Sunday, 15 February 2015

Hospital Massacre (1981)

Warning! Spoilers ahead.

‘Hospital Massacre’ was made at the time when the slasher craze was really booming. The majority of entries in the sub-genre’s first cycle of its 1980 - 1984 Golden Age period innovated by ‘Black Christmas’ (1974), ‘Halloween’ (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) followed suit by not just emulating these titles’ conventions to make a quick buck but also milked the trend of their time of settings with special day themes. These did not necessarily have to be public holidays but any day of the calendar with some significance, which was worked into the often-masked mysterious antagonists’ motivations for mass murder due to a past traumatic event on these particular days.

This film played on the lovers’ special occasion of Valentine’s Day with its hilarious original title ‘Be My Valentine, or Else...’. Unfortunately, we were deprived of this great title, when the production’s studio the now defunct and beloved by genre fans Cannon Films found out another slasher was in the works in Canada with a similar title - My Bloody Valentine (1981). Therefore, as the story's location setting is a hospital the studio went with the title of ‘X-Ray’ a more subtle approach as one plot point involves such and it premiered under this title in Mexico in October 1981 translated ‘Rayos X’. Guess what though - before ‘X-Ray’ could make its April 1982 North American debut Cannon found out there was another Canadian sub-genre counterpart in production set in a hospital using a term associated with the medical buildings for its title - ‘Visiting Hours’. With that, the studio went with the more blatant and unimaginative title of ‘Hospital Massacre’ this despite ‘Visiting Hours’ opening a month later in May. Although it would retain the title of ‘X-Ray’ for its international release and it has yet another a.k.a. - ‘Ward 13’.

Anyway, ‘Hospital Massacre’ as it will be called from here on is certainly a little oddity in the history of more obscure slashers incorporating a great deal of surrealism. It is a strange mix of the sub-genre’s tropes, quirky cheesy humour from its weirdo supporting characters and more unintentional ridiculousness. The movie opens in the period setting of 1961 in which an unpopular boy named Harold played by Billy Jacoby (one of the three creepy killer kids in the 1981 slasher ‘Bloody Birthday’) leaves a Valentine’s Day card at the house of Susan played in this scene by Elizabeth Hoy (also one of the killer kids in ‘Bloody Birthday’). A friend a boy accompanies her playing with a train set and when Susan opens the card, they both start laughing mocking Harold, as he looks on from the living room window unbeknownst to them. As Susan goes out back into the kitchen to cut a couple of slices of cake for her and her friend Harold breaks in through the window killing Susan’s friend by hanging him from a hat stand.

Flashing forwards to the present day Susan now played by 70’s Playboy stunner Barbi Benton is a divorced mother who has left her daughter with her estranged ex-husband for the day while she goes to a local hospital to get some test results. As soon as Susan arrives at the hospital with her present fella who is driving a load of red herrings are thrown our way one after the other. The new man in her life mentions to her about how he heard a patient run amuck the previous year before she gets out entering the hospital as he waits in the car. Then a male doctor wearing a surgeon’s mask stares at her from an upper floor window in the hospital. At the reception, a creepy janitor stares at her as well. Getting into an elevator, she encounters a drunken slob patient making a mess of himself with a ketchup-filled hamburger wishing her a happy Valentine’s Day. It then cuts to a POV shot of someone entering a darkened room and walking towards a framed photograph of Susan when she was a little girl and touching it, we see he is wearing surgeon gloves and we hear he is breathing heavily as he looks at it. This is where we also hear the part of composer Arlon Ober’s (another ‘Bloody Birthday’ connection and Sam Raimi’s 1985 comedy ‘Crimewave’) blatant rip-off of the score to 1976’s ‘The Omen’ a supernatural horror and elements of which do not feature here making things more hilariously cheesy than they already are.


In a surrealistic moment, Susan gets the elevator to the wrong floor of the ninth when she should be on the eighth and is met by three strange men wearing gas masks already waiting by the elevator doors as the floor is being fumigated and the man in the middle speaks in an odd voice. Going back down the mysterious stranger with the surgeon gloves pulls a leaver to stop the lift and then Susan’s doctor is called to the ninth floor where she is brutally stabbed to death by the doctor in the surgeon’s mask… and obviously the wearer of the surgeon’s gloves. Turning the elevator back on and before Susan gets to her murdered doctor’s office he tampers with her medical records swapping over x-ray radiographs to make her case seem more serious than it is to keep her in the hospital for more tests. As Susan enters her doctor’s office, the murderous doctor sneaks out of an adjoining door and murders the not so red herring after all creepy janitor for discovering the body of Susan’s doctor.

There is no mystery here at all. Most of the red herrings are introduced and then vanquished in the first 13-minutes when the mad doctor wearing the surgeon's mask and gloves kills Susan’s doctor. Due to even further inept writing others are introduced even more ineffectively as we already know the killer is this man who obviously doesn’t look anything like any of these bit part players. What you can see of this slasher villain’s features and looking at his physique you can tell straight away, who he is of the main supporting cast. Furthermore, it is also obvious that this maniac is Harold due to the character’s POV shot looking at and touching the picture of Susan when she was a little girl so any other motivations are cancelled out.

The proceedings move along at a brisk pace there never really is a dull moment as the adequately executed set-pieces are not too far apart that entail some genuine creepiness. The kills are plentiful with all kinds of medical equipment at the killer’s disposal nothing gory but there is a fair dose of red splatter as he murders any staff that might get in the way and ruin his plans for Susan. Director Boaz Davidson also manages to build a fair bit of suspense and tension and there are some truly bizarre scenes to induce the feeling of isolation in the pitch darkness at night of the abandoned parts of the hospital creating a peculiar atmosphere. The eccentric patients are not willing to help Susan in her predicament as the staff keeps her in the hospital for unknown reasons to her as she is being stalked by a madman like the three crazy old women who mock her and there is that drunk burger eating slob who has the horn lecherously coming on to Susan in one of the hospital’s staircases. There is more sleaze too as a doctor makes her strip down to her undies; Benton is easy on the eyes and gets her tits out for the lads for a prolonged amount of time. She is also a likable protagonist as we root for her in her confused state as to what is going on and she puts up a good final girl fight against her maniac stalker in an entertaining finale.

‘Hospital Massacre’ is a mess but an enjoyable one that is sometimes intentionally stupid with its surreal cheesy humour and sometimes unintentionally due to its shortcomings. It is effective to a certain extent, as it is never slow and not too far between the geek show showcases of explicit bloody murder in the atmospheric darkened isolation of the barren hospital hallways. This is passable fun that is at least worth a one-time watch for hardcore slasher addicts only.

** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2015 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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