What is it about the 70s nurses' uniforms that just exuded sex? The easily unzippable white minidress, just barely covering the tops of those coquettish white stockings, promising but not quite delivering a glimpse of garter belt? The traditional cap, clearly influenced by that sexiest of sexy-stern headwear, the nun's wimple? Was it the tied-up hair, ready to be whipped down when the doctor was away, loosing the wildcat that the professional woman must keep in check? Was it the clipboard? The horn-rimmed glasses? The sensible shoes?
Whatever it was, shlockmeister Al Adamson recognized the potential in the figure of the Woman of Healing, and in a your-chocolate's-in-my-peanut-butter moment, put it together with the horror rage of the day, possession. The result: Adamson's 1978 grindhouse cheapie Nurse Sherri, aka The Possession of Nurse Sherri, aka Terror Hospital. Hoping to cash in on the likes of The Exorcist, Carrie, and Ruby (all of which are name-dropped in the largely unrepresentative trailer), Adamson pulled out all the stops and threw the throttle open. But did the crash result in a delicious Reese's Cup, or something more sinister, like a Mr. Goodbar?
After some incongruously sci-fi opening titles (glowing letters and heavy theremin music reminiscent of the Outer Limits or Dark Shadows theme), we find ourselves in the presumably Californian desert, where a small cult is doing its cultish bidness under the guidance of spiritual leader Reanhauer (Gary Busey-lookalike Bill Roy). The cult is indeed a motley bunch--though Reanhauer and his right-hand man Stevens (J.C. Wells) wear business-casual sport coats and ties, other cult members model everything from hippie-print muscle tees to construction-worker chic to a rather amazingly colorful flower-print muumuu...which all goes to show how people from all walks of life have fallen under Reanhauer's hypnotic spell.
The main item on the cultish agenda just now is to heal one of their members of his diabetes using only their faith and the guru's limitless powers--a project Reanhauer insists is going well, despite the fact that the boy in question is three weeks dead! Stevens is having a crisis of conscience ("You convinced that boy and that boy's mother he didn't have to take insulin to save his life!" "He doesn't!" Reanhauer replies. "Not NOW he doesn't!" Stevens shoots back), but the cult leader puts it all down to a poisonous lack of faith and expels Stephens from the fold. When the nearly-rotten corpse seems to move during a particularly intense chant-o-thon, Reanhauer experiences such a rush of personal vindication that he collapses on the spot with a massive coronary!
Rushed to Our Lady of Cinderblocks City Hospital, the cult leader is toiled over by a group of crack surgeons and one extremely well-endowed nurse. It's not quite clear at this point what happens to the old man, though, as we soon start following Nurse Sherri (Jill Jacobson) and her day-to-day life around the wards. This consists mainly of flirting with her surgeon boyfriend Peter (Geoffrey Land), who seems to get off on sneaking up and shoving biohazard-encrusted gloves in his girlfriend's face. (Sample flirtatious dialogue: "You look so nice when you shake like that!" "Oh, go take a shower in formaldehyde!") She also passes the hours making innuendo-laden small talk with coworkers Tara (blaxploitation star Marilyn Joi) and Beth (Mary Kay "No I Didn't Sock It to the Harper Valley PTA" Pass).
Nurse Tara is our secondary focal point in the flick, as she develops a love/hate/REALLY LOVE relationship with NFL star Marcus Washington (Prentiss Moulden), whose free agent prospects have been lessened by his catching two eyes-full of windshield glass in a freak car accident. While Tara struggles to get through his wall of self-pity and crushed dreams via tales of her own super-fandom, Marcus can't seem to tumble to the fact that she's not a red-haired blue-eyed white woman, leading to some near hilarity and Tara exasperatedly labeling him a "bigot." They get over it later, however, and pair up as American viewers in the 70s had come to expect thanks to The Isaac Rule.*
*Established by the influential TV series "The Love Boat," The Isaac Rule (named for Ted Lange's character, Isaac the Bartender) stated that if an attractive woman of color boarded The Love Boat, it meant Isaac (the sole African American on staff) would be involved in a romantic subplot that week. The non-Love Boat corollary held that whenever two (non-villain) people of color of opposite sexes appeared in a movie of the era, they either were a couple, or would become one over the course of the narrative.
the truly epic proportions of actress Jacobsen's rack. (Unfortunately a sense is all we get, iykwim.) As she drifts toward sleep, Adamson pulls the trigger on the movie's minuscule special effects budget, as an evil spirit invades Sherri's bedroom in the form of a cloud of low-lying disco sparkles! Soon a cloud of green, badly animated gas forms around the Spangles du Mal, which drifts over to the bed and covers Sherri's body, pulling her robe open only enough to see some nicely shaped gams. When the cloud dissipates and Sherri awakes to display some sparkling eye shadow, we know she has been fully suffused with gassy eeevil essence.
Al Adamson makes some questionable directorial choices here, not the least of which is withholding information from the audience until several scenes AFTER it becomes important. For instance, we don't find out for another half hour or so that Reanhauer refused care once he regained consciousness ("The powers of SCIENCE are FINITE! Mine are LIMITLESS!"), but that the chief of surgery opted to operate anyway, at which point the cult leader expired on the operating table. We also learn at that point via flashback that Reanhauer had struck up a strange relationship with Sherri, telling her she was "the one" or some other mumbo jumbo meant to explain why she'd be the target of his post-mortem attentions. At any rate, it comes out later that the green mist is Reanhauer's spirit, possessing Sherri to get revenge on his enemies from beyond the grave.
AWESOME cowboy attire, from his bright red, clean-pressed shirt to an UH-MAZING cowboy hat of the sort I've only seen on singing cowboys in 1940s musicals. The doc catches a pitchfork through the spine from Nurse Sherri, and she makes it back to the hospital with barely a speck of horse manure on her clean white shoes.
Also on the enemies list for some reason never made clear is Marcus Washington--but as luck would have it, the half-back's grandma was a voodoo priestess, and gave him a silver bracelet with the power to ward off evil spirits. Thwarted, Reanhauer turns his noncorporeal attentions to Stevens, who's become a drunken hobo since the cult went belly-up and is now pestering Peter for the location of Reanhauer's grave, so he can exhume the cult leader and burn his body, thus putting an end to his powers, somehow. Stevens manages to get the info (after a car chase/interrogation in which Stevens jumps out of a cliff-bound car Dick Tracy-style at the last minute!) and tosses a sheet-wrapped body into a smelting furnace downtown, which is clearly his only corpse-immolating option. Unfortunately in his drunken stupor he's dug up the wrong body, and takes a ghost-assisted nose-dive into the smelter himself, which given his blood alcohol level allows him to go out in a blaze of Mad Dog 20/20.
"grrr" in "caregiver," applying bedside manor of the 70s porn sort to fat, hairy hypochondriac Charlie (Erwin Fuller) for no good reason other than the well-established nymphomaniacal tendencies of all women in the nursing field. (Again, we get nothing but innuendo and a naked back here; the only woman who didn't insist on a non-nudity clause in her contract was Joi, apparently, who displays her impressive comfort pillows in a throwaway "changing out of my uniform" scene that I, for one, am glad they didn't throw away.) Alerted to the danger to Sherri's soul by Marcus's inherited voodoo lore, Tara and Beth decide to find Reanhauer's grave themselves, dig him up, and roast some wienies over his corpse. But can they do it before their possessed workmate makes Peter pay the piper?
Nurse Sherri is a movie that puts me in a strange though not unique position review-wise: I have a great time talking about all the wild and crazy stuff that happens in the movie, which might give readers an inflated idea of how much I enjoyed the movie as it was actually rolling across my screen. Put simply, it's NOT a good film. The aforementioned narrative shuffling is a real problem, and robs the proceedings of the already small amount of menace they might have had if things had been presented in the order they happened. The acting is high school play level at best--Geoffrey Land as Dr. Peter is particularly atrocious--although Joi acquits herself the best of anyone, and Bill Roy is entertaining enough as the scenery-feasting villain. The effects are laughable, the gore mostly of the "you got some ketchup on your face there" variety, and certain plot elements just don't make a lick of sense, even considering the budget. (For example, a body pops up out of nowhere in Sherri's apartment just before the Final Confrontation, and I'm damned if I know who she was supposed to be our how she ended up dead behind the sofa.) Despite Adamson's rather lengthy filmography by this point, the term that kept springing to mind as I watched was "fucking amateurish."
Still, if you like sexy nurses (who doesn't?) and low-grade cinematic cheese (ditto?), have a thing for possession flicks or a fetish for super-ugly 70s wallpaper, you might get a few yuks out of Nurse Sherri. As for me, I'll settle on a slightly more entertaining than average 1.75 thumbs and call it a day. And for all my diabetic parishioners, remember: it's okay to have faith in your local cult leader, but you might want to keep monitoring those glucose levels just in case. Believe me, I know.
A few more images from Nurse Sherri (1978):