Dallas IFF 2013 Review: SANITARIUM Is So Bad It Doesn't Deserve A Clever Headline

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
We're told over and over again as children that if we can't say something nice, that we shouldn't say anything at all. Thankfully the realm of film criticism is immune from this rule. If I were forced to review Sanitarium without saying unkind words, this would be very short. As it stands, I'm struggling to remember anything at all that I enjoyed about this ponderously paced abortion. Frankly, in a world which has produced dozens of horror anthologies over the last decade of wildly varying levels of quality, Sanitarium sits firmly at the bottom of the pile, and that's saying something.

The first face to which we are treated is that of Malcolm McDowell, which is surely no coincidence. McDowell is a notorious check-casher whose career choices would make fat Orson Welles blush. It's somewhat telling that McDowell doesn't appear in the cast line-up of the film's IMDb page, I wonder if that was a rider in his contract, that no one should ever be able to track him back to this piece of crap. McDowell plays the warden/overseer of the titular sanitarium, walking us through particularly heinous cases which are then expanded upon in 30 minute vignettes with all of the craft and subtlety of the most cringe worthy no-budget disasters of all time.

The three stories in Sanitarium are remarkable in their unremarkableness. None of the three are in any way interesting or engaging, and what's even worse is that they aren't in the least original. Of the trio, at least two of them owe lineage to a number of previous anthology projects. One involving a set of apparently sentient dolls links tangentially to both Trilogy of Terror and Tales from the Hood, although in the end it's all in their heads. I would say spoiler alert, but I don't care if I spoil this one. If that wasn't enough, there is a second piece about a boogeyman menacing a young boy with an abusive father that ALSO looks a bit too much like a segment from Tales from the Hood. Look, I get it, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem and deserves more credit. This is not the way to get it. Thankfully the third segment is a bit more topical and involves the Mayan apocalypse, something that was not broached by Tales from the Hood back in 1995. Sadly, it, too, sucks.

I wish I had more good things to say about Sanitarium. However, as I sat there in the theater with a half a dozen of my friends sitting next to me, it was hard to justify it as just being me when two of them fell asleep and one just up and left. Sanitarium is poorly written, atrociously acted, barely directed, and worst of all empirically boring. If I've seen worse horror anthologies, I've forgotten them. In the meantime, all of those awful ones I've seen that I do remember can now breathe easily as Sanitarium has handily supplanted them in the pantheon of terrible triptychs.
Around the Internet:
  • Scott Lancing

    Fangoria Magazine gives "Sanitarium" 3 out of 4 Stars.
    http://www.fangoria.com/new/sa...

  • Guest

    As an American film distributor, marketing content from multiple countries (including US, UK, and Asia), I have always respected Josh Hurtado for his professionalism. He has become invaluable to us as a company, REGARDLESS of his opinion, because he has a reputation for knowing film, and for holding to his sense of what stands for quality in (let's face it) an ever-expanding sea of crap.

    He's hated some of our films - to the tune of ripping it to shreds, right here on this site. But at least he's funny. And well-reasoned. And makes his opinions clear. Hard to argue with those things.

    I value Josh. I value TWITCH - they know their content, they shoot straight, and they have strong, independent voices. Prefer that to meaningless industry genuflection EVERY. TIME.
    (See also: people usually know when they put out a stinker. Own up and don't play. Rub some dirt on it and make that paper, if that's what you came for.)

  • Well Go Girl

    Hey - I wonder why this didn't post under my name! I'm Crystal Decker, Marketing Manager at Well Go USA Entertainment, and I Approve This Message. :)

  • Rob

    Clearly, Chris Roe cared about what Hurtado had to say.

  • kiaikick

    CR, as a fellow critic, I would have to say you should know better. Mr. Hurtado is entitled to his opinions of the film. If he didn't like it, then he didn't. He also stated why he didn't like it. Trying to compare him or any other critic to Roger Ebert is a foolish argument to make against someone else's writing style. Roger may very well be the Orson Welles of film critics, but because Mr. Hurtado's prose may not be as good doesn't make his opinion less viable. As for people caring, the review is on this website, which is read by a great many people who do care what Mr. Hurtado thinks by virtue of being on this site. If you are in the film business then you know bad reviews come with the territory. It happens to even the best films, whether they come from Asia or the USA (reviewing an Asian film isn't any different from reviewing any other kind of film. The same thoughts regarding plot, direction and acting apply).
    If you didn't like his review, then go find others that liked the film and DID give it a good review. That should be easy to find, right?

  • CR

    I find it fascinating how in todays world, anyone can sit at their computer, write a review on something, and think that the world, or anyone reading it really cares. In the case of this review from Mr. J.Hurtado, someone who has written a very aggressive and not so nice review, I take his words like I do a car passing by me at average speed. He certainly isn't the late great Roger Ebert. He perhaps thinks he is. He's written a review that is as critical as many that Roger wrote in his career.....A very long career! Before one should judge another film, actor, producer or the process, one should be able to say the he/she have experienced what it's like. I know Roger Ebert had, and so has dozens of other critics. But coming from someone who has predominately reviewed films in Asia, a place that has produced some very good cinema, as well as some first class crap, I think should share his opinions with people who are. I don't see Mr. J. Hurtado on anyone's go to list for film reviews. I think that perhaps the only one to feel his reviews are important, are Mr. Hurtado himself. I think Mr. Hurtado perhaps writes these types of things to make himself feel important. But regardless of the films Malcolm McDowell for instance has done in his career that have been good, or bad, people will STILL be talking about him, his films, TV and stage work for years to come. As for Mr. Hurtado, I think the only folks to remember his reviews and columns will be those he offended or maybe his family. After all, he is someones son or husband (sorry for them). Not sure the fans and admirer's he'll have. Malcolm McDowell, and some of the others in the cast will live on for generations to come. My suggestion for Mr. Hurtado, is to go back to Asian and review his films there. But perhaps they don't want him there........

  • Sean Smithson

    As someone who was once a professional musician who commanded some pretty healthy respect from his peers, I would bring in a friend named James each time I made a new album. He didn't play an instrument, but he listened to a LOT of music and KNEW music. His opinion was highly regarded by me because he WAS the "person" I was making so called art for.

    My point: The whole "If you aren't a painter then you can't judge a painting" doesn't hold water.

    To add, Josh has a LOT of readers who will remember many of his well-written reviews, myself being one.

  • I think Josh should go back to Asian, too.

  • Sonny Hooper

    Me thinks he doth protest too much. Me thinks he also has little understanding of what criticism is or the role critics play. Of course, I can dismiss everything CR says because he states in the first sentence that he's fascinated to think that anyone would care what J Hurtado writes - before go goes on to write a couple of hundred words that shows that at least one person cares. I do take exceptional exception to one statement CR makes: "Before one should judge another film, actor, producer or the process, one should be able to say the he/she have experienced what it's like." Never mind that CR is wrong about Ebert having experienced this process before he became a critic. What bothers me is the all-too-common idea that a critic must first be a participant in the making of that which they seek to criticize, that you must be a filmmaker to criticize film, be a painter or sculptor to criticize art. I've never made sushi but I can tell good sushi from bad. And now I've found I've spent far too long responding to CR, whose dog J Hurtado must surely have once kicked.

  • harumph

    Whenever somebody pulls the "you can't judge a film unless you've made one" card, I always like to point out they never seem to say this to the people who say something positive about the movie. If I'm not qualified to say something negative about a movie, then I'm also not qualified to say something positive about it.

    Also, I've read this sentence five times and I still don't know what it means: "But coming from someone who has predominately reviewed films in Asia, a place that has produced some very good cinema, as well as some first class crap, I think should share his opinions with people who are."

  • Mr. Cavin

    Holy cow, what a breathtaking ad hominem attack. Really, man, the litany of rhetorical mistakes in this comment should live on as an example in textbooks. It veers deliriously from classics such as the classist notion that Mr. Hurtado needs some kind of accreditation to properly understand what he's talking about to actual fightin' words about his family. Bravo!

  • Personally, I find it even MORE fascinating that the only two comments CR has ever posted on Disqus are bashing people for writing negative reviews of movies starring Malcolm McDowell. And also that Malcolm McDowell's manager is named Chris Roe.

  • CR

    Sorry to bust your bubble, but my name certainly isn't Chris, it's Carl. And secondly, I doubt that McDowell's manager has the time to be sifting and surfing online for comments about his client. I'm sure he could care less since those comments aren't gonna impact his life any. His client is still gonna be making money regardless of the reviews. And from the look of his recent credits, work appears to be happening. And third, looked him up, we definitely don't look alike. He's darker, I'm lighter. He's thinner, I'm ........ a little bigger, and he's bald and I'm not! Malcolm McDowell is a favorite of mine, and I certainly wouldn't deny that. But to attack a film or individual so aggressively when the man really is on the bottom end of online reviewers is really ridiculous.

  • roshan

    he he ;-) The way of his writing, it looks CR doesnot know how to criticize others...and he talks about Mr.Josh...???I am regular reader of Mr.Hurtado,and I always like his review...

    PS:Sorry for poor English (A High school student from India UP like Gang of wassepur Ares :P)

  • J Hurtado

    Todd drops mic.

  • Why isn't there an emoticon for that? I'd totally use that one and I bloody well HATE emoticons!

  • I could actually hear the mic's feedback ringout as I read this. Nicely done.

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