Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Veggie Tales

You know what used to be big? Telekinesis. Why, back slightly before I was born, all the cool kids were being filmed in closeup as they stared intently to make objects dart across the room. It was like texting. But awesome.

Or something, and that's the best lead-in I've got for today's review of Patrick, a 1978 Australian thriller directed by Richard Franklin.
Quick Plot: Twentysomething Patrick (the bug-eyed Robert Thompson) is not too happy hearing his mother and her boyfriend fornicate behind his walls. Instead of lashing out with heavy metal or totaling the family Toyota, this curly haired monster decides to drop an electric heater in their bathtub as the giggling lovebirds soap each other with annoying enthusiasm.

Three years later, we meet Kathy (Susan Penhaligon), a nurse in the middle of a trial separation from her workaholic/drinkaholic husband Ed. While setting up her new life, Kathy gets employed at a private psychiatric clinic in Melbourne where her chief responsibility (aside from not offending the humorless Matron Cassidy) is to watch over the now comatose Patrick. Lubricate his eyeballs, change his sheets...there’s not much else Kathy is expected to do, but how many crossword puzzles can a gal conquer before she starts to inevitably bond with the seemingly helpless man under her care?

Slowly--quite slowly--strange things start to happen to Kathy and the men around her. While attending a swinging pool party, Kathy’s not-date nearly drowns for no apparent reason. After a somewhat romantic afternoon with said poor swimmer, Kathy returns home to find her apartment ransacked. The clinic’s typewriter can’t seem to function more than one line without breaking into gibberish, and Patrick’s windows refuse to close. All harmless spooks, right?
Naturally, no. Kathy carefully draws her own connections between some of the mystery and Patrick’s not-so-meaningless spit communication. Of course, none of the men she seeks out offer any actual help, partly because her story is unbelievable and partly because her sex seems to keep her from ever being taken seriously. This was, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of Patrick. Although this is a film known for its unusual story and creepy leadup, I found the chauvinistic undertones to be the most fascinating plot piece. Matron Cassidy, for example, initially comes off as a rigid stock villain, but there’s something to be said for how her knowledge and opinions have no weight against the supervising doctor. 

Sexism aside, Patrick is a slow burning film that somehow reminds me of why I don’t really like to cook. It takes a lot of time, involves a whole lot of ingredients, and seems a rich and rewarding experience throughout its process until you get the end, where the final product is never quite as rich as the work put into it. I was pretty taken with Patrick’s build-up, mostly due to Penhaligon’s sympathetic and smart performance and the strength of Everett De Roche’s script. The problem comes at the very end, when all that careful development and subtle creepiness just...puffs away with less energy than one of Patrick’s unconscious spits. 
High Points
Penhaligon has a great presence and wise take on Kathy’s confusion that probably makes the film far better than it may have been with the wrong lead. I’ll also give a shoutout to Robert Helmann’s eccentric and rather ridiculous mad doctor and Julia Blake’s strict nurse--a creation two steps away from caricature but carefully grounded in her own beliefs

Low Points
I’ll blame the era, but the final scene is scored with such an overdone electrical score that it’s hard to take seriously
The dissenting opinions over what should actually be done with the comatose Patrick help to build an intriguing power dynamic among the medical staff, but the film doesn’t quite allow its characters to play enough with their relationships to make any sort of actual statement about ethics or philosophy
Lessons Learned
Yellow telephones were quite popular in 1970s Australia
People with taboo sexual fetishes often work in the nursing field

Tuna casserole can be a dangerous meal in the hands of estranged husbands


Rape fantasies aren’t quite as popular as you may think, particularly when you lazily try to force one upon your estranged wife

My copy of Patrick is nestled comfortably in the Aussie Horror Collection triple pack along with Strange Behavior (a spoofish slasher) and a vampire film called Thirst. I’ve yet to watch the other two, but if you can find this set at a decent price (I won’t brag about the mere $5 sale I grabbed mine...or will I?) then it’s worth checking out, especially as all three films include a few special features. As far as Patrick goes, it’s certainly something different and well-made, a unique thriller that defies common expectation but still knows how to have some fun. I was a little let down by the anticlimactic ending, but this is still a neat enough oddball of underground cinema that deserves a watch on a quiet afternoon. Or hey, Valentine's Day is fast approaching, so why not save it a special midnight showing with your sweetheart? It does features one of the best love letters ever put onscreen:

What I wouldn't do to find this note in a box of chocolates.


  1. Nuts! I thought this was going to be a post about my favorite Christian cartoon series Veggie Tales. You dastardly minx! hehe

    PS that lead in was awesome and I knew exactly what you were talking about. Matilda comes to mind...

  2. Sounds interesting enough. Netflix'd!

    You won an award(s)! Peep our blog.

  3. Yeah, I figured I'd do whatever I can to pull in the Christian audience, then blindside them with talk of horny comatose psychopaths. It's the oldest trick in the book.

    And aw, Matilda, Carrie, Girl With the Silver Eyes and all those crazy kids. Now I want to dig up some classic Danny DeVito direction!

    Thanks bunches PoT! Much appreciated and truly honored am I. Also, slightly Yoda feeling, it would seem.

  4. This is a pretty dead-on review, and I totally agree on the ending, though I'm definitely a sucker for the over the top score -- it's ridiculous for sure, and I can see how it would snap a person out of the film, but I like when a movie gets carried away with itself. It's interesting how pervasive 70s pop occulture was and continues to be, having grown up on ABC Movies of the Week with the word Evil somewhere in the title, shows like The Sixth Sense and Time/Life collections about telekenisis research -- I actually remember being tested with Zener cards in elementary school and not thinking it was weird at all. To this day I have a hard time seeing a vide camera without intently staring into it like I'm trying to bend it with my mind. It's easy to see the influence on everything from the Ghost Box bands to Legowelt. Anyway, yet another excellent review.

  5. That last line/photo caption reduced me to tears of laughter. Thank you for that.

    I have no idea why it is, but I do have to confess a wavering love for this film. It’s long, the pacing varies wildly during the course of things, precious little of actual consequence happens for half an hour in the middle, the ending is a damp squib and there’s mostly just a lot of shouting or looking pensive instead of plot or character development. But the performances are so much fun and there is so much creativity behind the camera and script that it’s still a standout. I love it without ever really enjoying watching it in one go.

    I suspect this is a film that should be remade, but as a TV mini-series. A three or four parter with more background and an all-out, action packed finale would mean bolstering what had gone before without having to completely rethink everything else. If you watch the film in three parts, with a decent break in-between, it all feels much more fluid and natural.

    I love Susan Penhaligon. Her performances in Patrick and The House of Mortal Sin make it confusing that her career has become a series of cameos in the more humdrum British TV dramas and soaps, rather than anything more substantial.

    And yes - if the men and rather snooty Kathy – paid more attention to Matron, things would have been a lot less complicated. Years of being ignored by the male doctors is what made the Matron such a hard faced cow and there’s a likability to the character that made me pity rather than dislike and fear her. It’s a great performance that should have instantly meant bigger and better things but like Penhaligon, Julie Blake went on to appear in TV, albeit in the more entertainingly awful likes of Blue Heelers and – a personal favourite - Prisoner Cell Block H. Your review meant I looked Blake up on IMDB and see she has won a few acting awards in Australia of late, featured in the Wolverine movie nobody can recommend to me, and will be in Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, which makes me more enthusiastic about that remake.

    The Italian rip-off/wannabe sequel is a trashy delight that drops the feminism, science and modern healthcare considerations of the original is favour of poker poking fun. I thoroughly recommend it for all the wrong reasons (on the grounds of particularly bad taste and a jaw dropping disrespect for copyrights).

  6. Thanks db! The fact that you were tested for telekinesis in elementary school may very well be the funnest fact about childhood I've ever heard. I imagine we all went through out use-the-force, luke and Carrie White phase, but schools tested for it???? That's amazing.

    And it's funny about the score. The more older movies I watch, the more I realize how sensitive I am to background music. My biggest gripe remains those late 90s and current studio horrors that use music so obviously as a way to manipulate the audience, but some of those grander scores can sometimes step a little too far over the line for my taste.

    Nowtas: The sequel is arriving in my mailbox today, so hopefully I'll let you know what I think of it soon. It's a minor shame that Penhaligon and Blake didn't get steady lead or high profile work, because they both do pretty amazing jobs at making what could have been stock characters into genuine individuals. Penhaligon carries the entire film so well, and Blake does accomplish that feat of making you sympathize with a woman written and presented as such a typical spinster type.

    A miniseries seems like a whole lotta Patrick, but there is something to say for a dense 2 hour film that still doesn't have the time to flesh out its themes.

    Thanks for the comments!

  7. Here's another vote for you to check out the Italian rip off, PATRICK STILL LIVES. An improvement on the original in every aspect, in my humble opinion. :)

  8. Consider my expectations raised, Father VHS.

  9. Telekinesis is still the shit! And you may have already posted that you watched this, but if you haven't seen the Documentary Not Quite Hollywood, DO SO NOW.

    It not only highlights this film, it highlights a ton of great Aussie flicks.

  10. I've been hesitant to watch Not Quite Hollywood for fear of completely exploding my list of movies to see. One day soon, I will view with Netflix Queue open and mind prepared to be exploded.