Thursday, August 9, 2007

Patrick: or, The Dirty Nun and the Comatose Killer

Early on in 1978's psychic psycho-thriller Patrick, protagonist Kathy Jacquard (played by Pia Zadora clone Susan Penhaligon), an ex-nurse and new divorcee is being interviewed for a job as a nurse at doctor Roget's private psychiatric clinic. For some reason the Roget Clinic, despite being a private research center, is staffed largely by nuns, or at least nurses in uniforms that look like nuns' habits. Matron Cassidy, played with Mother Superior intensity by Julia Blake, asks and pointed and pointedly bizarre question:

"Why did you choose the Roget Clinic, Mrs. Jacquard? We tend to attract certain types--lesbians, nymphomaniacs, enema specialists..."

As young Kathy gasps for air, the Matron regales her with tales of one male nurse who would sneak into the comatose ward to smear himself with the patients' excretia. All this delivered in a tone of disgust, accusation, and barely-concealed fasination that makes one wonder if perhaps in her younger days Dame Cassidy was a member of Ilsa the She-Wolf's staff of research scientists. Luckily for Kathy (and for us) Dr. Roget comes in at just that moment, learns that Kathy is a divorcee (a strike against her in the Matron's book) and hires her on the spot. Though Cassidy throws a few more barbs at Kathy before she leaves--"I can fire you for any reason, at any time!"--Ms. Jacquard is well on her way to her preordained meeting with our titular comatose terror.

As the low girl on the totem pole, Kathy is assigned to watch over Patrick, a mystery patient with no family who's been comatose for three years. (Sporting a gaunt face, a piercing blind-eyed stare, and a plentiful white-boy 'fro, Patrick's look prefigures Brad Dourif's Oscar-snubbed tour de force as the Gemini killer by twelve years.) Though we know through an artfully-directed pre-credits sequence that when he could move around Patrick spent his leisure time murdering his mother and her lover by tossing an electric heater into their hot tub--twice!*--apparently neither Kathy nor Dr. Roget is aware of this. Despite his lack of function over the years, Patrick's muscles have not atrophied, and most of the time his eyes remain stubbornly, unblinkingly open. Also, occasionally, he spits. Director Richard Franklin gets a couple of jump scares out of Kathy or another nurse leaning in to adjust a blanket and then having the bug-eyed Patrick expectorate like an irritated llama. When Kathy asks why he should do such a thing, Dr. Roget shows that the Matron is not the only queer duck in this pond, demonstrating reflexive muscle reactions by decapitating a live frog and shocking it with his pocket electrode.

It doesn't take long for the viewer to figure out that Patrick does more than spit--three years deprived of his five ordinary senses have allowed him to develop his sixth, psychokinetic sense to a previously unheard-of degree (as helpfully theorized by the swingin' young doctor who is trying to get into Kathy's white linen pants), and now he's a veritable incorporeal killing machine. When Kathy shows him kindness he falls in love with her and starts writing her love notes on the IBM Selectric that happens to be in his room, things like "How about a hand job?" and other sweet nothings. People treating Patrick bad start to die, and rivals for his affection with Kathy--her ex-husband, for instance, as well as the aforementioned handsome doc--are in trouble as well. It all leads to an understated Carrie-esque showdown in Patrick's hospital room, and if you think you know how it ends up...well, you probably do.

I almost feel that I should have liked Patrick more than I did. There's lots of weird wacky stuff here. Matron Cassidy is fantastic, but woefully underused. The doctor, looking like Klaus Kinski's paunchy twin, has some good scenes too. Even the sub-plot with Kathy's husband trying to reconcile with her is delightfully askew: for instance, when he starts his plan to win her back by hiding in her new apartment dressed in a ski mask and attacking her. when she protests, he shrugs and laughs, "So much for women's rape fantasies!" And he wonders why Kathy won't return his calls.

Maybe it just doesn't go far enough off the deep end to be really enjoyable. While the acting is bad, it's more smirk-bad than ROFL-bad. And certain scenes are really shot and constructed well--the opening kill flashback, for instance, and Matron Cassidy's unfortunate electrocution. And this is probably the only movie I can think of that ends with a jump scare that must have required an off-screen catapult! But the pacing is off, and other scenes--the pool party manifestation of Patrick's powers, or the hubby trapped in the elevator at the clinic, trying and failing to escape--drag badly and completely stifle the movie's momentum. If it had been tighter, this might have been a pretty good thriller; if more inept, perhaps a so-bad-it's-good nugget of joy. As it is, unfortunately, it just comes off as mediocre.

In the end I didn't hate Patrick, and I'm glad I watched it--but then I live for this kind of shit. To the average viewer I would say skip it. I give it a 1.25 thumbs, with an added quarter thumb for the kickass trailer included on the Lightning Video VHS version I've got: THE SCORPIO FACTOR! Synth rock, Trans-Ams, and curled mullets have got to be worth something after all. So final score, 1.5 thumbs--entirely average.

And always remember, ladies, from Kathy Jacquard's mouth to God's ears: "The last thing [you] need is someone with a case of the galloping gonads." Even in trash there is wisdom. Yea, verily.

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