X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre) (1982) d. Davidson, Boaz (USA)
Cannon! Golan-Globus! Barbi Benton! Boaz Davidson! (Always a good sign when one finds oneself shouting the opening credits aloud.)
X-Ray, or Hospital Massacre as it was often known during its initial release, kicks off with little blonde Susan, excitedly playing with trains with her brother, spurning young admirer Harold’s ding dong ditch approach to Valentine’s romance. Payback comes instantly in the form of her sibling finding himself impaled through the neck and left hanging from the hat rack. (Okay, this little guy Harold is already terrifying on a superhuman level in in terms of lethal swiftness and strength. Give him a wide berth.)
Flash forward 19 years to the (Valentine’s) day, with Susan (Barbi Benton) grown up, lookin’ fine, brunette (?), and divorced from ex-husband Tom (Jimmy Stathis) though the two seem to have produced a perfectly lovely daughter. She is currently engaged to simpering wimp Jack (Jon Van Ness), who drives her to the local hospital to pick up her recent physical test results, required for her new job’s health insurance plan. Little does she know that someone on the staff is laying in wait, “doctoring” her charts so as to create a need for additional tests. Susan is subsequently (and unwillingly) incarcerated; at the same time, the staff is systematically and viciously whittled down.
Davidson is probably better known as a producer and writer than director (this and The Last American Virgin, both from 1982, probably rank as his two best known efforts), and his prolific output in all arenas has been scattershot to say the least. In the accompanying Red Shirt Pictures featurette on Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray release, “Bad Medicine,” the Israeli-born filmmaker explains that he inherited the big chair after the original director stepped (or was pushed) down just prior to shooting.
Not having any experience and only limited interest in the horror genre, it’s enjoyable to see the array of playful misdirection that Davidson and screenwriter Marc Behm enjoy with the established slasher tropes (young Susan with huge a knife...with which to cut her Valentine’s cake, red stuff dripping suspiciously on Benton’s white shoes...courtesy of her fellow elevator passenger’s hamburger, the leering hospital janitor...leering like a red herring champ). For someone relatively unversed in the horror genre, Boaz knows football, er, slashers. Ahem, little joke for the ’80s kids out there.
The body count is generous, and while we don’t see much in the way of onscreen slicing and dicing, there’s no shortage of squirting and splashing onto our surgically masked maniac. There’s not much to the mystery as to who the killer is – heck, he doesn’t even bother to change his name! The real questions are logistical in nature: What the hell kind of hospital is this? What the hell could have been written on her records to justify such behavior by the hospital staff?
Is there anyone in this facility that isn’t a total creeper? Who are the loopy ancient patients that give Benton such a hard time? Isn’t one of them a guy in a wig and drag?
Who knew that an acid bath would turn a guy’s face into a kindergarten craft project?
Where did the cake box come from?
Or the butcher knife...
or the hatchet...or...?
However, viewed in a certain mindset, these peculiarities are unexpected assets rather than drawbacks. Hospital Massacre isn’t as completely loopy as some Italian or Spanish outings, but it’s not far off when we see Benton screaming her head off through hallways filled with fog, stumbling into traction wards packed with gyrating patients, or indulging in some spirited improvisational protestations. (“Stupid nurse! This hospital is crazy! I’m not having a seizure! What is wrong with you? Let me go! I saw a murder! Stupid nurse!”)
But the best piece of nonsense comes in the form of Benton’s completely unnecessary disrobing to have her blood pressure taken – not so much in that she takes her clothes off (this was Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend, after all), but how the “teasing before pleasing” sequence is handled.
After having been extensively toyed with – being shown Benton’s silhouette behind a dressing screen, her naked back from behind and her feminine wiles framed out below the collar bone – just when we start to think we’re not going to get any action at all, Davidson’s cameraman takes it upon himself to dolly around so that we can get a nice long look. It’s a truly awesome moment.
Almost as awesome as the subsequent high-def reveal that John Warner Williams (as no-nonsense Doc Saxon) has shaved his hairy knuckles for the healing hands’ close-ups.
Composer Arlon Ober rips off Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen score every chance he gets, playing ominous dark choral riffs a la “Ave Satana” every time someone gets offed, and the moody cinematography comes courtesy Nicholas von Sternberg, son of famed director Josef von Sternberg.
Though Davidson claims the shoot was done inside a real abandoned hospital (or at least a few floors of it, to his memory), it looks for all the world like someone’s apartment complex, from the outside façade and its giant generic black HOSPITAL sign to the hallways that shout out “urban blight.” Speaking of hospitals, this is about the least realistic depiction of a medical facility since Halloween II. Minimal staff, random rooms filled with random equipment, crazy patients, slipshod Hippocratic standards, and so on.
Benton is undeniably pleasant to look at and the overreaching wackiness throughout keeps viewers enjoyably off balance. Hats off to Scream Factory for bringing this long forgotten patient back from the dead, on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack paired with the lesser Klaus Kinski psycho vehicle Schizoid, both being early '80s Cannon/Golan-Globus offerings.
Available for pre-order now for an August 20 release.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine