Friday, October 5, 2012

Hospital Massacre (1982) dir. Boaz Davidson

a.k.a. X-Ray; Be My Valentine, or Else...

Logline: Susan (Barbi Benton), a young professional and single mother, stops by the hospital to pick up some routine test results and finds herself barred from leaving, tied up in a bureaucratic nightmare instituted by a surgical-masked killer who has taken steps to ensure that Susan's heart will belong only to him...

Crime in the Past: Little Harold deposits a homemade Valentine's Day card professing his love for Susan at her front door and watches from the window, like a budding young creep, while she fetches it. Susan and her younger brother fall into laughter upon discovering the card, which makes Harold none too pleased. When Susan leaves the room momentarily and then returns from the kitchen (where she has dramatically slashed a piece of cake for herself), she discovers her brother impaled (!) on a rather tall coat rack and Harold cackling maniacally from the open window. Ostensibly, Harold had brought his pair of stilts for just such an occasion.

Bodycount: 10, malpractice suits forthcoming.

Themes/Moral Code: There's a surprising wealth to unpack here. Yeah, this is an exceedingly dumb flick, so little of this was probably intentional, but the conceit of trapping its heroine inside a hospital without definite cause dredges up some interesting commentary on the medical treatment of female bodies by male authorities. Susan is a busy independent woman, so her sojourn to the hospital is no more than an inconvenience in her schedule. She's not particularly interested in what her doctor has to say-- she simply wants to collect her test results and bolt. However, the male doctors and staff make that small goal an arduous one to complete. Through the killer's plotting and the male staff's evasiveness, the film becomes emblematic of a push by medical men to reassert control over the liberated female body of the 1980s. Susan's primary physician (a woman, of course) is knocked off by the killer early on, forcing Susan to be passed off between numerous cold and disrespectful male doctors who refuse to explain to her the reasons why they won't allow her to leave. (Susan is physically healthy-- the killer has simply switched her test results with those of someone seriously sick with some sort of infection.What kind of infection we never discover, as the doctors refuse to explain or to perform any new tests of their own, almost as if they were complicit in the killer's ruse to control Susan without cause). Instead of explaining, the doctors probe, prod, and tie down Susan, assuring her that there's something seriously wrong with her and refusing to listen to her pleas to the contrary. From their patriarchal perspectives, perhaps they're right-- the body of the liberated, independent woman is obviously diseased. How else would she exist?

The most telling evidence of the above theme is a physical examination given to Susan by one of the doctors. This scene brings to the surface the implicit sexual subtext of the medical men's desire to reassert authority over women's bodies. The doctor requires Susan to take off her gown, exposing her breasts-- he then has her lie down, face-up, as he begins to give her what I can best describe as a sensual massage under the guise of examination. The scene is charged with a leering intensity, and Susan (oddly) permits it. Though hesitant, it's as if she can't say no, as if this violation of her body simply comes along with the hospital experience when you place your body into the hands of others-- those steely-eyed "authorities." The sex/power dynamic is inescapable in Susan's medical examinations, being the dreadful, contagious '80s woman that she is-- to put a finer point on this and reminds us that "power" can also mean "violence," the scene ends with the doctor sticking a large needle into her, drawing blood that pools up on her skin, before the image hard cuts to another. A climax of a sort.

There's also something to be made here of the unending bureaucratic muck-ups of the American healthcare system, but that's a reading that could easily be crushed under the weight of the film's relative stupidity and I've already treated a film entitled Hospital Massacre much too earnestly.

Killer's Motivation: The killer is creepy, crushing Harold, all grown up and now a cheerful/psychotic hospital intern. When not gently stroking a framed portrait of Susan as a child, he can be found stabbing members of the medical staff while growling and punching walls like a linebacker psyching himself up at halftime. He possesses the sort of barely controlled rage that's truly an anomaly among slasher villains, who can usually be mistaken for stab-happy somnambulists. I suppose it would be unnerving if it weren't quite so hammy. Harold's unhealthy obsession has him enacting his elaborate ploy to keep Susan trapped in the hospital, which leads to him murdering a good number of the medical staff (in order to falsify records) but very few Susans. His notion, as you can see from the above poster, is to literally cut her heart out so it will be his forever, making Susan wish she'd reciprocated a paper surrogate way back when on that fateful February 14th. Sure, it makes no sense--how did little Harold beat the coat rack impalement rap?-- but whatever. Sweet simplicity.

Final Girl: I've already described Susan as an independent woman of the '80s, and while she fits this to a T (divorcee with child, deadbeat husband, career, and sophisticated fashion sense) there's also little development beyond these stock attributes. She's intermittently charming, feisty, proactive, and naked, but the story is uninterested in uncovering any sort of human being lurking under these moments. She is what the film needs her to be-- when the killer's around, she becomes clumsy and starts dropping and knocking into everything within reach, and when it needs her to display physical prowess in a tussle or while being forcibly restrained then she can do that too. She kills the killer (yay), but then also discovers her boyfriend's severed head wrapped up in a candy box and shortly thereafter runs out of the hospital to embrace her daughter and ex-husband as the credits roll, hinting at a reconciliation (huh?). She's more a device than a character, wound up to serve her functions and perform her tasks-- the pliable female body that her doctors desire and her filmmakers receive.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  Hospital slashers have their certain appeal, and even though Hospital Massacre is a numbskulled mess, it retains the uneasy feeling that any large hospital imparts. But gosh it's goofy. Case in point: Susan steps onto an elevator with a man who appears to be profusely dripping blood... which turns out to be an excess of ketchup from the burger he's eating in his drunken stupor. Or how about the sassy trio of masked fumigators who give Susan a good verbal lashing. Or when the killer chases after a victim with a sheet over his head like a cartoon ghost. It's a loosely Valentine's Day-themed slasher released the year after the far superior My Bloody Valentine (1981), so it has a lot riding against it. Its bodycount is high but it's ingenuity is nil. I found it watchable, and I obviously enjoyed its unexpected thematic concerns, but there's no escaping that this is a cold, distant, poorly made film. Yeah-- it's kind of like a hospital visit.

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