AUGUST 12, 2013
I know I still have a few missing entries when it comes to golden era slashers - Night School in particular bugs me - but I hope that X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre, Ward 13, and even the hilarious Be My Valentine... Or ELSE) is the only one of note that I hadn't actually HEARD OF until fairly recently. It was actually only when I revisited New Year's Evil for a BadassDigest article a couple years back (not when I first watched the movie for HMAD) that I saw it advertised at the end of the film, promised as coming soon (with the "Be My Valentine..." title) the way the next James Bond movie is promised at the end of the credits on those movies. And at first I assumed the film was never made since I couldn't find one under that title, but some digging turned up the X-Ray title, and thus, here we are (thanks to Scream Factory).
Of course, if it was a great movie it would be more well known, but it's a pretty decent slasher that should satisfy fans of that era, and it's certainly better than Visiting Hours (which came along a few weeks later and made considerably more money), if we're comparing our hospital horror movies. The whodunit angle is so lazy that they shouldn't even have bothered, since they not only follow the template of making him the most normal guy our heroine encounters, but they don't even change his name! In the opening flashback scene, we see a kid give a girl a Valentine, which she scoffs at. Angry, he kills her playmate and then, I guess, spends years studying and training to become a doctor, just on the off chance that the girl would happen to come to his hospital someday for a checkup so he could finally get his revenge. Even by slasher standards this is a bit flimsy/ridiculous, but the fact that he's even got the same name (well, a very common nickname of it anyway) makes the whole idea of making it a reveal kind of a puzzle.
But otherwise, it delivers the goods. The kills aren't very inventive, but they're surprisingly bloody considering how dickish the MPAA was at that time (with the very lax Valentine's Day setting, it's impossible not to think of My Bloody Valentine*, which barely had any red splatter at all), and the body count is acceptable - 6 or 7, plus the opening flashback (which is off-screen since it's a kid, but man - the reveal of his body is a knockout). Speaking of the opener, young Barbi Benton is played by Elizabeth Hoy from Bloody Birthday (she was Debbie, the girl of the murderous trio), and the kid doing the killing is her Bloody buddy Billy Jacoby (Curtis). A shame that they couldn't have gotten the other kid to play the one who ends up dead, it would have been a wonderfully weird reunion. But they make up for it in the credits by billing him as "Young Dave" (along with "Young Susan" and "Young ___ (the killer)"), despite the fact that he died and thus never got to be "Present Day Dave".
Another thing I loved was the aggressive score by Arlon Ober, who coincidentally also did the music for Bloody Birthday (as well as The Incredible Melting Man!). It seems his primary influences were Black Christmas and Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen, but being a post-Friday the 13th world, I couldn't help but wonder if the odd vocals mixed within his cues were in some way making fun of Harry Manfredini, as they seem to be parodies of his "Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma" motif (one sounds like "Little Caesar" over and over). The movie may or may not deserve its obscure status, but the score definitely deserves a CD release. How about it, Death Waltz Records? Likewise, the movie has all these weird attempts at red herrings, as well as oddball patients that add a ton of strange atmosphere to the movie, like the three old ladies (I'm convinced one of them is a dude in drag, by the way) who harass Benton for no reason other than to thankfully give the movie a bit of unexpected flavor.
Of course, smoothing over just about any flaw in the film (such as the rather repetitive structure; two kills are the result of a panicked person finding the previous body and, seeking help, running into the killer, mistaking him for a friendly doctor) is Ms. Benton, who deserves any superlative meaning "pretty" one could use to compliment a human being. Maybe not the best actress in the world (this appears to be her only starring role in a feature film, though she did lots of TV), but the role doesn't require much from her beyond getting annoyed/terrified, so it's fine, and it's endlessly amusing to see her smoking in a hospital four or five times (her lighter even provides the movie with one of its better suspense scenes). Of course, in 1982 it was pretty much OK to do this, but now it's almost like her character is a rebel, rather than just dating the movie.
The movie also does a decent enough job of finding ways to keep her there. The hospital isn't contained or in some out of the way locale, and despite the Valentine's setting the staff doesn't shirk their duties (this has to be the only slasher of the era where no one goes off with their partner to fool around), so Benton spends a while just trying to find her doctor, and then the killer replaces her file with someone else's. Thus, when someone looks at her X-rays (movie name: justified!) they see something suspicious and keep her there, and then even though they were of her lungs the staff decides she has mental problems, putting her under observation and confining her to a room. Hilariously, since she was just there to pick up her test results, her boyfriend spends most of the movie sitting outside in the waiting parking lot, taking a very long nap before finally coming inside to see what the hell is up.
Shout's blu-ray/DVD combo comes with an interview with director Boaz Davidson, who admits that directing horror isn't his forte (though he likes the genre) and talks a bit about making the film, though it seems like a re-edited portion of an all purpose interview more than one specific to this film, as only a couple of the 13 minutes focus on it. Still, worth a listen, and the film Schizoid, starring Klaus Kinski, is also included. I'll get to that one soon (it's not the Pete Walker Schizoid), as it's another film that never made it to DVD and might have been lost forever if Scream Factory wasn't hellbent on devouring our wallets every month. Thanks to them, there's hope for a proper release of Cathy's Curse!
What say you?
*When I was like 15 I dreamed up a sequel to MBV that took place in a hospital. If MBV was a bigger hit and actually GOT a sequel, they could have beaten these guys to the punch!