Committed (1991) poster

Committed (1991)

Rating:

USA. 1991.

Crew

Director – William A. Levey, Screenplay – Simon Last & Paul Mason, Based on the Novel Clock and Bell by Susan Claudia, Producer – Alan Amiel, Photography – Hans Kuhle Jr, Music Adaptation – Fima Noveck, Special Effects – Tjaart Van Der Walt, Art Direction – Ruth Strimling. Production Company – B.S.B. Entertainment Inc/TWE Group Inc.

Cast

Jennifer O’Neill (Susan Manning), Robert Forster (Dr Desmond Moore), William Windom (Dr Magnus Quilly), Ron Palillo (Ronnie Mauder), Aletta Bezuidenhout (Isandra), Richard Alan (Jones), Lynn White (Ms Donnymead), Greg Latter (David), Sidney Lassick (Gow)


Plot

After her lover, psychologist Dr Paul Swanson, commits suicide, Susan Manning applies for a nursing job at the psychiatric hospital known as The Institute. She meets with hospital head Dr Magnus Quilly who asks her if she is committed to the job and to sign a piece of paper when she says that she is. However, when she asks to call her family afterwards, he informs her that instead of a job application what she has signed are in fact papers to agree to commit herself to the hospital as a patient. She tries to flee but finds herself surrounded by electric fences, that her street clothes have been shredded and all proof of who she says she is has been stolen. As she settles into her confinement, Susan begins to discover sinister things – that all the nurses that were her predecessors may have been murdered, that the real Dr Quilly is dead and that the person calling himself Quilly is in fact a patient.


Although it is not credited as such, Committed is actually an adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether (1845) in which a visitor to an asylum finds that the lunatics have taken over and are posing as the doctors. The Poe story has been filmed several times – the lost silent short Lunatics in Power (1909), as Maurice Tourneur’s silent The Lunatics (1913), as an episode of the German Poe anthology Tales of the Uncanny (1931), the Mexican Dr Tarr’s Torture Dungeon (1972), Claude Chabrol’s French tv adaptation The System of Dr Goudron and Professor Fether (1981), as Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy (2005) and as Brad Andersons’s Eliza Graves/Stonehearst Asylum (2014), while the basic idea has been uncreditedly used in films like Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) and Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974).

Committed is a B budget film but it is made with a respectable degree of care. It does an effective job of portraying the basic horror of Jennifer O’Neill’s situation. There is the fine scene where hospital head William Windom suddenly turns around from what has sounded like a perfectly normal job interview and tells Jennifer that she cannot call her family, explaining that her saying she was committed to the job meant she was committing herself to the asylum and the application form she signed was actually committal papers, and as to the job she is welcome to play out a nurse fantasy if she wants as the institution encourages people to express themselves.

Subsequently, the story does a good job of twisting one around the basic powerlessness of the committed psychiatric patient – of trying to call out without a password, the calm patronising attitude from the staff as Jennifer O’Neill is trying to be taken seriously, the shake of a doctor’s head being enough to have her pleas dismissed by the sheriff. The story also does an effective job of playing on the idea of the lunatics having taken over the asylum, questioning whether what the other patients say about the doctors and nurses being killed is reliable.

The story tends to unravel a little at the end, straying more into realm of the preposterous character revelations that belong in an old-fashioned type of psycho-thriller, with various characters being killed off and then played by others in masks to make the heroine think they are still alive. Intriguingly, the end the film reaches never leaves one sure whether the heroine is a real nurse or a patient. The ending does have the nicely ironic scene where, with the two doctors killed off, the possibly mad heroine takes charge of the asylum herself.

Director William A. Levey was probably best known elsewhere for directing the classic Blaxploitation horror title Blackenstein (1973). His other films include the alien visitor sex comedy Wham Bam, Thank You Spaceman (1975), The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977) and Hellgate (1989). Committed was probably Levey’s best film.



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