Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: August 20th, 2013
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
When I watched X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre) for the first time last year, it was something of a personal rarity; while there are plenty of super obscure 80s slashers that I havenít gotten around to, this one was a bit of a glaring omission since itís a noteworthy highlight in the canon as a big studio effort with some star power behind it. Finally seeing it made it clear why it was always in the shadow of the superior My Bloody Valentine, and I couldnít exactly see slotting it into an annual Valentineís Day rotation alongside MBV, its remake, and Valentine. But Scream Factory being the awesome studio that they are decided to unearth it and give it the Blu-ray treatment, and Iím certainly in no position to refuse Barbi Benton in HD, so letís go another round with X-Ray.
A second pass confirms my earlier sentiment, though X-Ray does improve a bit. Its middle section, which finds Benton stumbling around the office looking for a doctor to find and read her check-up charts, is a huge drag that kills the momentum, but the film is nicely bookended by some balls-to-the-wall slasher sequences that really kill (excuse the obvious turn of phrase). Iíve said this before, but itís remarkable just how quickly the genre formula was established; only a few years removed from the slasher big bang, X-Ray features the usual signposts: the holiday setting, the prologue set a couple of decades earlier that sets things in motion, a creepy, confined environment, ample amounts of splatter, and a whodunit angle.
In fact, it strikes me that the early-going would be easy to mistake as a slasher spoof. The prologue is wildly overdone with its requisite hazy cinematography and the overt creepiness of the kids involved--somehow, I missed that two of them are Bloody Birthday alums the first time out (credit to BC at HMAD for the eagle eye here). Anyway, Elizabeth Hoy is young Susan (the girl who will grow up to be Benton), a preteen heartbreaker who spurns Haroldís (Billy Jacoby) advances on Valentineís Day in 1961, and the exchange ends with Susanís play date dangling from a coat hanger. Along the way, thereís a goofy fake out where Susan brandishes a huge knife with psychotic eyes before she innocuously cuts a cake.
When the film moves ahead 19 years, the fake-outs donít stop. Once Susan enters the hospital, X-Ray immediately starts to prey on the usual tropes, no matter how silly it may seem. She shares an elevator ride with a guy whoís slumped over in the corner, covered with a red substanceÖthat ends up just being ketchup. For whatever reason, he must have been taking a catnap because the guy wakes up and promptly takes a bite out of his burger. If thatís not weird enough, a trio of Harry Warden knock-offs act as a stinger when the elevator doors open, and thereís another fake blood gag involving some paint. Even serial jump scare artist Steve Miner had to think this was excessive.
But, soon enough, X-Ray stops fucking around once the killer shows up and brutally murders Susanís doctor and a couple more bystanders. As a splatter movie, this one delivers the goodsóyouíve got wicked, blood-soaked impalements, an acid-bath, and a darkly humorous decapitation that stand out. The problem is that theyíre stretched thin across the 90 minute runtime; the killer kicks off with a bang before virtually disappearing for that middle stretch, where it looks like his diabolical plan is to trick Susan and her doctors into thinking sheís terminally illÖbefore actually killing her, I guess? For a guy whoís been plotting his revenge for 19 years, I donít think he thought this one through too much.
Obviously, X-Ray is full of silliness like thatóhell, Susanís new boyfriend (sheís recently divorced and has a young daughter, but that particular subplot goes nowhere) waits outside in his car for two hours before suspecting that something might be wrong. To its credit, the film actually embraces its illogical, oddball vibe towards the end, when itís just straight-up bizarre; suddenly, the hospital is overflowing with loonies and weirdoes, so much so that Iím convinced the film is trying to trick viewers into thinking the place is actually a psychiatric ward. Instead, it goes with the most obvious and disappointing route thatíll leave you wondering why they even bothered to conceal the killerís identity in the first place.
But, like I said during the last review (which I feel like Iíve pretty much paraphrased here), at least they give the bastard one hell of a send-off that lets him go out in a blaze of glory. Heís still no Harry Warden, but this guy isnít a bad backup option if the legend of Valentine Bluff is taken. (Though, in a perfect world, Michael Ironsideís deranged, misogynist psycho from Visiting Hours would have been in this hospital slasher, which definitely deserved him more).
Never underestimate the power of a great presentation. I must admit that X-Ray was improved, if only because I could see what was going on. Whereas the old VHS transfer was a murky, grungy mess, Scream Factoryís high-def effort is a literal revelation that restores the film to its glory. Boaz Davidsonís direction isnít exactly flashy, but he exhibits some nice flourishes during the murder sequences. Speaking of which, the gore itself is done a lot of favors by this new transfer; somehow, I even found the splatter a little underwhelming the first time around, but itís clear now that this is the filmís most impressive calling card (well, besides Benton herself maybe, who doesnít really need HD to do her any favors, but itís appreciated). The lossless stereo track is slightly less impressive because the original track doesnít have much going for it in the first place, save for Arlon Orberís oddly choral score thatís more Omen than it is Friday the 13th.
The supplements are lighter compared to other Scream Factory discs, but the lone interview with Davidson is fun. Despite having seen a lot of his films, it occurred to me that this was the first time Iíd seen him in front of a camera, and he seems like a cool guy to hang out and chat with. For this particular piece, he briefly discusses how he met Golan and Globus before admitting that slasher movies arenít really his thing, a revelation that comes to no surprise to anyone who knows that he directed four of the Lemon Popsicle movies and Last American Virgin (sadly, none of these movies are mentioned). The rest of the interview features various recollections and anecdotes about the X-Ray shoot, including a humorous one centered around Bentonís nude scene.
The light supplements are easy to forgive considering this is a nicely budgeted DVD/Blu-ray combo pack that pairs the film with another Cannon slasher/giallo, Schizoid. It might have made more sense to join it up with fellow holiday slasher New Yearís Evil (especially considering its end credits teased the release of X-Ray under the title Be My ValentineÖOr Else), but that one already got its due thanks to MGMís Limited Edition series. Besides, this release provides a pretty decent early 80s snapshot of where the slasher genre had been (Schizoid is leftover 70s junk) and where it was headedófor better or worse. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: