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Friday, March 21, 2014

PATRICK (1978) -- Blu-ray/DVD review by porfle

I don't know about you, but my initial introduction to the Australian film boom of the late 70s-early 80s came mainly from the pay-cable channel Cinemax, a redheaded stepchild to HBO which, in those days, was kind of like having your own private small-screen drive-in.  It was there that I first saw (and taped for repeated viewings) such entertaining genre flicks from "dan-unda" as MAD MAX, ROAD GAMES,  and DEAD KIDS (aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR).

One which I considered the lesser of the bunch at the time was a strange little tale called, simply, PATRICK (1978).  Maybe I just watched it wrong, or didn't really pay proper attention to its rather stately-paced story.  Maybe it was the cheap dubbing with American voices that the U.S. distributors insisted on, or perhaps it was the murky pan-and-scan print.  Anyway,  I wasn't very impressed.

Now,  however, thanks to Severin Films' current release of several of these old faves on Blu-ray, I've had a chance to rewatch, reappraise, and, finally, newly appreciate PATRICK for what it is--a solid, engrossing horror/suspense thriller that really sticks to your ribs. 

Not the least of the reasons why it's so good is that it was directed by Hitchcock aficionado Richard Franklin, who would go on to make the aforementioned ROAD GAMES and, true to his devotion to the master of suspense, the belated Hitchcock sequel PSYCHO II. 

PATRICK definitely looks like it was made by someone who studied a lot of Hitchcock films, especially PSYCHO (even the hospital in the story resembles that spooky old house behind the Bates Motel).  Brian May's typically lush and powerful musical score, while sounding distinctly May-esque, follows suit by paying tribute to Bernard Herrmann in several key moments. (Note: If you listen to the Italian language track you can hear the alternate musical score by Goblin!)

And just as Norman Bates murdered his mother and her lover before the action in that film begins, here we see a pre-titles sequence in which a troubled young Patrick (Robert Thompson, THIRST), ambulatory for the only time in the movie, surprises his mother and a soapy suitor by tossing an electric heater into their bathtub.  When next we see him three years later, he's comatose in a hospital bed,  stiff as a plank, his eyes perpetually open wide. 

Jittery,  excitable Dr. Roget (renowned actor and ballet dancer Robert Helpmann of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and THE RED SHOES) has trouble finding nurses to tend the creepy patient so orders his reluctant head nurse to hire Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) on the spot when she applies for the job after separating from her husband.

It's during Kathy's private quality time with Patrick that she begins to suspect he's conscious and aware, a suspicion borne out when she discovers that he can use his mental powers to communicate with her via the typewriter she uses for hospital clerical work.  Patrick's telekinetic powers become more pronounced and more deadly when his burgeoning love for her turns to violent jealousy against her ex-husband Ed (Rod Mullinar, THIRST, BREAKER MORANT) and would-be lover Dr. Brian Wright (Bruce Barry). 

He also strikes back in a big way against Dr. Roget when the doc starts experimenting on him secretly, and Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), the head nurse who thinks Patrick should be euthanized.  Patrick's clashes with these two medical authority figures who hold his fate in their hands provide the film with some of its most gripping passages. 

Also keeping us on the edge of our seats are Patrick's homicidal thought crimes directed at the increasingly hapless men in Kathy's life.  Some signs of his growing power are as subtle as the water in Brian's swimming pool rippling as he and Kathy get romantic.  Elsewhere, an opening elevator door (which we know should be out-of-order) beckons Ed inside for what will prove to be a lengthy detour on his way upstairs to visit Kathy at the hospital. 

Strangely enough, there isn't a whole lot of violence in PATRICK,  at least nowhere near as much as you might expect.  I don't even think it ever shows any of his victims actually dying on camera.  (We do see a frog death that animal lovers will find disturbing despite a disclaimer that the frogs in the film were killed under some kind of official zoological supervision.) 

Susan Penhaligon is a likable heroine, while Helpmann overacts wonderfully as the sort of doctor who's a little too fond of weird research.  As the title character, Robert Thompson doesn't do much besides lie there the whole time, but he certainly has the perfect look for Patrick--you take one gander at that tensed, malevolent face and bulging eyes and you know something diabolical is going on in that supposedly dead brain.

Best of all, perhaps, is Julia Blake as Matron Cassidy.  Hers is a performance that can really be savored and admired.  There's a terrific scene in which her character is chewing out Kathy for getting too "close" to Patrick, and for five minutes or so her expert delivery makes the film absolutely riveting.  Later, she's at the center of one of the more suspenseful and Hitchcock-like sequences as she creeps surreptitiously through the darkened hospital with the aim of finally pulling the plug on Patrick once and for all.

The story takes its own sweet time getting started, so some modern viewers may be bored stiff wondering when the non-stop bloody thrills and gore are going to start flying at them.  This is the kind of film you settle into and allow it to weave its leisurely but increasingly compelling story--sort of like curling up with a good book instead of playing a fast-paced video game.  If you're not in a big hurry to be thrilled, it's well worth sitting back and letting it go about building up to some creepy and sometimes shocking situations.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 1.77:1/16x9 anamorphic widescreen with English, Spanish, French, and Italian Dolby 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  Extras include an informative Richard Franklin commentary track, original trailer and TV spots, an hour's worth of entertaining cast and crew interviews from the documentary "Not Quite Hollywood", a vintage TV interview with Franklin, and two fun Easter eggs--one is a trailer for the lurid Italian sequel, and the other a TV spot that should be a treat for fans of "The CBS Late Movie."  The film's original cut was 140 minutes, the USA cut 96 minutes--this print runs for about 112.

PATRICK is a good example of the distinctive Richard Franklin style, a bit like early Argento or Cronenberg in that it sometimes hints of that kind of vibe. There's a sure hand at work here although you don't really see any "style" until it's needed, and never for its own sake.   Neither a rollercoaster ride nor a cold blast of horror from out of an abattoir, this is simply a solid, involving, and satisfying old-school horror tale that you don't have to be brain-dead to appreciate.

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at


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