Written by: Everett De Roche
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Starring: Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, and Robert Thompson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Patrick is Nearly Dead ... And Still He Kills!
If thereís a seminal Ozploitation film, itís arguably Patrick, the 1978 effort that joined Aussie schlock-master Anthony Ginnane with premier horror director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Everett De Roche, the architect of several Ozploitation scripts. Together, this veritable all-star team shaped one of the eraís most memorable hooks: a coma patient who still manages to kill despite his infirmity. Not content to simply ride the coattails of a gimmicky idea and an awesome tagline, Franklin fashioned a fascinating film that blends Eurotrash psycho-sleaze with Hitchcockian suspense and restraint.
Before heís reduced to a vegetative state, Patrick (Robert Thompson) is the sort of mamaís boy who goes psychotic when he overhears dear old mom screwing in the room next door. Specifically, he dumps a space heater into her tub and sends her and her lover up in flames. Years later, heís something of the star attraction at a local hospital where Kathie Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) has applied to become a nurse. After enduring a strange round of questioning from Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), sheís assigned the task of tending to Patrick, whoís been kept on life support by a doctor (Roger Helpmann) researching the metaphysics of life. Supposedly, Patrick is completely unresponsive and only occasionally spits out of a reflexive impulse, but Kathie begins to uncover evidence that heís developed a sixth sense.
What she doesnít suspect is that heís also developed an unseemly, almost adolescent attraction to her, which sets up one of cinemaís all-time great, screwy love entanglements. You canít even call it a triangle since sheís already juggling an estranged husband (Rod Mullinar) and a possible new beau (Bruce Barry), and this bizarre drama builds rather deliberately. Franklinís careful pacing not only ratchets up the tension but also invests viewers in these characters, particularly Kathie. Despite the title, Patrick is her story, and, while she displays the typical pluckiness befitting a horror heroine, sheís a strikingly mature, independent woman whose plight grounds the proceedings (which is no small task considering the filmís conceit).
But itís not like Franklin exactly runs away from the conceit either: he realizes heís dealing with a psychotic, telekinetic coma patient, so the film is suitably deranged when it needs to be. Given Franklinís adoration of Hitchcock, itís not surprising that Patrick is a potboiler; however, he also taps into Hitchís macabre sense of humor in a way that many fellow imitators fail to do. Patrick is wry as hell, especially in the way Franklin playfully mounts his tensionóseriously, this guy gets a jolt out of a guy spitting and then goes on to craft one of horrorís best jump scares (literally) during the denouement. In between, he manages several jolts that act as grace notes to the filmís creeping suspense. The journeyís rarely in doubt: Patrick aims to take you some fucked up places, and Franklin is an all-too-eager tour guide who delights in showing off. Several scenes are wonderfully, precisely realized by Franklinís ability to place the camera in just the right spot, whether itís for the purpose of offsetting or misdirecting the audience, and itís a thrilling ride despite the somewhat languid pace.
But as much as Franklin owes to Hitchcock, he undoubtedly owes about as much to his European brethren. Obviously, the filmís very idea is the sort of weird concept straight out of Eurohorror, and Franklin obliges those sensibilities by indulging in the continentís hazy, dreamlike style, especially one he arrives at the climax. Much of the film is classically mounted with static camera shots and a slow, subtle build-up (a window mysteriously opens here, an apartment is inexplicably trashed there). As Patrickís telekinesis and sexual frustration become more overt, Franklinís style becomes more frenetic, marked by fits of cacophony and graphic violence, with one particularly nightmarish, candy-colored sequence resembling the verve of an Argento film. As the 70s wore on, several filmmakers were preoccupied with aping Hitchcockís style with a fully unleashed Id, and Patrick represents one of the best efforts in that regard.
Admittedly, Patrick isnít the looniest idea floated from this era, but itís among the most successful at taking a seemingly impossible scenario and making it work without question. It almost feels like a challenge that Franklin treats as an exercise: just how terrifying or effective can a movie be with a bed-ridden antagonist? Casting a creepy-looking bastard in the role is a good start. Thompson is that and then some. Charged with the task of remaining perpetually bug-eyed and vacant, he nonetheless crafts one of horrorís more enduring characters. Patrick is a case of literal arrested development, with his physical state obviously reflecting his mental paralysisóhis actions suggest that heís still nothing more than a teenager, what with his vulgar outbursts (via typewriter) and his insistence on receiving a handjob. Thompson manages to convey this even with static facial expressions, as you get the sense that heís getting his rocks off by toying with Kathie. Youíd almost feel sorry for him if not for Thompson and Franklinís ability to keep that menace bubbling right below the surface.
Ultimately, Patrick signaled a bellwether for the Australian horror industry, which experienced a bit of a renaissance as it entered the 80s. Franklin also parlayed his work here into a gig for Psycho II, another film that must have seemed like an impossible challenge to him that he more than adequately tackled. As impressive as that feat was, however, I still donít think he ever managed to quite top Patrick, a film thatís properly refined, grungy, and gleefully perverse all at the same time. Itís probably the Australian horror flick from this age, and itís an appropriate headliner for Severinís recent Ozploitation binge. The filmís first foray into high definition in this region doesnít disappoint, as Severinís new transfer is sourced from the original negatives and looks authentic enough (if not a little soft in spots). Theyíve also outfitted the disc with several special features, including a commentary and a vintage interview with the late Franklin, the filmís trailer, and some TV spots. An hourís worth of interviews with the cast and crew is also excerpted from Mark Hartleyís Not Quite Hollywood. All told, itís a much-deserved upgrade for one of Australia's most infamous and entertaining exports. Buy it!
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