Written by: Marc Behm (screenplay), Boaz Davidson (story)
Directed by: Boaz Davidson
Starring: Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia and Jon Van Ness
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“What do you want?"
"What I've always wanted--your heart!"
"What I've always wanted--your heart!"
Once the slasher craze got going in earnest, filmmakers and studios everywhere began scurrying about to turn every holiday into a blood-soaked affair. Christmas, Halloween, and even Friday the 13th were spoken for, so the Cannon Group decided to turn New Year’s into an evil proposition before pointing their knives towards February. The only problem is that My Bloody Valentine beat them to the heart-ripping punch and not only became one of the most revered slashers of all time, but also the definitive Valentine’s Day horror movie. If you ever saw New Year’s Evil on VHS, you might remember that it teased “yet another holiday horror” from Cannon: Be My Valentine…Or Else, only that movie never showed up on video store shelves--at least not by that title. Instead, it became Hospital Massacre (or X-Ray), meaning Cannon certainly had no qualms about riffing on Halloween II’s hospital setting (though, ironically enough, Visiting Hours even managed to upstage it as the most remembered hospital slasher of ‘82).
Despite the title change, this one still occurs on Valentine’s Day; actually, it occurs on two Valentine’s Days, as it opens with a title that tells us we’re at “Susan’s house” in 1961. Who’s Susan? Apparently, she’s a little 10 year old heartbreaker who is hanging out with a boy on Valentine’s Day, much to the chagrin of Harold (Billy Jayne), a devious little bastard peeping in on the festivities. When his romantic overture towards Susan is laughed off, he decides to hang the other little boy out of a jealous rage. Susan is so aghast that she drops the cake she’s brought in from the kitchen, and she screams--at which point we awkwardly jump ahead 19 years, where Susan has grown up to become smoking hot Barbi Benton, who is following up a routine check-up.
Only there’s nothing routine about it; after all, her fiancé reminds her that this was that hospital that “had all that trouble last year” when “a patient ran amok.” In case we weren’t sure, the movie reassures us that this is the case when a guy in a doctor’s mask menacingly glares out of the window. And for the first ten minutes or so, you’re in pure slasher heaven; after a couple of fake outs (one involving a trio of guys decked out in fumigation suits that eerily resemble Harry Warden), we’re treated to some knife-butchery and an acid bath. But then things settle down, so much so that Hospital Massacre becomes a stunted medical drama when something appears to be wrong with Susan’s x-rays. So instead of blood and guts, we’re treated to overly scored sequences where doctors stare at Susan’s charts and examine her body. Director Boaz Davidson does reach into his Lemon Popsicle bag of tricks in order to get Benton naked, and even has a weird old guy peeping into the room to boot, so a lot of slashery stuff is there when Benton isn’t reduced to staggering down hallways asking “where’s Dr. Jacobs?” (This refrain quickly turns into “where’s Dr. Saxon?” when it becomes obvious that Dr. Jacobs flatlined earlier.)
The only problem here is that we saw the killer mucking about with Susan’s charts earlier (what a cad!), so you’re left with flat drama with little stakes, particularly since Susan is so thinly developed. All we really know about her is that she’s recently divorced and has a daughter, information gleaned from a short sequence early in the movie that feels like it belongs in an ABC movie of the week. Oh, and she also has a really dumb fiancé who hangs out in his car for two hours before getting curious; said curiosity must get kicked into overdrive because he’s duped pretty easily by the killer, who winds up giving Susan quite a Valentine’s Day present (one that actually rivals the severed heart from MBV, even). When the killer is doing his thing like this, Hospital Massacre is quite good and racks up a body count that stretches into double digits, which is impressive considering how soggy and dull the middle portion of the film is. At least a few of these kills are prime stuff, as victims are hacked up by surgical saws and scalpels, so it makes fine use out of its hospital setting.
Hospital Massacre even tries to get a little psychological and trippy at points; in addition to the weird peeping tom, there’s countless other weirdos roaming the grounds, leading you to wonder just what kind of hospital this is. Maybe Susan is delusional--or not. Again, the movie undercuts itself, as this brief excursion is snuffed out once you realize that you’ve seen a madman stalking the premises and killing everyone in sight. This one doesn’t even try to keep any pretense of mystery, either; I guess there’s a question of who exactly the guy is (Susan briefly encounters him unmasked early on), but anyone who has seen a slasher (or twelve) saw this course being charted during the opening prologue when little Harold left Susan’s childhood love dangling from the ceiling. This guy is like the antithesis of Benji, the lead character from Davidson’s Lemon Popsicle series; whereas he’d drown his heartbreak in a bottle of Jack or a gangbang, Harold apparently sat around stewing over his slight for years and finally decided to go homicidal. I will say this, though--as predictable as Hospital Massacre is, it has a pretty funny deus ex machina (one of the weird old ladies comes in handy after all!), and the killer gets one hell of a send off.
As a slasher, it obviously shares DNA with a lot of films of the age--it sounds a whole lot like Friday the 13th, full of shrieks and clanking keys (though the score goes oddly choral during the climax), only it’s rocking a bit of a TV-movie production design. Davidson never really overexerts himself, though some of the murders are creepily captured; the Valentine’s Day setting mostly feels like window dressing outside of it motivating the plot and the gory gift Susan eventually receives. Hospital Massacre is destined to always be known as the other Valentine’s slasher, forever living in the shadow of its superior Canadian counterpart (and, to add insult to injury, the My Bloody Valentine redux even outdid its hospital carnage). If it’s any consolation, I do think it’s at least better than the aforementioned Visiting Hours, and I’m actually pretty surprised that it hasn’t received a DVD release yet when plenty of lesser slashers have. I’m guessing that this one belongs to MGM, but who knows given their financial and restructuring woes; if they still have it, it’d be a perfect addition to their Limited Edition collection. Adding it to Netflix’s streaming catalog would be even better, though, since this is one hospital you’ll probably only want to visit once. Rent it!
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