The creepiest asylums in movie history
Mental hospitals in movies often seem like a deranged character in and of themselves: from the flickering of the lights, to the padded cells and evil nurses. Never mind that real-life psychiatric institutions are often quite the opposite, it’s thanks to these cinematic conventions that this genre endures, and why filmmakers are continually drawn to them.
To mark the release of A Cure for Wellness, we’ve taken a look at four of the most nightmarish depictions of asylums in film.
The Silence of the Lambs
As clinically insane cannibals go, Hannibal Lecter takes some beating. After all, he tends to gorge on people’s organs and wash them down with a nice glass of Chianti. So it’s little surprise that he ended up in an asylum. In The Silence of the Lambs, he’s a patient at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and is being used by the FBI to help catch another criminal: Buffalo Bill. Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a magisterial, Oscar-winning performance as Lecter, who uses all his manipulative resources and cunning to transfer to different institutions before being released.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Arguably the most iconic film set in a mental institution, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based on the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, and stars Jack Nicholson as criminal Randle McMurphy. While McMurphy isn’t mentally ill himself, he wishes to avoid hard labour by serving the rest of his sentence in what he perceives to be the relaxed environment of an Oregon psychiatric hospital. Here he encounters his arch nemesis Nurse Ratched, who passive-aggressively intimidates the patients through her strict running of the asylum.
Whenever Batman catches a sociopath like The Joker, they inevitably wind up in Arkham Asylum. This institution features heavily in the first film of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as a place to incarcerate Gotham’s criminally insane citizens. Unfortunately, it’s run by Dr Jonathan Crane, a nemesis of the Caped Crusader who secretly calls himself the Scarecrow and terrorises his patients with a fear-inducing hallucinogen that drives its victims insane.
2010’s Shutter Island marked the fourth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Disguised as a B-movie thriller, this film chronicled a US Marshall’s investigation of a patient’s disappearance at an isolated psychiatric facility. But not all is at it seems, as well-executed creepiness and paranoia consume the protagonist. The film rewards repeat viewings, even with its twist ending.