Tuesday, April 8, 2014

PATRICK (1978) Blu-ray Review

Patrick (1978) d. Richard Franklin (Australia)

Freshly separated from her husband, Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) re-enters the workforce as a nurse at a hospital catering to an exclusive clientele of severely disturbed and/or disabled patients. Almost immediately, she forms an attachment to the comatose Patrick (Robert Thompson), all blonde curly hair and blank unblinking stare, and he to her, communicating initially through sharp exhalations, but eventually revealing his true inner gifts. Seems our titular deadpan bedpan is a psychokinetic, with the power to tap out messages on typewriters, trash people’s rooms, possess minds, and who knows what else. And it turns out that he’s the jealous type....

Widely acknowledged as one of the principal players in the wave of “Ozploitation” flicks that emerged from Australia in the late 70s/early 80s, Patrick is an odd koala indeed. In retrospect, its worldwide success is surprising considering how relatively tame the thrills are; for a drive-in sensation, it’s quite measured and deliberate in its pacing and low gore/body count. This is not to say the film is without merit for genre fans: The late great Franklin delivers a remarkable amount of style and suspense in his second feature, one which the producer/director admits to being made with as broad an audience appeal as possible, and there are a number of sly moments delivered in such an offhand manner that one almost misses the subversive content being trucked out. (“Did she really just touch him where I think she did?”) But while the calculated highs and lows incorporated into veteran U.S. ex-pat Everett De Roche’s (Long Weekend, Harlequin, Razorback) script are duly noted (and appreciated), it’s never quite the rollercoaster ride intended, however polished and “Hitchcockian” the final result.

Speaking of which, the Master of Suspense’s shadow hangs heavy over the proceedings, with numerous call-outs layered in by Franklin – an admitted devotee – throughout. The clinic run by Dr. Roget (Michael Helpmann) is located in a structure strikingly similar to a certain house on the hill overlooking the Bates Motel, and our silent psychic killer kicks off the film by offing his mom and her lover in the tub (with a portable electric heater standing in for the butcher knife).

Numerous overhead shots recall North by Northwest, Sabotage, and of course, Psycho, while syringes secreted away in pockets pay tribute to Notorious. Listening to Franklin’s audio commentary, we even learn that Thompson’s positioning in the bed is revealed to be unconsciously based on Joseph Cotten’s in Shadow of a Doubt. These various nods are undoubtedly what helped land the director the helming of 1983’s shockingly good Psycho II, and they lend no shortage of class to the low-budget affair.

Also benefiting the cause is Penhaligon, a veteran of such enjoyable mid-70s fare as Kevin Connor’s The Land That Time Forgot (a childhood favorite), Peter Walker’s The Confessional (aka The House of Mortal Sin), and the Amicus-lite anthology The Uncanny – not to mention Paul Verhoeven’s breakout Solider of Orange opposite Rutger Hauer – on her resume. Her imminently likeable and empathetic turn as a single woman trying to sort out her muddled love life while encountering an extraordinary series of supernatural events grounds the fanciful plot and provides viewer identification, something too often neglected in modern genre efforts.

Also terrific is Helpmann as the irascible Dr. Roget, intent on unlocking the mysteries of Patrick’s mind and capturing that elusive moment between life and death for posterity. Whether it be administering electro-shock therapy or skewering a handy frog, Helpmann is a lively, focused, and energetic presence in his every scene. Also worthy of note are Julia Blake as the taciturn head nurse, Rod Mullinar as Penhaglion’s ex, and hunky Bruce Barry as a potential paramour, all of whom fall under Patrick’s malevolent mental gaze at one time or another.

Timed perfectly in concert with the recent remake starring Sharni Vinson and Charles Dance, Severin Films stacks Patrick’s Blu-ray debut with juicy extras such as the aforementioned Franklin commentary (recorded in 2003) and an hour’s worth of interviews with Penhaligon, Mullinar, Franklin, De Roche, and producer Antony I. Ginnane taken from Mark Hartley’s stellar 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood.

There’s also a vintage interview with Franklin between his Roadgames (1981) and Psycho II gigs, although it’s strangely sped up such that all the voices are pitched a little high and the movements all a little jerky. Another delicious surprise is the Italian audio track which, in addition to being re-dubbed, substitutes Ozzy staple Brian May’s orchestral score with that of prog-rockers Goblin (Suspiria). Funky.

Patrick is available now in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE 


--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

Oh, come on.  You didn't really think there wasn't going to be a shower scene, did you?

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