Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sender, The (1982)

Directed by:
Roger Christian

A disturbed young man (Zeljko Ivanek) is rushed off to a state run mental hospital after loading down his pockets with rocks and attempting to drown himself in a lake. Tough but compassionate psychiatrist Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold) is assigned his case and tries to break into the mind of the amnesia stricken man, now referred to as John Doe #83. Almost immediately she begins seeing strange things, beginning with the new patient breaking into her apartment and attempting to steal a necklace, when in fact he never even left the hospital. Turns out that John Doe #83 possesses some rather powerful telepathic abilities; so powerful in fact that he has no control over how his thoughts and nightmares effect those around him. And being a troubled guy with a traumatic past means his psychic abilities usually manifest themselves in ugly, scary ways. At first, Dr. Farmer has a tough time trying to convince her colleagues of John Doe's powers, but before long everyone at the hospital (doctors and patients alike) start being effected. Also lurking around the hospital is Jerolyn (Shirley Knight), Joe Doe's mother, who on the outside seems gentle, devoutly religious and concerned... So then why does her son want nothing to do with her?

This intelligently-written, well-made thriller is a bit confusing, but still manages to pull you in right from the opening scene and blends drama, fantasy, psychic horror and mystery together reasonably well. There's so much intrigue to the ambiguous John Doe character and his strange powers that it's almost disappointing when an explanation is finally worked out. Some of the "nightmares" are superbly directed, such as when Harrold finds herself being pursued on empty urban streets by a driverless truck, grass in the bathroom busting and bleeding and rats emerging from a mouth. It's very attractively photographed (when it comes to both shot composition and camera movement) and the actors are all very good. The cast includes Paul Freeman as a skeptical asshole doctor who wants tries to put John Doe through shock treatment (which is one of the more memorable scenes), Sean Hewitt as a mental patient who thinks he's the messiah, Al Matthews (ALIENS) as a mental patient who thinks Vietnam is still going on, Harry Ditson as a doctor, Marsha A. Hunt (HOWLING II) as a nurse and Angus MacInnes (HELLRAISER II) as a sheriff.


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