Our review of Patrick: Special Edition, published October 28th, 2008, is also available.
He's in a coma…yet, he can kill.
A relic of the halcyon days when horror films had to rely on more than buckets of fake blood and gruesome technical effects to scare audiences, Patrick was probably the first fright flick from the continent of Australia to gain widespread international attention. At long last, Elite Entertainment—the noble bastion of classic horror movie preservation that brought you Millennium Edition DVDs of Re-Animator, Night of the Living Dead, and I Spit on Your Grave—delivers this cult favorite to your home theater.
Facts of the Case
Talk about your Oedipus complex. Adolescent Patrick (Robert Thompson) murders his mother and her boyfriend by pitching an electric heater into the tub while they're canoodling in the bath. Three years later, he's the star resident of the local sanitarium—now a comatose, unblinkingly goggle-eyed reject from the cabinet of Dr. Caligari, whose only visible connection with the sentient world is his entertaining habit of spitting on the doctors and nurses who care for him.
Enter comely young nurse Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon, best known on this edge of the Pacific Rim as the ingénue in Samuel Z. Arkoff's Jurassic Park precursor, The Land That Time Forgot). Kathy recently separated from her ne'er-do-well husband Ed (Rod Mullinar, Breaker Morant) and is newly returned to the job market. Applying for a position at the clinic, Kathy endures the most inappropriate job interview this side of Paula Jones, a withering inquisition by Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake of the late, lamented exploitation teleseries Prisoner: Cell Block H), the Aussie equivalent of Nurse Ratched: "Why did you choose the Roget Clinic, Mrs. Jacquard? We tend to attract certain types—lesbians, nymphomaniacs, enema specialists…" (We're left to wonder which of these Ms. Cassidy is. My guess? All three.)
Kathy the newbie gets stuck with the assignment of tending to the vegetative Patrick, whom clinic head Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) calls "a born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick." Before long, weird phenomena begin swirling around our heroine in sensible white shoes: a typewriter pecks out mysterious messages; windows fly open unbidden; statuary moves around by itself; and, oh yes, people begin dropping dead in novel ways.
Is Patrick the source of these bizarre happenings? And if so, will Kathy be able to convince anyone there's something not quite right about her supposedly brain-dead patient, before she too gets killed?
Patrick, I'm convinced, is one of these films that becomes a cult classic on the strength of legend and relative unavailability. I believe this because, seen in the cold clear light of day, this just isn't all that much of a horror movie. Made on a budget roughly equal to the price of dinner at the Outback Steakhouse, from a script that might well have been scribbled on the backs of cocktail napkins over a six-pack of Fosters Lager, Patrick is agonizingly slow—nothing much happens until an hour into the film, or thereafter for that matter—produced and acted at the level of shoddy soap opera. It's also about as scary as the koalas at the Melbourne Zoo. You had to figure this would be problematic—how frightening is a monster who can't speak or move?
That's not to say the film doesn't have its positive attributes. Director Richard Franklin clearly labored under some of the same Hitchcock-fanboy delusions as Brian De Palma, though without De Palma's inherent talent. Franklin—who fully indulged his Hitch fetish years later when hired to direct Psycho II—bought into the Master of Suspense's philosophy that less (in terms of onscreen violence) is more, and therefore he effectively keeps the splatter to a minimum. (Truth to tell, it's practically non-existent. The Fangoria crowd will definitely lobby for a refund.) He spends much more time developing his characters and their motivations than one might expect in a film of this genre, though that's a twin-edged sword—all that character interaction drags the pacing to the point that the viewer becomes almost as insensate as the title character. Kill some people, already, before we doze off.
Of the featured players, only Susan Penhaligon is particularly memorable, mostly because she gets the bulk of the screen time and is attractive and plucky. Penhaligon does a decent job of encouraging our emotional investment in her character in the midst of a story that isn't especially involving. Ultimately, though, there's just not enough "there" there. To paraphrase a line from the old Tom Hanks comedy Bachelor Party, I don't usually like my horror this un-horrific.
Elite's DVD does as much justice to Patrick as the film warrants. The non-anamorphic widescreen transfer is grainy and shows abundant signs of the source print's degradation due to age and wear, but let's be realistic—this is a quarter-century-old bargain-basement genre flick. It probably never looked much better than this. Contrasts throughout the film are sharp (just a hint of fuzziness noted here and there), depth is adequate, and the muted color palette appears natural.
By the same token, the stereo soundtrack is nothing to boast about, but it's reasonably clear with good separation between dialogue and score. (Speaking of the score, it's sadly dated and screechy electronic 1970s creature feature music. Bleah.) Our fellow North Americans can enjoy the film with either Spanish or French dub tracks.
Director Franklin weighs in with a thorough, if not especially entertaining, audio commentary. Franklin's not the most animated speaker you've ever heard—sort of explains the film, now that I think about it—but he does a respectable job of covering the film's background and relevant production points. It's obvious that it's been quite a while since Franklin saw the movie, as he lapses into silence for lengthy stretches. Overall, though, he'll probably tell you all you wanted to know (and more) about the making of this picture.
Elite includes two trailers—the full-length international version, presented in full-frame, and a shorter widescreen cut for the U.S. market. Both previews look as though they've been moldering in a vault since the Carter administration, which, come to think of it, they probably have. You'll also get a surprisingly ample plate of cast and crew filmographies, and some soundtrack album cover art.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
On the off chance you really enjoy this film, you might keep your eyes peeled for a late-show airing of director Richard Franklin's follow-up film, Road Games. With an increased budget, a better screenplay from his Patrick collaborator Everett De Roche, and stars you'll actually recognize (Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her "Scream Queen" fame, and TV's Mike Hammer, Stacy Keach), Franklin turns in a compelling little suspense flick. Road Games hasn't been released on DVD, but it pops up occasionally on cable and indie stations.
Nowhere near as good as its reputation suggests. And, despite the blurb on the cover, not "Extremely Bloody!" either. (Who is the critic for Video Movie Guide who penned this falsehood, and has he or she ever seen this movie?) Worth a look if you're an Aussiephile, an obsessive Hitchcock-imitator completist, or stalking Susan Penhaligon. Everyone else should take a pass.
The Court finds Patrick guilty of driving viewers into a coma, and sentences him to electroshock therapy at Dr. Frank-N-Furter's House of Exquisite Pain. We're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Richard Franklin
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