate pre-make of "I am Legend", but in my opinion at least, the movie itself, even ignoring budget constraints, is better than Legend in every respect.
See him in action below:
Grimm's Snow White (2012)
Mockbuster of Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman
IMDB Rating: 3.4
Stars: Eliza Bennett, Jane March, Jamie Thomas King, Ben Maddox
- Directed by: Rachel Goldenberg
Another of The Asylum's classic literature adaptations, Grimm's Snow White takes a different angle, introducing dragons, mutant dogs and elves to the classic fairytale.
Despite these changes, several IMDB reviewers pointed to the film's impressive use of scenery, which considering it was filmed in Austria -- not far from Brother Grimm territory -- is partly to be expect. One reviewer stated:
I think the scenery was absolutely lush and beautiful and made half the movie. The action didn't flag, and the characters were mostly stock but well defined and played... I know this sounds like faint praise. But, for a production produced by The Asylum, this is very very good.
Others pointed to Jane March, who played the Wicked Queen, as a highlight. One reviewer claimed she played the role better than Julia Roberts in Mirror, Mirror, while another wrote:
Of the performances the best one was Jane March, her Wicked Queen is coldly beautiful and stoically sinister at the same time.