Friday, 7 August 2009

Patrick (1978)

She could at least take care of that monobrow.

Okay, I finally broke down and rented Not Quite Hollywood, last year's hit documentary about the history of Australian exploitation film. Aside from the coining of the stupid term "ozsploitation" it was very good, but as I predicted I ended up with a bunch of films on my DVD rental queue. First in the list is Patrick, a 1978 film by Australian Hitchcock fanatic Richard Franklin, who directed the quite excellent Road Games. Franklin was a student and personal friend of Hitchcock, and ol' Hitch didn't just leave his fingerprints on Franklin's work, he left three forms of ID, a copy of his birth certificate and a blood sample, so Franklin has managed to turn out some great suspense thrillers.

From Hard to Kill to Kill Bill to Til Death, there is a rich cinematic history of coma/revenge films. Patrick is unusual, however, in that it's about a guy who seeks revenge while still in a coma. It all begins when Patrick flips his lid after hearing his mother fucking her asshole boyfriend next door. When will mothers learn that after they give birth they are supposed to live a life of wholesome celibacy? Patrick wanders into the bathroom where they are having a post-coital bubble bath and dumps a lamp into the bathtub. They get fried while Patrick somehow falls into a braindead coma and there he remains for the next three years.

Enter Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a former nurse who is returning to work after a recent separation from her husband. During an extremely awkward job interview, Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake) gives an incredible speech about how their small, out-of-the-way hospital attracts all kinds of undesirables and perverts; lesbians, nymphomaniacs, enema specialists, zoophiliacs, algolagniacs, necrophiliacs, pedophiliacs, scoptophiliacs, exhibitionists and voyeurs. Wow. She is assigned to look after Patrick, which seems like a pretty cushy job at first. All you have to do is inform the doctor of his bowel movements and periodically spritz his wide-open eyeballs (apparently they aren't allowed to suture his eyes shut, Matron's orders). Sure there are downsides to the job too. He's got a nasty spit reflex and did I mention the homicidal psychokinetic powers?

Sure enough Patrick falls in love with her, leaving every male in her life vulnerable to his seemingly omniscient psychic attacks. Dreamy neurosurgeon Dr. Wright (Bruce Barry) almost drowns during his swinging pool party and her husband Ed (Ron Mullinar) gets some nasty burns from a casserole dish. Patrick also jealously trashes her apartment and fucks with her typing. Things start getting out of hand. Naturally nobody believes her story, so when Kathy is discovered giving Patrick a handjob under the covers (long story) the Matron punishes her by assigning her to more Patrick duty. A pretty inappropriate punishment under the circumstances, no wonder the hospital attracts so many sexual deviants.

A few secondary characters flesh out the proceedings, including the sinister Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann) who is using Patrick as a test subject to determine the existence of a soul. He also likes to eat/mutilate frogs. Don't ask. There's also Captain Fraser (Walter Pym), a grumpy old man who likes to jump out at suspense-filled moments and shout at people. Don't expect a huge body count, this is very much a slow-burning, character-focused horror film. There's only a few deaths, often off-screen and mostly amphibian, but this is a film that is more about suspense and atmosphere than death and destruction.

The film was written by Everett De Roche, who wrote a whole bunch of great Australian films, including the excellent Jaws rip-off Razorback, ecological horror film Long Weekend and the trucker thriller Roadgames. The DVD included a De Roche penned script treatment for a sequel to Patrick, but I'm kind of glad they didn't go through with it because it looks pretty bad. There's also a really nice score by Brian May, who is not the guitarist from Queen but the composer for Mad Max, Roadgames and many other Australian films from the 80s.

Patrick is a solid and underrated little suspense thriller. Hitchcock's influence is so strongly felt that when Universal Studios saw this film they selected Franklin to direct the surprisingly good Psycho II. It was the inspiration for Uma Thurman's comatose spit reflex in Kill Bill and there was even an unofficial Italian remake/sequel called Patrick Vive Ancora (Patrick Still Lives), which in true Italian horror fashion trades the careful suspense-building of the original for tits and violence. If you're ever in the mood for a 70s style, slow-burning, Hitchcock-ian suspense thriller about psychokinetic powers and Carrie is unavailable, this would be a great backup choice.

No comments: