Horror Down Under: PATRICK (1978)
Welcome to the 8th edition of Horror Down Under, a column series in which I review horror films from my home country of Australia. The purpose of this column will be that it will act as a showcase for various horror related film projects that have been made Australia in hopes that it will get you interested in checking them out for yourself. I’ll be reviewing a wide range of Aussie horror films of various quality from the excellent to the terrible, the all time classics to the latest releases to the completely forgotten, etc. For this 8th edition, I take a look at a legendary and iconic Australian horror film that just happens to be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year: the 1978 film PATRICK…
DIRECTOR: Richard Franklin
SCRIPT: Everett De Roche
CAST: Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, Rod Mullinar, Bruce Barry, Julia Blake, Helen Hemingway, Frank Wilson, Robert Thompson.
PLOT: After the shocking bathtub death of his mother and her lover, the sinister Patrick lays comatose in a small private hospital, his only action being his involuntary spitting. When a pretty young nurse, just separated from her husband, begins work at the hospital, she senses that Patrick is communicating with her, and he seems to be using his psychic powers to manipulate events in her life.
Even though I’ve stated many times in the past that I’ve always felt that my home country of Australia has been quite underrated to what it has contributed to the world of horror, many of our horror films have still managed to become quite successful either critically and commercially around the world. Over the years Australia has produced quite a few horror films (WOLF CREEK, THE BABADOOK, THE LOVED ONES, ROADGAMES, RAZORBACK etc.) that have that helped paved the way for Australian horror to be recognized internationally and be regarded as classics of the genre among critics/audiences, even if some of those same films themselves sadly didn’t quite receive the same kind of recognition in Australia. One of the earliest Aussie horror films to achieve major overseas success was the psychokinesis themed 1978 sci-fi/horror film PATRICK, which released at the height of the psychokinesis sub-genre’s popularity during the late ’70s to the early ’80s with films like CARRIE, THE FURY, THE MEDUSA TOUCH, SCANNERS, FIRESTARTER and others. While the film received mixed reviews and was labelled a box office disappointment upon its release in Australia in 1978 (although it did manage to become the Aussie horror film to score a Best Film nomination at the Australian Film Institute Awards that year), it would go on to achieve bigger success in other countries like Italy and the U.S. over the following year. Now 40 years later PATRICK is now highly regarded as a beloved and seminal groundbreaking classic of Australian horror/Ozplotitation cinema that continues to be influential to this day. Plus it even cemented its status in pop culture by having an unofficial Italian made 1980 sequel with PATRICK STILL LIVES, a 2013 remake that was directed by NOT QUIET HOLLYWOOD documentarian Mark Hartley and being memorably homage to great effect in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film KILL BILL: VOLUME. 1.
Even though the first time I saw footage from it was in a segment in director Mark Hartley’s 2008 film NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION, I actually first became aware of PATRICK a few years prior to the release of that documentary. When Greg McLean’s horror masterpiece WOLF CREEK was just about to hit Australian cinemas back in 2005, a couple of film magazines that I was reading around that time had featured articles on Australian horror films in anticipation for that film’s release and PATRICK was mentioned in quite a few of them. Based on just what magazines had written about it in those columns, it definitely put PATRICK on my radar as a film that I needed to check out at some point (especially even more so after watching it being talked about in NOT QUIET HOLLYWOOD later on). Unfortunately since the film wasn’t that readily available on either DVD or Blu-Ray at any of the local video stores that I would frequent at the time, I didn’t finally get around to seeing the film until 2010 when it played as part of a special back-to-back marathon alongside five other well know Ozploitation films (which included THE SURVIVOR, DEAD KIDS, TURKEY SHOOT and THIRST, which I wrote about previously for this column) that one of the cable TV channels had organized to run on Australia Day. I must admit that before I sat down to watch it that day, I was curious whether the film would be able to live up to the hype That I had been building up for it for many years. Luckily the film managed to live up to my expectations. I thought that it was a truly terrific horror film that I found equally both riveting and creepy. When it just occurred to me that 2018 would mark the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, I thought that this would be a great time to revisit PATRICK. After watching it again recently, I have to say that the film still holds up incredibly well and there were a lot of aspects about it that made me appreciate it even more.
What I think makes PATRICK such a stand out when compared to other psychokinesis themed horror films that were released around the same time that this one was, is just how a rather insane it is. Seriously I completely forgot how bizarre and surprisingly darkly humorous of a film PATRICK is until I rewatched it again in preparation for writing this column (to be fair, it had been a few years since I saw it). It’s a film whose tone shifts gears constantly throughout and there are a lot of quirky elements within it that make PATRICK such a fascinating experience to watch as it unfolds. I can definitely see why the film had quite a mixed reception from both critics and audiences back in 1978 but for me personally, it’s all these same aspects that make PATRICK a true original. Director Richard Franklin (who was a protégé of director Alfred Hitchcock during his time at film school in the late ’60s.) and screenwriter Everett De Roche (who go on to write many more Aussie horror/thrillers classics after this one with the likes of RAZORBACK, LONG WEEKEND, SNAPSHOT, HARLEQUIN, FORTRESS and STORM WARNING) together succeeded at crafting a horror film that not only is it a one-of-a-kind entry in the psychokinetic/telekinetic sub-genre, but also among other Australian horror films before or since its release as well. As you are watching it, it’s hard not to understand why that is. From the very first scene to the last, both Franklin and De Roche know how to hook us in with the film’s unique and strange story. The first one being that while it definitely works effectively as a chilling horror film, PATRICK also has a lot of really fascinating thematic layers underneath it that made it even more of engaging for us as an audience. What really surprised me most is that themes and ideas that it delves into (male entitlement and obsessiveness, sexism, questionable scientific experimentation on patients etc.) actually still make the film quite relevant in a lot of ways today. It could have easily could have come across as rather contrived, but I felt that De Roche’s screenplay tackled these themes in a really interesting and satisfying way without it ever feeling heavy-handed at all. Plus his also laced his script with a dark and cynical sense of humor too, which I thought really added to the film. Seriously, there as there was quite a number of scenes and lines in PATRICK that actually did make me laugh quite a few times throughout it. Whether some of them were intentional or not, I’ll leave that up to you.
When it comes to his work in the director’s chair, Richard Franklin did a great job with how he put together PATRICK. While watching the film you can tell that Franklin took a lot notes on how to construct it on a technical level from Alfred Hitchcock, since there are a lot of influences to the legendary director’s filmmaking style sprinkled throughout it. Just like his mentor, Franklin knows how to both build up suspense in many of the film’s most intense sequences and stage a truly effective jump scare as well. Also along with the help of cinematographer Donald McAlpine (BREAKER MORANT, PREDATOR, MOULIN ROUGE!), Franklin shows us that he has a truly great visual eye as there were quite a few shots during the film that are just absolutely stunning. Another highlight of the film was definitely the Hitchcockian-esque from legendary Aussie composer Brian May (MAD MAX 1 & 2, GALLIPOLI, THIRST), which I thought was simply fantastic. While there are so many great qualities about PATRICK on a film-making standpoint, it’s the strong work from the cast that also I believe helped really elevate it as well. As the film’s strong and resourceful main character ‘Kathy Jacquard’, British actress Susan Penhaligon was just wonderful in the role. From beginning to end Penhaligon’s appealing onscreen presence makes us really care about everything that happens to ‘Kathy’ during the film. Plus she’s back by a supporting cast, who just as equally good as her. Legendary Aussie theatre star Robert Helpmann brought a great amount of gravitas to his role as the hospital’s unethical owner “Dr. Roget” and Julia Blake was a stand out as the ice-cold, no-nonsense head nurse ‘Matron Cassidy’. However if there is one performance in the film that definitely deserves a shout out, it’s without a doubt Robert Thompson as the film’s iconic villain ‘Patrick’. Even though he only spends 95% of his performance lying in a bed with their eyes wide open in a comatose state, Thompson was able to project a presence about him that I just found to both quite creepy and unnerving. Now as much I do love PATRICK, there are a few things about it that I found to be flawed. The love-triangle subplot between ‘Kathy’, her ex-husband ‘Ed’ (Rod Mullinar) and playboy doctor ‘Brian’ (Bruce Barry) wasn’t really all that needed (it would have been stronger if either ‘Ed’ or ‘Brian’ were dropped from the film) and I felt that the film suffered a bit from pacing issues due to its unnecessary 110 minute long running time. If it were trimmed by at least 5-10 minutes, it’s would have flowed a lot better.
Overall despite having a couple of issues with it, there’s no denying at all that PATRICK is still a great horror film that definitely deserves its status as both an influential and iconic Aussie horror classic. This was the film that in a lot of ways both helped Australian horror cinema get recognized among the horror community worldwide and pave the way for other Aussie horror films to achieve international success in the decades to follow. It also launch the careers both its screenwriter Everett De Roche and director Richard Franklin (who’s first major gig when he made the leap to Hollywood films was funnily enough directing PSYCHO II, the underrated 1983 sequel to his mentor Alfred Hitchcock ‘s 1960 masterpiece PSYCHO) who would both go on have very successful careers separately after this film. Luckily both Franklin and De Roche would eventually collaborate with each other three more times over the years with the horror films ROADGAMES (which will definitely be the subject of a future column), LINK and VISITORS. Sadly the latter film was their last one together before both men passed away years later. However there’s no doubt in my mind that PATRICK is their biggest triumph together as a duo. If you’re one of the few horror fans out there that still haven’t seen PATRICK, definitely seek it out for sure. It’s one of the greatest horror films to ever come out of Australia.
Written by Bede Jermyn
Note: PATRICK (1978) is available to purchase on BluRay at GrindhouseVideo here.
Is there any Australian horror films you would like me to cover for Horror Down Under? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below or tweet them to me at Twitter.com/BedeJermyn. I’ll put them under consideration for future editions of the column.