Ever heard of The Asylum? If you’re a fan of odd movies, you certainly should have. Founded in 1997, this company cranks out DVD releases that are strikingly similar to big budget movies releasing around the same time (sometimes known by the term “mockbuster“). Instead of Transformers, you get Transmorphers. And while Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise might team up to deliver War of the Worlds, The Asylum presents H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds with a wink and a nod. They even set the cinematic world on its ear in 2010 (well, not really), by releasing Titanic 2. Somewhere, I’m sure James Cameron got the equivalent of an ice cream headache for a minute or two.
For those who might be new to this ballsy company, I proudly present this list of great movies from The Asylum. From Lance Henriksen dressed as a pirate to Sherlock Holmes battling dinosaurs, you’ll be in odd film heaven. If you live in the UK, be sure to rent them through LoveFilm, as they’re the largest online movie service in that part of the world.
Asylum Title: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (2010)
That Other Title: Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Starring: Gareth David-Lloyd and Dominic Keating
Why You Should See It: Told as a flashback, the film involves Sherlock Holmes (Ben Snyder) and Dr. Watson (Gareth David-Lloyd) trying to thwart the schemes of the armor-wearing psycho known as Spring-Heeled Jack (Dominic Keating). Far crazier than the version starring Robert Downey Jr., this film has Holmes butting heads with robotic dinosaurs, sea monsters, and a woman with a bomb built into her bosom. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey get all screwed up, which should delight rebellious citizens of the UK.
Asylum Title: Death Racers (2008)
That Other Title: Death Race (2008)
Starring: The Insane Clown Posse and Scott “Raven” Levy
Why You Should See It: Rejoice Juggalos and Juggalettes, as the Insane Clown Posse (Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J) takes to the roads of America in a pimped-out ice cream truck complete with machine guns and a meat grinder. Their goal is to track down and kill the terrorist known as Reaper (professional wrestler and MENSA member Scott “Raven” Levy) before he can introduce sarin into the nation’s water supply. In addition, the ICP gets points for running down or grinding up criminals found in the massive penal city known as “the Red Zone.” But they’re not alone in this competition, as the state’s governor has also recruited teams known as The Severed Head Gang, Homeland Security, and Vaginamyte. The acting is terrible, but there are some sweet rides to be seen, not to mention the sexy bods of Vaginamyte members Queen B (Thereese) and Double-Dee Destruction (Jennifer Elizabeth Keith).
Asylum Title: Pirates of Treasure Island (2006)
That Other Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Starring: Lance Henriksen and Tom Nagel
Why You Should See It: An adaptation of the novel from Robert Louis Stevenson, this early production from The Asylum stars gravel-voiced Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark, Hard Target) as pirate Long John Silver. Considering his distinguished career in both horror and sci-fi films, the presence of Henriksen should be more than enough to tempt you into a rental. While it did come out around the time of the first Johnny Depp pirate film, it’s actually a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel.
Asylum Title: Snakes on a Train (2006)
That Other Title: Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Starring: People who might serve you at an L.A. Starbucks
Why You Should Watch It: The DVD cover promises “100 Trapped Passengers–3,000 Venomous Vipers.” That’s actually a bit of a lie, as there are only a handful of passengers and far less than 3,000 snakes. But it’s way more graphic than the Samuel L. Jackson movie, and includes plotlines about female drug smugglers and a woman under an ancient Mayan curse. The climax of the film is way over the top, presenting a challenge that even a shouting Sam Jackson couldn’t have overcome. Watch this one when you’re in a mood to laugh.
Asylum Title: AVH: Alien vs. Hunter (2007)
That Other Title: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Starring: William Katt and Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister
Why You Should See It: Even though it’s spent time on the IMDB “bottom 100” list, that’s no reason to stay away from this knock-off of the AvP series. Sure, there are loads of continuity problems and characters with classic names like Freckle, but it’s got the guy who starred in The Greatest American Hero. Isn’t that enough? If not, you’ll also be able to finally learn what Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister looks like, thereby settling a number of bar bets from the 1990s.
Asylum Title: Sunday School Musical (2008)
That Other Title: High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
Starring: Another lovable group of nobodies
Why You Should See It: When their local church is in danger of being closed, two rival groups of high school students come together to enter a song and dance contest. Where is it written that all great movies from The Asylum have to be blood-soaked rip-offs? They can also be faith-based rip-offs that invoke the Lord every two minutes. Oddly enough, it turns out that The Asylum has a division known as Faith Films (what an original title) to pander to religious types. I can’t wait for the Asylum version of The Passion of the Christ. The way his career is headed, Mel Gibson might actually end up starring in it.
Asylum Title: Transmorphers (2007)
That Other Title: Transformers (2007)
Starring: Former WWE diva Amy Weber
Why You Should See It: Transmorphers isn’t content with just ripping off Transformers. If you pay semi-close attention, you’ll also notice elements cobbled together from The Terminator, X-Men, Blade Runner, and The Matrix. The lead female is in a steamy lesbian marriage, the evil robots can morph to look like the local landscape, and there’s a soldier named “Itchy” who’s been cryogenically frozen. If this is what the future holds for humanity, I can hardly wait.
Asylum Title: The Day the Earth Stopped (2008)
That Other Title: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Starring: C. Thomas Howell and Judd Nelson
Why You Should See It: C. Thomas Howell both directs and stars in this film that lifts material from such classics as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and Independence Day. Judd Nelson looks appropriately deranged throughout the film, but the constant nudity of the alien named Skye more than compensates for this. Nuclear bombs are detonated, 666 robots threaten the Earth, and C. Thomas Howell wonders if he’ll get a cameo in the Red Dawn remake. 20th Century Fox, the studio behind The Day the Earth Stood Still, was not amused.
Asylum Title: Paranormal Entity (2009)
That Other Title: Paranormal Activity (2009)
Starring: Nobody you’ve ever heard of
Why You Should See It: After a family loses their patriarch, they’re thrilled to see that he’s communicating with them from beyond the grave. Whoops! Turns out that it’s not dear old dad after all, but rather a demonic force who enjoys screwing around with humans. Shot in the same surveillance style as the other version, at least this one offers a naked levitation.
Asylum Title: The Terminators (2009)
That Other Title: Terminator Salvation (2009)
Starring: Jeremy London and A Martinez
Why You Should See It: Released a month before the Christian Bale dud, the film lifts ideas from the 1984 version of The Terminator, as well as Westworld and the Battlestar Galactica television series. Set in the future, the film follows a band of survivors (led by a small-town sheriff played by A. Martinez) as they attempt to weather a massive cyborg uprising. The cyborg heads look suspiciously like Cylons, and there’s even an outer space battle. Directed by the impressive-sounding Xavier S. Puslowski.
That does it for our list of great movies by The Asylum. To take a look at any of the above films, head to your local video store or visit an online rental company like Netflix or Blockbuster Online. In the meantime, be sure to check out these other fine articles from Odd Films: