Saturday, April 19, 2014

PATRICK (1978)


Richard Franklin, 1978
Starring: Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, Rod Mullinar, Robert Thompson

Coma patient Patrick killed his mother and her love a few years ago, and has laid in the hospital since, unable to see, hear, speak, more, or feel. He takes a shine to his new nurse, Kathie, and begins communicating with her by spitting “yes” or “no,” and by psycho-kinetically typing to her on a typewriter. He also begins violently intruding in her love life; Kathie is stuck between her estranged husband, who is trying to get her back, and a doctor trying to date her. Patrick becomes more and more out of control as his desire for Kathie intensifies. Will she be able to keep him in check, or will he really hurt someone?

Director Richard Franklin (Road Games) is something of a descendant of Hitchcock’s expert use of suspense and black humor, and he eventually went on to direct the surprisingly great Psycho II. The success of Patrick is largely due to Franklin’s expertise, a great script from writer Everett de Roche, and solid performances from stars Robert Thompson and Susan Penhaligon. Everett de Roche is responsible for some of the finest Australian genre classics, including Long Weekend, Road Games, and one of my personal favorites, Razorback

Susan Penhaligon (The Land That The Forgot) is excellent as Kathie and this is essentially her film. She helps make the character instantly likable and sympathetic. Though there is an abundance of men in her life, she is largely independent, able to make her own decisions, and uses her intuition to come to a quick realization that Patrick is far more than just an inert, useless vegetable. Robert Thompson (Aussie vampire film Thirst) is memorable as Patrick. Though he killed his own mother and his juvenile aims include being violently possessive of Kathie, and even openly asking her for a handjob, he is still surprisingly likable. 

In terms of both the character and the film, Patrick is an excellent example that it’s possible to make a wonderful, effective film out of a totally bonkers premise. Franklin and company manage to make Patrick — a mute, immobile man in a coma — a compelling and sympathetic figure. He is monstrous, but also to be pitied and has some fine moments. For example, he writes Kathie an honest, raw letter on the typewriter, quoting Oscar Wilde’s famous epithet, “Each man kills the thing he loves,” from the heart-breaking “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”

There’s some great dialogue and some nice side performances, including from Robert Helpmann (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Though the film has a low budget, very limited locations, and almost no gore or effects, it’s an effective work of horror. It makes good use of the hospital set and actually develops the side characters, such as nurses, the eccentric and possibly unethical head doctor, and a crazy, but amusing patient. 

Patrick is overly long, though it is generally well-paced. There are a few repetitive scenes, such as moments when Patrick communicates with Kathie but he won't repeat it front of others. The film does becomes more stylish, frenzied, and violent as Patrick’s telekinesis becomes more pronounced, resulting in quite a memorable ending.

As with several other Australian cult classics from this period, it wasn’t a huge hit in its home country, but was a success in Europe and the U.S. In Italy, it was re-scored by Goblin and in the U.S. it was somewhat re-cut and overdubbed with American accents. There was an unauthorized, unconnected sequel made in Italy in 1980, Patrick Still Lives, and a dreadful remake in the '00s. Patrick is available on Blu-ray and DVD with some nice special features. It comes highly recommended and really must be seen to be believed.

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