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July 2010

Patrick

cast: Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, Rod Mullinar, and Bruce Barry

director: Richard Franklin

108 minutes (15) 1978
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Andrew Darlington

Patrick

It's alright. Apparently the frogs were killed under the supervision of the 'Judy Morris zoology department' of the University of Melbourne. Although it looks pretty unpleasant to me; inserting a needle up the spine, to systematically work this way and that destroying the brain-matter. And the music is by Brian May. No, not that Brian May, but the one you hear on the Mad Max soundtrack. Among the cultural horrors Australia has inflicted upon the world - Rolf Harris, Dame Edna... Neighbours, there have been a number of quirky oddball movies, such as Peter Weir's debut The Cars That Ate Paris (1974).

Indeed, Peter Franklin went on to direct serial-killer road-movie Road Games (1981), starring Jamie Lee Curtis, while hogsploitation Razorback (1984), also benefited from a screenplay by expatriate American Everett de Roche, who was responsible for Patrick.

But, assisted by government subsidy, Patrick is Australian psycho-horror of a very distinctive kind. The opening long-shot focuses on a single eye; then a long-shot of a guy on a bed. There's a knock-knocking bed-post sound from the adjoining room. Then lovers in the bath are reflected in that same single eye. Just before he throws the electric fire into the bath-water... "Shocking, positively shocking," as James Bond says, after doing pretty much the same thing in Goldfinger...

Next, across the bleak modernist Melbourne skyline it closes in on the stylishly dilapidated 'Roget private clinic', which has evidently seen better days. The faulty neon entrance sign splutters fitfully. Susan Penhaligon is Kathy Jacquard, applying for a nursing job. She has the same round-faced slightly sulky sultriness she used to great erotic effect in TV's controversial bonk-buster Bouquet Of Barbed Wire.

Genre cognoscenti will remember her better from the Michael Moorcock-screenplay of Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot (1975), or even as 'Lakis' in Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who story The Time Monster, alongside scream-queen Ingrid Pitt. In Patrick, she's separated from her husband, or "she comes to us in the wake of an unstable marriage situation," according to Matron Cassidy.

Played with frigid hostility by Julia Blake, matron lists the type of pervert the clinic attracts with self-indulgently delicious detail. Nevertheless, Kathy gets the job. Patrick, who killed his mother and her lover in the opening sequence, is in room 15. He's been in a coma for three years, ever since the traumatic murders. The ancient Doctor Roget says he has "the intelligence of a penicillin culture," and demonstrates the condition by destroying the brain of a frog, then electro-convulsing it. Kathy protests: what of 'the soul?'

"No, the life-force," he argues back; and so neatly deleting any religious angle. Patrick is "a creature from the id," having suffered massive cerebral damage, he's just reacting to the stimulus of the machines that maintain his body functions. He's lost somewhere in the 'grey area' between life and death, and that's the doctor's zone of interest. This is cutting-edge science-stuff, the credits even list the film's medical advisers. Kathy is not so sure. As she types notes on her Adler electric typewriter at his bedside, Patrick seems to be adding his own insertions. And without moving, he can open the windows for fresh air.

She attempts to establish contact, groping him under the sheets - 'can you feel this? Can you feel this?' He has an erection - hardly surprising. It's hokum, of course. But it's played straight, and asks a genuinely disturbing question beneath it all. Patrick is trapped inside his coma, a prisoner within the confines of his dead-weight body. Cinema has more recently returned to the subject of 'locked-in' syndrome more sympathetically with The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, based on the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby. And there's the real-life example of Rom Houben who was thought to be in a coma for 23 years, but was conscious and aware all of the time.

Needless to say neither of these examples, unlike Patrick, found themselves free to develop compensatory liberating psi powers. Robert Thompson, who plays Patrick, has little to do other than lie still throughout the movie, yet manages to contrive a convincingly manic stare, denoting something strange going on beneath all that immobility. Matron is pretty handy with the quotes too. 'Medicine prolongs death far longer than it prolongs life.' That's one of hers. 'Disease, like god, moves in strange ways', that's another.

Meanwhile, Kathy moves into a flat with a Mucha-print on the wall. And she has a stalker. It turns out to be Ed, her trial-separation pre-divorce husband. He jumps her unsuccessfully, and complains "so much for women's rape-fantasies," when she repulses him. Then weird things begin happening. She's been warned that Doctor Brian has a case of 'galloping gonads', but when she's invited to a swinger's poolside party she gets to quiz him, suggesting the maybe Patrick is capable of using psychokinetic powers.

Before he can commit to an opinion Brian is attacked in the pool by an unseen force, 'how's your boyfriend, ha-ha-ha?' types Patrick. Her flat gets trashed, she at first assumes it's by Ed, but it's not Ed. He scalds his hand on a hot tuna casserole, then gets stuck in the lift, 'serves the bastard write' types Patrick, not only comatose but dyslexic too. Things get nastier. As matron terminates Kathy's employment he types 'stay, help me, they're trying to kill me'.

And sure enough Roget first commences giving him electro-convulsive therapy, like he did with the dead frog, then tries to finish him off with a lethal dose of potassium chloride injection. Patrick levitates a plant-pot to smash into his head. Then slams the door open and levitates him out into the corridor. Matron moves to the basement power-switch to isolate his life-support. Her actions are mirrored in Patrick's evil eye as his brain-monitors peak. He overloads the circuit, fusing her to the switches and blacking out the whole district for an hour.

His head moves, and Sister Panicale, who'd earlier been sitting reading Georgette Heyer's novel Lady Of Quality (1972), is shocked into a catatonic state. Finally, Kathy returns to the clinic to find Roget eating his own dead frogs. 'Get stuffed slut' Patrick types at her as he induces a tantrum-storm of whirling glass and equipment. Then he types 'I love you'. She kisses him. Will she join him in death?

Ed, who's been stuck in the lift all this while, is finally released in time to remove the hypodermic from her grasp as she almost succumbs to Patrick's hypnotic psi-power. She kisses Patrick. He leaps up from the bed in "just a simple motor nerve-reflex," according to Roget, "the soul departing the body." It's over. Kathy finally closes his eyes. As they leave him, his eyes snap open again... inviting a sequel. The closing long-shot focuses on a single eye.



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