Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween Havoc: X-RAY (HOSPITAL MASSACRE) (1982)

There are many things that filmmakers clearly have no concept of in reality. Computers are one. How many times have you seen a computer or video game represented in a completely laughable way? I mean, even as a Bond-obsessed teenager, I didn't for one second either buy the fact that the game Bond plays in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) actually could exist or that a 53 year old man would actually play it. I'm pretty sure the only movie to accurately represent technology was THE WRESTLER (2008) which featured a scene where Randy "The Ram" is playing a very authentic looking Nintendo game in which he appears. As an aside, it was totally believable that a 56 year old man would play it. Or rather, that particular 56 year old man. It seems that one of the other things Hollywood is clueless about is hospitals. Apparently the only hospital that filmmakers have ever been to are named after Gerald Ford's wife.

For no-one is this so obvious than industry veteran Boaz Davidson. Either Davidson has never set foot in a hospital when he set out to make this completely ludicrous slasher flick, or he was giving the world insight into how hospitals are run in his native Palestine. This film also teaches us about the important life lesson of never dissing a valentine, in case you missed that point in the previous year's MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). Generally speaking this seems to be a very bad thing and leads to having hearts stabbed in addition to being broken.

The film's obligatory prologue has sad (but creepy) 8-year-old Harold, peeking in the living room window, witnessing a little girl, Susan, and her brother trash his valentine and laugh over it. When Susan goes into the other room to get some cake (in a pointlessly menacing fashion) Harold, off camera, impales the brother's head on a coat rack, leaving poor Susan screaming bloody murder. Harold might have slightly misjudged his reaction to this impertinence but on the other hand, the kid was a bit of a prick.

Years later, bearing no mental scars and growing from a lanky blonde into a pint-sized brunette, Susan (Playboy non-playmate favorite Barbi Benton) has divorced her worthless husband, Tom (Jimmy Stathis). We know he's worthless because she calls him an "asshole" who can't do anything right, while the poor sap is being perfectly reasonable. Dammit, Davidson is ruining my private fantasy of Barbi Benton being low-maintenance. Anyway, Susan has hooked up with a nebbish who patiently waits in the car while Susan runs into the hospital to pick up some test results... undeterred by his comment about this being the very same hospital where some guy "ran amok"! Amok, I say! Oh damn, is it Valentine's Day too? Man, I hope he brought a book.

Susan does a lot of wandering around the hospital to try and find her doctor, getting stuck in elevators (manipulated by the killer), running into three guys in gas masks (gasp!) who are fumigating the 9th floor and generally padding out the running time. Susan suddenly finds herself in the elevator with a corpse! No, wait, it's just a drunk patient who is eating a burger saturated with ketchup. After escaping this harrowing ordeal, she continues to wander, meanwhile a heavy breather in scrubs and a surgical mask knifes a doctor. More wandering. The creepy janitor finds the dead doc only to make an incredibly bizarre squealing after going face first in a sink filled with acid. Apparently we are seeing this from Susan's point of view as there isn't a single non-creepster dude in this entire hospital. Susan's fiancee waits...


Eventually Susan finds an intern, Harry (Charles Lucia), who seems like a genuinely nice guy. Because he is such a nice guy, he completely violates ethics standards, steals her file, and hunts down one Dr. Saxon (John Warner Williams) in an attempt to investigate her x-rays. Apparently there is something terribly wrong (the killer had previously switched her x-rays and chart), but nobody wants to say what it might be. Instead they decide that action should be taken immediately and the first course of action is Susan being commanded to strip down to her silk panties, so that Dr. Saxon can take her blood pressure. Hey, I'm not a doctor, you may get a much better reading when the patient's nipples are exposed. Could be perfectly scientific.

The second course of action is to get her into a hospital bed (seriously, this doc Saxon is a pro! Who wouldn't want to tell Barbi Benton to get undressed and get in bed?). Fortunately for Susan, she is not alone, unfortunately she gets to share a room with some of the creepiest old folks this side of THE SENTINEL (1977), who discuss the infections in her blood and generally scowl. For some reason, one of them appears to be a man in drag. This is definitely the most realistic part of the movie, as far as I can tell.

After, understandably deciding to bail from the septuagenarian strangeness, the nasty nurses and the severed head Susan runs around bumping into the most obvious red herrings short of actually dressing the cast members in crimson fish costumes.

See! The unrelenting terror of the traction room!!

Meanwhile, the killer, who seems to be suffocating in his surgical mask, is stabbing nurses with a kitchen knife (uhhh, where'd he get that?), carting around bodies in laundry baskets and generally making himself right at home. He even has enough time to hand deliver a severed head in a neat, red hat-box (maybe he raided the gift shop before going on his killing spree?), causing a running, screaming outburst out of Susan who suddenly seems to find herself in Knott's Scary Farm, with hilarious surprises behind every door. At one point the killer attacks someone with a bed sheet. It's not one of the greatest kills in slasher movie history, but it's oddness is memorable, and the victim's horrified reaction is freakin' priceless. This, of course leads to Susan to be physically dragged back to her room by the angry nurses, strapped to a gurney and while she screams in protest, the doc casually throws a line over his shoulder to the nurses saying "if there's any more of this, I'll have to operate!" Wait, what?! Who did he study medicine under? Donald O'Brian?


We of course get the obligatory straight up stalking sequences and the big reveal of the killer, which would be laughably obvious except for the fact that the killer while wearing the surgical mask is played by a smaller guy with completely different features! The combination of the ridiculous red herrings, the utterly bizarre behavior of the medical staff, the wildly exaggerated performance of the killer who acts like he's scaring kids in a Fresno corn maze, and one naked Barbi Benton make this sort of a bizarre fever dream that is a Goblin score short of a full blown hallucination. To be fair to Davidson, the script was written by Marc Behm. His wildly erratic screenwriting credits (everything from The Beatles' HELP (1965) to Just Jaeckin's LADY CHATTERLY'S LOVER (1981), seem really interesting until you realize that for all of these films, he was the co-writer. X-RAY is in fact his second of two solo efforts (the first being the then-controversial 1965 Oliver Reed beatnik nasty THE PARTY'S OVER). Viewed as a nightmare (explaining the numerous amusing breaks from reality), it's a pretty fun slasher flick that only stumbles in the actual slashing department. It's hard to tell whether Davidson is trying to avoid Jack Valenti's wrath, or whether he is actually taking the project very seriously and is thinking that he's making a "thinking man's horror movie" (the best thing about political correctness, is it put that old chestnut out of commission). Either way, it's patently absurd fun in the right frame of mind.

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