Just finished watching X-ray (aka Hospital Massacre, 1982) for the first time since seeing it as a wee one on HBO around the time of release. And all I can say is, wow.
Now admittedly, there’s not a hell of a lot to say about an old slasher film (which is why Tim Ritter and I approached the subject in the way we did on our April Fool’s Day Slasherama), but suffice to say that if you love these junk food candy coated confections of 80s history, get off the couch and get the new Scream Factory blu/DVD combo NOW. Seriously, you won’t regret this one.
What we have here is a pair of Cannon slashers (and here I thought they were the home of ninja-frought action flicks by the likes of Chuck Norris and Sho Kosugi), one starring my favorite actor/loon Klaus Kinski. But interestingly enough, that’s not the draw.
What is the real selling point here is X-ray, a surprisingly entertaining slice of gruyere from the glory days of slasher cinema (and coming right around the final gasp of proper horror cinema per se, circa 1981). Obviously modeled on the prior year’s creepy abandoned hospital set Halloween II, this little semi-comic creepfest oddity comes with its own unique pluses:
- pretty New York native Barbara Klein (better known by her Playboy/Hee Haw nom du guerre of Barbi Benton), whose ridiculously obvious stuff-job boobs are her main flaw rather than expected attraction (check out how they don’t lay down naturally during the examination scene…yecch!!)
- a ridiculously over the top script that leans noticeably towards self parody,
- and an uncomfortably oneiric feel that taps into all-too valid fears of the medical profession, malpractice and practicioner arrogance towards “patients”, while pulling the whole scenario straight into the realm of childhood nightmare.
Hilarious cheese, an effective chiller marked by all too obvious and overly frequent jump scares, or a valid warning about the healthcare system? You decide…for once, all scenarios prove equally valid.
Benton is no actress, but by the execrably low standards of the genre (long noted for its reliance on single appearance “actors” and “actresses” hailing from summer stock and acquaintances of the film crew), she holds up well enough, and a pretty face doesn’t exactly hurt in softening the metaphorical blow.
With a cast of simpering Alan Alda-esque “New Man” male feminist types (watching Benton’s filmic fiancee stand by meekly as she’s manhandled by the sinister hospital staff is a true jaw dropper of a moment…) and some truly over the top red herrings, this is either pure fairytale nightmare logic on celluloid or utter cheese of the most egregious soap opera variety.
Only the last 15 minutes, consumed entirely by an endless boring chase sequence between our heroine and the killer, disappoints – the rest is pure cult film nirvana.
Likeable director Boaz Davidson gives a bemused and candid (if somewhat bewildered) assessment of the circumstances of filming (the original scriptwriter, he was called in last minute to direct as well) and subsequent audience reactions (“it’s supposed to be scary!”) that’s well worth the 15 minutes or so spent.
Next up, we have a film on a completely different level, but just as interesting in its own way – two films paired as much for their oddity in relation to the genre to which they ostensibly belong as for their shared studio of origin.
Schizoid (1980) features more of a cult film “all star” cast, marked not only by the presence of its inflammatory top billed star, but Donna Wilkes of Angel and the Linda Blair vehicle Grotesque (who sports some really nice red satin underwear – a pink version of which appears on a victim later in the film); the lovely Mariana Hill of Messiah of Evil, looking somewhat worse for wear a decade on; Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future, and Craig Wasson, a Bill Maher lookalike more notable for his TV career than the few generally mainstream films he appeared in.
Some sprocket damage gives the picture an annoying vertical shakiness during the opening credit sequence, but for the most part, it clears up to a pristine picture thereafter (there are obvious recurrences, such as the one crossing two scenes at the 10m mark).
Opening on an outdoor hot tub sequence with a number of homely middle aged women (the best of whom looks a bit like Mary Steenburgen, but not as cute – the rest approach bag lady territory), the film is a bit less traditional slasher picture than vaguely Euro-cult if not giallo stylistically.
Not bad, but hardly up to the precedents set by its Italianate forbears, the film is primarily held together by one of Klaus’ uncharacteristically mellow late-period performances and the uniqueness of its approach for a stateside production during the heyday of the slasher (the closest it gets to the latter would be a vague shared sensibility with David A. Prior’s Aerobicide that’s more easily felt than put into words).
Now if Shout (or ‘Scream’, if you prefer) will only rescue Ms. Hill’s subsequent genre effort Blood Beach to DVD/Blu…
While hardly top tier fare, particularly by comparison with the usual Shout!/Scream Factory releases of middling genre outings like Deadly Harvest and Bad Dreams, this is the sort of paired package of welcome obscurities that cult aficionados salivate over, and as such comes highly recommended.