PATRICK: AUSSIE HORROR
My introduction to Australian cinema came in the form of 1981′s Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior written by Terry Hayes (Dead Calm (1989)) and directed by George Miller. I was lucky enough to see it in a theater when I was young. I was so struck by the film at the time. I had never seen anything like it. I remember going to school and telling all my friends about it as I recounted scenes from the film and even mimicked the accent. “You wanna git outa heer, tawk ta me”. This experience left me open to world cinema. When I was scouring those shelves at the “old school” mom and pop video rental stores I was open to more choices like Road Games (1981) and Razorback (1984) along with Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992). One of those Aussie treasures that I discovered on those magical shelves was Patrick. 1978′s Patrick is written by Everett De Roche (Road Games, and Razorback) and directed by Richard Franklin (Road Games, Psycho 2 (1983), Link (1986) and F/X 2 (1991)). Patrick employs an interesting premise and a plot device of telekinesis to tell its strange little tale. Let’s take a look.
Patrick opens as we see the weird Patrick quietly and without reaction listening to his mother through walls engaged in a sexual liaison. Quietly Patrick picks himself up and confronts his mother and her friend and kills them.
The story picks up 3 years later as Kathy Jacquard, a recently separated housewife, shows up at a hospital to apply for a position as a nurse. Kathy is hired after an awkward interview and quickly given a uniform. Kathy is then taken to relieve the nurse in room 15. The patient in room 15 is Patrick from the opening of the film. He has been comatose for 3 years. Kathy is instructed to keep his eyes moist and lubricated because they are permanently and creepily open. Patrick just lays there basically a vegetable. He may seem creepy and strange but he is harmless.
With a new job and a new place Kathy settles in to her new life. She begins to make friends with some of the nurses at the hospital. Her husband comes around seeking reconciliation but Kathy sends him packing as she wants to move on with her life. A nurse friend at the hospital invites her to a party where she meets a doctor that she makes a friendship with. Meanwhile she goes about her job caring for Patrick from day to day as her new life settles into a comfortable routine. As Kathy becomes comfortable with her new life, strange and potentially uncomfortable things begin to occur in the hospital and around Kathy herself. Does the bedridden comatose Patrick have something to do with these occurrences?
I will admit that going into Patrick I was a bit skeptical about the quality of this Aussie production. The film was made in the 1970′s so I was not exactly sure what to expect and truth be told my expectations were low. I came away from the viewing of the film pleasantly surprised as I found the film to be a well directed and well structured film. I would even argue that it felt Giallo-esque in it presentation or at the very least borrowing heavily from Italian cinema from the late 1960′s and early 1970′s. There are clever and creative shot setups especially near the beginning of the film. Being able to see Patrick’s mother’s amorous activities in the reflection of the brass bedpost. Being able to see things in the reflection of Partick’s eyes. The heavy use of extreme close ups of Patrick’s eyes reminds me of the preoccupation Lucio Fulci had with eyes in his films. There is also a bit of camera stalking of people which is something we see a lot of in Italian Horror cinema. Whether you agree with me or not, what these little tricks do is make the film entertaining and engaging even if not much happens by way of graphic violence at least by today’s standards.
Patrick is not much of a horror movie, no blood or monsters, but it feels like a Horror film with a palpable sense of dread that something bad is going to happen. This is credit to Richard Franklin because the film feels like a Horror film but basically it is a film about a woman who separates from her husband and the relationships she builds with two men during her separation. The plight of Kathy and her marital situation mixed with her interaction with Patrick is what drives the story. She separates from her husband and meets two new men Brian Wright the Doctor and Patrick the bugged eye vegetable. The film is really about how she goes from running from men to standing up to them. By the end of the film she stands up to her husband, Dr. Brian Wright, The Detective investigating the death at the hospital and finally Patrick himself. She tells the comatose Patrick, “I’m not afraid of you anymore.” I think an argument could be made that Patrick is a feminist film.
Performances are serviceable but nothing that anyone would champion. Susan Penhaligon as Kathy Jacquard was the standout for me. The entire film hangs on her character and she does manage to carry the load. She begins the film meek and on the run and ends the film strong, confident and controlling her own destiny. I would also note that Robert Helpmann as Doctor Roget was appropriately creepy as was Julia Blake as Matron Cassidy. Their collective creepiness serve the film well.
Do not expect graphic violence or excessive gore because there is none. There are maybe two or three moments of special makeup effects. These moments are small but nothing that would compare to what we would see in Italian cinema or American cinema of the time.
Patrick, the Horror film, may not feature the requisite graphic violence but it makes up for it with lots of little details that add interest to the goings on. The neon sign that reads “emergency trance”, the weird frog lobotomy performed on the fly by Dr. Roget and Matron Cassidy who wants to kill Patrick rationalizing his murder with the euthanasia issue are a few of more weird little moments and story subplots that add interest to the film and keep it moving forward.
If you went into Patrick thinking you were going to get a hardcore Horror flick, then you might be disappointed. On the other hand, if you enjoy films from the 1970′s and 1980′s and are open minded, I think that Patrick has a lot to offer. Well structured and a visually clever presentation make Patrick a very entertaining film. Brian May of Queen provides the musical score and if you watch the Italian version you will get a Goblin musical score. I enjoyed it. Give it shot.