Horror Hospital (1973)

MARCH 25, 2011


On the day that Michael Gough passed away, Blockbuster emailed to announce they were sending me Horror Hospital, in which Gough plays the film’s villain. So now I’m going to be scared whenever I get a movie that its own lead actor will die that day. Luckily I buy all of Bruce Willis and Kevin Costner’s movies whether I like them or not, so I shouldn’t have to worry about them too much (Chevy, on the other hand... I just cannot justify buying Karate Dog or Jack & The Beanstalk). At any rate, RIP Mr. Gough, and I apologize for all of my friends who referred to you as Alfred.

Anyway, good movie. Any film that opens with two folks being decapitated by a blade protruding from a Rolls Royce is automatically a success, but when you add in a villain who seemingly only wants to kill hippies (yay!), the deal is just sweetened. By the time our hero announces that “our only chance is a freaky little dwarf they got”, in reference to Gough’s little person slave who does indeed help them out and ultimately dies trying to save them, I knew this was a movie that would have to go out of its way to make me dislike it, and even then I’d probably still give it a pass. I’ve seen enough creepy little person villain sidekicks in my lifetime – we need more like this guy!

And, of course, more movies where the mad scientist is just wearing a mask to look human. Underneath, Gough’s character is this misshapen THING that sort of resembles Paul McCrane right before Kurtwood Smith splatters him in Robocop, which was a nice surprise. In fact, there’s a sort of low-key “kitchen sink” approach to this movie – there are old school zombies (slave drones), the freak, crazy experiments, out of nowhere bar fights, plus a good (and most welcome) dose of genuine atmosphere, Hammer-style. For example, when our heroes get off their train in the town where the girl (the lovely Vanessa Shaw) is supposed to be met by her aunt, and there is simply no life to be seen anywhere. At midnight this morning (that right?) I saw Sucker Punch, which ALSO had a kitchen sink approach (and off-record lobotomies!), but in that movie I just found it exhausting after a while. Here, however, the laid back approach (even played for laughs on occasion – our hero stops to gobble some pie left out on a counter as they make their way through the kitchen during their escape attempt) works in its favor, because these surprise little elements still seem organic to the story, as opposed to Sucker Punch’s “Hey you know what else would be cool? Nazi robots!” mentality.

There’s also an odd non-twist. In the film’s third act, another guy shows up at the creepy hospital, looking for his girlfriend. He shows one of the villains her photo, but we don’t see it, so it seems they are setting up that his girlfriend is actually the girl our hero has been hooking up with after meeting on the train there. But no, it’s just some other girl that we didn’t really get a good look at. Also, the guy doesn’t die – once I realized he wasn’t the boyfriend of our heroine, I figured they just added him to the movie so they could get another death in there while allowing our heroes to live, but nope. Usually this would kind of bug me, but again it sort of fit the film’s laid-back charms, like the dude just sort of wandered into the movie and stuck around for the ride.

I didn’t get the ending though. Gough gets decapitated, but that doesn’t seem to kill him, because right near the end we see his hand rising out of the swamp where he was killed. That part’s OK – doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever. However, from that they cut to the train station conductor, who was in cahoots with Gough, lying dead on the tracks, clearly from stab wounds or something of the sort. Who killed him? Headless monster Gough? Why? They were partners! In fact the conductor was pretty much the only one on his payroll that didn’t turn on him. Maybe he was just pissed off, like when Satan smashes Udo Kier’s head in End Of Days.

I also wasn’t too big on Jason, the film’s hero. He’s really ratty looking, and kind of annoying (way too pushy with the girl too, though she only seems to mind once). The guy who shows up near the end was actually more likable, I wish they had swapped roles. I guess it’s nice to have a sort of alt-hero in one of these things, instead of the usual handsome charmer. Speaking of him – his dialogue seems to be dubbed at times, particularly on the train. Bad ADR, or replacing a thick British accent?

There’s a new DVD by Dark Sky that has a commentary, but alas I was sent the original Elite pressing, which is non-anamorphic and lacks any real extras. The only thing this one offers besides “chapter selection” is the awful trailer, which oversells the film’s horror aspects and spoils one of the twists in the ONE shot of the movie it actually shows, though I guess without context it won’t mean much. I can only assume the commentary explains some of the more puzzling aspects of the film, such as why its called Computer Killers on the IMDb (there’s no computer in the movie), or why they list a “85 min/100 minutes (uncut)” running time when all releases I can find (including the new Dark Sky one) run 90 minutes.

One final note, mainly aimed at younger and future readers - the man that Jason goes to see is a “travel agent”. Back in the day, we would use these people to book our hotels, flights, etc, when planning a vacation, because we didn’t have Expedia or whatever to just do it ourselves (and cheaper). Oddly, last night’s 30 Rock made a joke about the death of this particular profession, so it was a weird coincidence that such a person appeared here, as it’s not like travel agents are particularly common fictional characters even back when they were at the peak of their popularity. I think the last one I can recall being in a movie was Truman Show. Weird.

What say you?


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