Written by: Thomas Baum
Directed by: Roger Christian
Starring: Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek and Shirley Knight
Reviewed by: Josh G.
Here’s an 80s film that I always overlooked when on video, even though the cover art interested me. In fact, it was released by Paramount, so I should have expected something at least decent. Alas, it wasn’t until it came to DVD (with the same cover art as the VHS no less) that I finally grew an interest in seeing the movie. To put it in short, it’s a film about nightmares that can kill. Now, before you start having visions of a certain other type of film, read carefully, because this flick is thought out with more care than at first glance.
A young adult (The Sender, played by Ivanek) attempts suicide by drowning himself in a public lake. When he fails, he is sent to a state mental hospital, given the name John Doe #83, and is recognized as a victim of amnesia. Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold) wants to help John, but he pushes her away. Gail soon starts to endure freaky situations, where the cause of it is found to be John...or, his mind, to be exact. He has some kind of telepathic power, which is a danger to all around him, including Doe #83 as well. Perhaps a relative or somebody in the area knows of this odd fellow. That’s where Jerolyn (Knight) comes in, claiming to be John’s mother. Too bad only John and Gail see her, for she disappears whenever another being is called to speak to her. Doe refuses to return home to her. She did something to him, and it was more than a goodnight kiss. The people of the hospital may be in danger if this man stays here any longer, and Gail might just be thrown over the edge of insanity after being sent the dreams of The Sender.
If there’s anything that The Sender can score high points with, it’s atmosphere and the always present feel of horror. It’s not a normal film where horror dimensions are added in here and there. The Sender will forever remind you that this is a horror-thriller through well represented mental disorderly personalities and John Doe’s constant gloomy attitude to what only he knows. Early on, nothing too graphic happens. A patient called The Messiah (Sean Hewitt), who believes himself to be Jesus, starts rambling on to John, who takes offense and sends his dear prophet a message telepathically. From then on, the poor old fool won’t dare swallow or move his head, because it will be sliced off, like a guillotine. Silly crazy people. The Sender is creepy in dialogue first, before the effects hit. By effects, I’m in no way talking outrageous gore, just to be clear.
The story is not so plain to begin with. We have to sit still and wait, for the answers to all come when the film comes to a close. Twists (?) and turns make for some shocking tweaks. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you’re not bound to be blind sided by the realization of who John’s mother is, and how she keeps disappearing all of a sudden. It’s predictable, even from the first scene you see her in. The only thing not mentioned is how John passed down this odd trait to send visions and dreams to nearby people. He doesn’t know much about it either. He can’t help it. The event just happens, and thus, this is the reason why he tries to commit suicide. The puzzle pieces fit! Gail is haunted by the images being sent to her. Some are harmless, like the cockroaches in the refrigerator, or the bathroom mirrors gushing in blood. Others nearly cause her death, such as the car chasing scene ending in a collision with a truck. One dream that John has ends in his death, where rats infest his body. Yuck, what a thought. Doe has died in his dreams, so what does that mean for his reality?
Release was not very big for The Sender, only earning over a million in its US theatrical release. How unfortunate considering the fantastic performances by the main cast. When Gail Farmer first enters the film, she has that look about her that says, ‘Yes, she will be our female lead.’ And look now. She is the fretful doctor who only wants what’s best for her new man. The Sender takes place over a period of about five days, as hinted by a police officer near the climax, which is a jawdropper in some ways. A lot happens with the characters. John undergoes a cruel shock therapy session (with an ‘uplifting’ result for the doctor and his assistants), gains a friendship with Gail, and grows up a lot in personality. He warms up to the people fast. In five days, he gains close friendships. Hmm. Okay Thomas Baum. We’ll allow it. Just this once.
Religion makes an appearance in the form of a license plate; Luke 1:31. We see that John’s mother was also a God-fearing lady, and that she almost thought of her son as ‘The Messiah’ (Someone should have told that other ‘Messiah’ in the hospital). The hospital people try to help out John by fixing his brain, only the inevitable happens in an exploding pre-finale scene, where the surgery room engulfs in flames. The ending in John’s own house, a beautiful and eerie cabin, is slow to its advantage, saving its money shot until the very end. Here, Gail sees the offbeat mother for the last time. It should be noted that she, who does not have a weapon on her, is still threatening and dark thanks to a combination of the movie’s development. Knight’s ending performance of a mother wanting her son back at all costs is easily the most powerful of the many emotions of The Sender. Legend Films has given this underrated delicacy a widescreen presentation with nary a flaw, and even the faintest sound in the film can be heard. Beautiful. Now if only there were some extras. Six ghostly mothers out of ten isn’t bad. I can say that many horror fans will be disappointed with The Sender, based on what they might be searching for. Others will probably find something engaging in this smarter than usual game. Don’t be shy like I was. The Sender is a viewing that has potential to hit the right nerve for a few. Rent it!
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