Halloween Havoc: EXQUISITE TENDERNESS (THE SURGEON) (1995)

German director Carl Schenkel may never be accused of being a great underrated director, but he did direct a handful of episodes of the then-cutting edge HBO show "The Hitchhiker" and the somewhat silly, but entertaining Christopher Lambert, Tom Skerritt thriller KNIGHT MOVES (1992). So, bearing that in mind, you'd think that a quick shift into a hospital horror outing would be a smooth gear change. Here we are post slasher cycle, DR. GIGGLES (1992) made its ill-advised, unfashionably-late entry in the slasher-comedy subgenre, so where should we take a concept about a killer surgeon? Into straight-faced waters, I should think. Never mind that the ad copy guys will try to sell it as another franchise killer, mangling the name of one of the icons in the process (who, exactly is "Freddie"?).

Taking it's cues directly from the first hospital-based slasher of the '80s, HALLOWEEN II (1981), Schenkel opens with a '50s pop tune "Lollypop" by The Chordettes and introduces the audience to the psychological trauma that causes the ensuing rampage. On a dark and stormy night in the '50s, young Julian Matar, with lollypop in hand, witnesses a doctor stab his brother in the throat with a scalpel. Even though the scene plays out in front of our eyes, it's hard to tell whether this is an accident or on purpose. Never mind, it's really not important anyway, what is important is that it did happen, the song is on the radio and the same said confectionery is in hand.

If Malcolm McDowell is involved
things are bound to get a little messy
Flash forward 40 years and in an unnamed modern metropolitan hospital, Dr. Stein (Malcom McDowell) is involved in unorthodox diabetes transplant research on baboons. This practice causes the rather fetching Dr. Theresa McCann (Isabel Glasser) more than a little bit of consternation, particularly after one of the experiments turns into a bloody mess during a presentation (isn't that always the way with these things?). McCann ramps up the friction even more by complaining to the boss Dr. Ed Mittlesbay (Charles Dance) about the lack of committee approval, and so on. Geeze, what got up her skirt? I have a feeling we'll find out. Oh, and I have to stop for just one moment and wonder who was the friggin' moron who decided it would be a good idea for Charles Dance to sport a wheedling, nasal and occasionally regional American accent? Mr. Dance, if you are reading this, and that was in fact your decision, my apologies, it was a wonderful performance.



After recommending that a patient of Dr. Stein's is put on dialysis due to emergency renal failure, what appears to be Mark Blankfield from JEKYLL AND HYDE TOGETHER AGAIN (1981), sneaks in and gives the patient some sort of injection causing her veins to burst. The killer leaves a lollypop right next to the machine. Oddly, McCann is not surprised by finding the lollypop and hides it in her pocket.

As the bodies start popping up, McCann ropes her most promising and jackasstic student doctor, Dr. Hendricks (James Remar), into investigating the murders. In short order they discover that the killer is a once promising surgeon who was fired three years prior for unauthorized experiments. The damnest thing is that after being fired, he plummeted out a window ending up paralyzed in a Colorado hospital (how he ended up in Colorado when it's made clear that the current hospital is in a different time zone is unclear). While being arrested for the murders, Dr. Matar (who now sports shoulder-length hair, so you know he's bad) flies into a berserker frenzy and escapes, only to be hit by a speeding ambulance. He is then taken to a prison hospital that apparently is running short of lightbulbs and must escape again while McCann and Hendricks do a little skinny dipping in the hospital pool. Of course, he returns  hiding in the hospital picking off patients and doctors, one by one! Meh, well, sort of... There's plenty of filler to go around.

Adding a bit of a Stuart Gordon twist, Dr. Matar's research (as illustrated in his thesis titled "Exquisite Tenderness" which the hospital conveniently has on hand in the records room), concerns accelerating the regrowth and repair of damaged tissue. What this boils down to is that with the help of a giant hypodermic needle, Dr. Matar is able to extract pituitary fluid with which he can mix into a colorful syringe of super-healing liquid which allows him to be shot "six tiiiiiimes!" and survive. The thread to HALLOWEEN II is pretty tenuous, I grant you; mainly consisting of the hospital, lots of needle killings, a '50s pop song, and a killer that doesn't die if you shoot him. On the other hand, Schenkel is definitely trying to avoid making any connections to the two slasher franchises mentioned in the poster (with the exception of a scene in which a couple have sex in a hospital room that is filled with so many candles that I'm amazed it didn't cook them like a couple of turkeys).

The gift shop must have been well-stocked!

There are few things to like about this movie. First off, there are almost no one-liners, only a couple at the very end, and they are nothing compared to a "Freddie" sequel. Clearly nobody wanted to make DR. GIGGLES II and I have to applaud that, if nothing else. It also has a fast pace, a great cast (I'm sure someone out there was dying to see Mother Love in an obligatory "excitable black woman" role) and there's plenty of amusingly silly stuff such as the fact that you can cut the power supply for an entire hospital by smashing an x-ray light table.

One of my favorites scenes is, no, not the skinny dipping scene (complete with underwater camera), but the date scene in which our budding lovers, McCann and Hendricks, go on a sushi date at a restaurant called "Beluga's" which has a manatee aquarium taking up an entire wall. I can see the location scout giving himself a high-five when he found this place. Where EXQUISITE TENDERNESS really drops the ball is with it's raison d'etre: A whacked out nutball killin' folks in a hospital. Like HALLOWEEN II, screenplay re-writer Patrick Cirillo (who wrote the script based on one by Bernard Sloane, which I'm willing to bet was much better), seems to think that this is a high-brow horror film, so we will run through a few slasher conventions but hold off on the graphic violence. This was a trend in the '90s, partially due to the success of Scorsese's hugely overrated CAPE FEAR (1991) remake. Perhaps it was inevitable as the low-brow horror-comedies had run their course. Then again, Jack Valenti and his posse made it pointless to even try to introduce horror effects unless you were a friend of the Academy. Either way, the scares and shocks just aren't there, and what's a horror film without scares and shocks? ERNEST SCARED STUPID?

Excuse me, I think you dropped something...

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