Sunday, November 6, 2022

Patrick (1978)

... aka: Coma
... aka: Mind Control
... aka: Patrick ja hänen kuudes aistinsa (Patrick and His Sixth Sense)
... aka: Patricks Höllentrip (Patrick's Trip to Hell)
... aka: Patrick: The Face of a Killer

Directed by:
Richard Franklin

The 1981 Harmony Vision clamshell release for this one was one of the very first VHS tapes I ever bought as a kid when I first started collecting horror videos. I found an old, battered copy at a flea market (this was a good 15 years after its original release), excitedly went home to watch it and, to say I didn't like it at all and was bored silly, was a vast understatement. Afterward, I stuck the tape in a box, where it was eventually joined by some other crappy videos in what became a kind of mass-grave-in-the-back-of-the-closet filled with movies I blind bought, didn't like and figured I'd never watch again. And I figured right: I never did break this tape out again. Now that I think about it, I have no clue what even happened to the tape or that box of crappy tapes. I'm sure it ended up in the trash and now some of the videos sell for 300 dollars on eBay or something.

Strangely, that bad first impression actually made me more interested in this long-delayed second viewing than I otherwise would have been. Seeing how I enjoyed about 95 percent of the horror movies I watched at the time but not THIS one made me wonder if it could possibly be as bad as I thought. Doubtful. There are a lot of movies we watch as attention deficit kids, particularly young, gore-hungry 80s / 90s horror fans, that we simply didn't have the maturity or patience to appreciate. Subtlety? Nuance? Artistry? Meh! Bring on the decapitations! Back then I didn't have much love for slower, more psychological stuff. Hopefully I'll find something more redeeming with Patrick this time around, especially since I can now see it through new eyes with a remastered, uncut version.

Relocating to a new apartment after separating from her husband, Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) applies for work as a nurse at the Roget Clinic. She's given a less-than-warm reception during her interview by the extremely unpleasant Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), who curiously goes beyond the call of duty to try to scare her out of actually taking the job. After going through a list of past employees and their disturbing sexual kinks, she notes, "The salary is minimum, the hours abominable and I shall insist on the option of terminating you without notice." Sounds great, no? Enigmatic clinic owner Doctor Roget (Robert Helpmann) pops in long enough to bail her out; asking about her qualifications and then insisting she be hired. They're kind of desperate there. Kathy is then introduced to a couple of co-workers; the outgoing Paula Williams (Helen Hemingway) and the quiet and meek Sister Panicale (María Mercedes). Both are friendly enough. Maybe if she can learn to tolerate the bitchy head matron, the job won't be so bad after all.

Kathy is assigned Room 15, where the comatose Patrick (Robert Thompson) is housed. Three years earlier, Patrick had committed a double murder of his mother and her lover by throwing a heater in the bathtub and he's been unresponsive ever since. Despite the fact Patrick can spit in people's faces (written off as a "motor nerve reflex") and his eyes are left open 24 hours a day (per the doctor's orders), Roget insists he's nothing more than "170 pounds of limp meat hanging off a comatose brain" and a drain on both resources and taxpayer money. Still, since he's there, he's interested in him as a guinea pig; a very rare opportunity to study the "gray area between life and death." However, Matron Cassidy knows more than she is letting on and even refuses to come into Patrick's room.

Many peculiar things, like a window seemingly opening and closing all on its own, start going on both in his room and elsewhere. Kathy quickly begins to suspect that Patrick is actually not the unthinking vegetable everyone else does but instead a conscious mind trapped inside an immovable body. Kathy devises a game of "spit once for yes, twice for no" where Patrick tells her he can hear but cannot see or feel. He also manages to communicate through a typewriter but refuses to do any of this around anyone other than Kathy so, naturally, no one else believes her. And then things start going on away from the clinic that can only be explained by some supernatural phenomenon, say, psychokinesis.

During a party, womanizing playboy doctor Brian Wright (Bruce Barry) is almost drowned in his pool after coming on to Kathy. Later, she goes on a date with him and returns home only to find that her apartment has been ransacked, which is initially blamed on her estranged husband Ed (Rod Mullinar), who's in the process of attempting to reconcile with her. After Patrick causes him to scald himself picking up a steaming, fresh-from-the-oven casserole dish with his bare hands, Ed later disappears inside the hospital. Things get even more dangerous for everyone at the clinic and in Kathy's life after Dr. Roget decides to "shock some response" out of Patrick using an electroconvulsive therapy machine. An overload causes a citywide blackout, a nurse is driven into a state of catatonic hysteria and there's an "accidental" death or two.

This revisit made me realize two things: 1. Patrick is not a terrible movie like I thought it was as a child, and 2. Patrick is not a great movie like some revisionist critics would have you believe. Terms like "adequate," "middling" and "fair" exist for movies like this. There's nothing really wrong with it from a technical standpoint. It's quite professionally done and generally well-made. However, it's also slow-moving, extremely dialogue-heavy, much longer than it need be at nearly 2 hours and consistently undercuts its suspense with expository phone conversations, Kathy's domestic drama, the love triangle, etc. It mostly just comes off as a bit dull; sedate and lacking in bite. Reputedly, Everett De Roche's original script was 250 (!!) pages long and the first cut of the film was a grueling-sounding 140 minutes. Though 20 minutes were removed, there's still more fat (at least one main character serves little to no real purpose here) that could have been trimmed.

Like Brian De Palma, who'd made the telekinesis-themed hit Carrie just two years prior, director Franklin was a huge fan of Hitchcock. That's evident in nearly every frame of this one, from many of the specific camera shots to the disbelieved protagonist to the inclusion of some dark comedy to Brian May's elegant music score, which has obvious echoes of Bernard Herrmann. But that all works as a double-edged sword. There's lovingly referencing a director and then there's box-checking their specific style to lesser gains. Franklin would manage to pull this same thing off with much more skill and verve in some of his later films, but this one (which at least offers a couple of effective jump scares) feels like he's still getting warmed up.

One of the most enjoyable things here is actually the cast. Penhaligon, who's also quite good in Pete Walker's HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN, makes for a strong, appealing lead and is a nicely balanced combo of assertive / spunky and compassionate. While most of the supporting cast are either good or at least competent, it's Blake in her Nurse Ratched-y role who makes the biggest impression. Her passive-aggressive barbs at various characters, amusingly only slightly concealed behind a proper, "professional" façade, are one of the highlights of the film.

The film received three Australian Film Award nominations, including Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film, while director Franklin won a number of other awards at various film festivals. One newspaper ad boasted that it even bested Invasion of the Body Snatchers, HALLOWEEN and Phantasm at a film festival in France.

Despite receiving (deservedly) lukewarm reviews from many critics upon release, Patrick was a box office success and one of the most profitable Australian genre films internationally. Here in the U.S., it was cut down to 96 minutes from the original 112 and given a PG rating (some full frontal nudity and bits of a topless pool party were removed). Someone also idiotically decided to re-dub all of the cast aside from the British Penhaligon, who was able to re-record her own dialogue per her contract. In Italy, it was also cut, given a new score by Goblin and was popular enough to prompt at least one blatant rip off. While Mario Landi's Patrick Vive Ancora (PATRICK STILL LIVES) reuses the comatose, telekinetic title character (played by a different actor), it otherwise has nothing to do with the original film. An "official" remake, Patrick: Evil Awakens, was released in 2013. 

Though I no longer have a dusty box of old tapes in the back of my closet, I do have a recycle bin on my computer.

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