Category Archives: Movies with a Hospital setting

Beyond Reason (1985)

beyond

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s losing his sanity.

Filmed in 1977, but never released to the theaters and only eventually finding its way to VHS 8 years later. Written and directed by Telly Savalas the story centers on Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas) who works at a mental hospital and has an unorthodox way of treating his patients, which does not go over well with the young, blonde Dr. named Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson) who feels his methods go too far. Suddenly after witnessing the suicide of one of his patients Mati begins having weird hallucinations. Those around him fear he may be losing his grip on reality, but Mati thinks Leslie may have something to do with it by attempting to drive him crazy she can have him fired from his job, so Mati sets out to expose her scheme.

While the concept is an interesting one the execution is not. I did feel the scenes done inside the hospital had a gritty touch, so it gets a few points there, but the story takes too long to get going. The scenes meander, too much extraneous dialogue, and not enough dramatic moments to keep it compelling, or even mildly engaging. It’s also unclear what genre to fit this into, or the target audience, which makes it easy to see why the studio refused to release it as it clearly was going to clunk at the box office and most critics who reviewed it would’ve gotten as bored as I did watching it.

I do like Savalas and usually enjoy his presence especially when he plays bad guys. While he can also play good guys well it’s never in the same dynamic type of way. His character here is limp and poorly defined. Since he starts out behaving a bit goofy right from the beginning his transition to loonyville isn’t much of a contrast, or shock. He also acts borderline creepy and at one point in a pre-Me Too moment even pinches one of his nurse colleagues in the ass. In any event you really don’t care if he goes mad or not and his journey, or why it’s occurring, won’t hold most viewers interest.

The most disappointing thing is that Priscilla Barnes, best known for playing Teri on ‘Three’s a Company’, was originally cast to play the part of Dr. Valentine and is even seen in a scene where a group of doctors tour the facility, but then got fired midway through the production and replaced by Johnson. Johnson, who looks quite similar to Barnes, is just not as good of an actress. Her confrontations with Savalas offers no spark, or fire. I honestly believe Barnes would’ve done better and while I’m not sure what the reason was for her being let go it’s a shame it occurred as it’s the one thing that might’ve helped made the movie better.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a diverting moment near the end where we see a fast-cutting mosaic of the weird visions going on inside Mati’s head, but this stuff needed to be trickled all the way through to help give the film more of a visual dynamic. As for the resolution I couldn’t make much sense of it though by that time I was just glad it was over and really didn’t care. There are though fans of the film who will insist it’s a ‘brilliant ending’ as Mati was apparently intentionally making himself go mad, as they explain it, to help him understand what his patients must go through, which is all a part of his ‘love centered therapy’. However, it’s not done in a way that makes it clear to most viewers and many will leave feeling confused and that it was a big waste of time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1985 (CBS Television Network Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Telly Savalas

Studio: Arthur Sarkissian Productions

Available: VHS

All That Jazz (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Manitou (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tumor on her neck.

Karen (Susan Strasberg) is a middle-aged woman living in San Francisco who begins noticing a lump on the back of her neck that grows at an accelerated rate. She goes to the hospital to have it checked and the doctors there, after analyzing the X-rays, believe it to be a fetus growing within the tumor. Karen’s boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) does some research and discovers that the growth is an Indian shaman reincarnated from a past life who’s brought back to take revenge on the white man for driving his people off of their land. When the surgery to remove the tumor goes wrong, Harry summons the help of a modern-day shaman, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) to help him get the fetus removed. While John has a strong connection to the spirit world he realizes that the ones he can summon are weak compared to what the spirit who inhabits the growth on Karen’s neck can bring to life.

I’ll give writer-director William Girdler credit, during his brief life and career he directed a lot of movies, 9 of them while still in his 20’s, but the quality of the output was minimal. He did achieve a few cult hits like Sheba, Baby and Abby as well as a couple that did well at the box office, Grizzlybut this one, which came in with a high budget, could be considered his worst. The cast is interesting, though they’re well past their prime, but the plot, which is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Graham Masterton, is too silly to be taken seriously.

Girdler shows more interest in capturing the San Francisco skyline, of which he does well, and some of the city’s more exotic locales, then spotting continuity errors. One of the most glaring ones is when the surgeon, played by Jon Cedar, who co-wrote the script, severely cuts his hand during the surgery, but then later he’s in a scene where his hands look fine and there’s no bandages on them. There’s also several moments where I was literally laughing-out-loud, like when an old lady, played by Lurene Tuttle, becomes possessed by the Indian spirit and begins dancing around the room and speaking in a deep voice, which looks as silly as it sounds. The seance is laughable too and since these have been parodied so much it’s best not even putting them into any horror movie that hopes to take itself seriously as it’ll just have the viewers-rolling-their eyes from the very beginning.

The main characters are a mess mainly because they don’t have much to do. Curtis plays this phony psychic who does nothing but stand around and watch Ansara do all the work to the extent that Ansara should’ve been the star and Curtis, who’s looking haggard and washed-up here, could’ve been cut-out completely and not missed. Strasberg is boring as the victim. She has this giant growth on her neck that’s expanding rapidly and yet she takes it in a ho-hum, laid-back fashion when anyone else would be stressing-out and going crazy with anxiety. There also should’ve been a specific reason why she got targeted with the tumor instead of just writing it off as a ‘random occurrence’.

The third act picks-up slightly and the birth of the Indian spirit where you see him claw his way out of the womb while still on Strasberg’s neck, is visually impressive from a special effects perspective, but once outside he looks too much like a dwarf in an Indian get-up. Having the entire floor of the hospital turn into a frozen polar zone is cool until you start looking at the ice blocks too closely and realize they’re just styrofoam. The climactic sequence in which a now topless Strasberg battles the Indian spirit using telekinetic powers while seemingly floating in outer space is too stupid for words and cements this as a complete embarrassment for all those involved.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crash! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Incubus (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demon being rapes women.

In a small Wisconsin town known as Galen the women are being sexually assaulted by a mysterious being with super human strength. When the victims are taken to the hospital they are seen by Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) who notices an extraordinary amount of semen deposited that is reddish in color and doesn’t seem left by a human. Sam argues with the local sheriff Hank (John Ireland) about whether it’s a gang of men doing these crimes, or just one person. The two team-up with Laura (Kerrie Keane), a local reporter who has just moved into town and shares a striking resemblance to Sam’s former girlfriend who’s now deceased, to find the culprit. They begin to think it may be Tim (Duncan McIntosh) a young man who’s still living with his adopted mother (Helen Hughes) and has been dating Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Noble). Tim complains about having weird, vivid dreams and every time he wakes up a new crime has been reported, which makes Sam fear that Jenny may be the next victim.

This film approaches things differently from the conventional horror, especially those done in the 70’s, where there’s no character build-up and just jumps right into the attacks, but this doesn’t work because we have no idea who these people are nor care what happens to them making the viewer sit through the whole first half in a rather apathetic manner to what’s going on. The film also makes the mistake of not showing, with the exception of a brief second where we do see the creature’s hairy arm, of who this entity is until the very end though it should’ve been done sooner. Having some mystery is good, but a film has to keep upping the ante otherwise it will get tedious and seeing the attacks get done over and over in virtually the same manner without any new information or twists added soon becomes quite boring.

Listening to Sam and Hank perpetually argue who the culprit is for almost the entire film without much  clues being added in becomes tiresome too. The film though is helped immensely by John Hough’s direction who adds a lot of visual style including a cool tracking shot done from underneath a wheelchair.

I was unhappy though that it wasn’t actually filmed in Wisconsin, but instead Guelph, Ontario, which has homes and buildings that resemble more of a colonial style that you would find in the northeast versus the Midwest. Having movies filmed on-location that’s specific to the story can help give it an added ambiance and sometimes even work as a third character, but since this movie cheats on this we don’t get that here.

Casting Cassavetes, who is better known for directing groundbreaking, independent movies, in the lead was a novel move. His hawk-like facial features I always felt would’ve made him a good bad guy, but his unique acting approach does at least keep his scenes interesting though his relationship with his daughter does border on cringey. One shot has him viewing his naked daughter, who is 17, through a  mirror as she gets out of the shower, which seems to imply, though it never gets played-out, that he may have a perverse sexual interest in her. There’s another scene where he introduces her to Laura as simply being ‘a woman I live with’, which is a very weird way for a father to describe a daughter.

The supporting characters aren’t captivating at all. Laura, who’s supposed to be an aggressive journalist type, breaks down too easily after receiving minor blow back from the sheriff over her reporting, which made her seem too sensitive. If she’s truly the ‘fearless reporter’ as portrayed then she’d have to have a thicker skin and even expect some criticism when it comes. The Tim character is also a bore as we see him in only one emotional state, perplexed and confused, which makes him too one-dimensional.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where things get messed-up. For one thing it tries to squeeze an elaborate explanation for what’s going-on into the final three minutes, which is too short of a time period for the viewer to digest it all, or have it make sense. What really got me though is that we find out that the incubus was actually Laura, and the film ends with Sam seeing her kill his daughter, but we never see how Sam responds, or if he’s able to defeat her, which is frustrating. So much time gets spent on the boring investigation only to then abruptly end once we finally get a pay-off.

By having Laura be the ultimate villain also goes against the film’s title. According to mythology an incubus is a male demon that tries to have sex with a female human, but a succubus is a female demon, so hence the title of the movie, the way I see it, should’ve been, when given the way it turns out, Succubus.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Hough

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto TV, Plex, Tubi, YouTube

Blue Monkey (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant insect invades hospital.

When an elderly man (Sandy Webster) gets his finger pricked by a foreign plant he’s immediately rushed to the hospital after he goes into shock. At the hospital he regurgitates an insect pupa, which is taken to the lab for observation. It is there that it gets fed a growth hormone by a group of children causing it to escape and take-over the hospital. Jim (Steve Railsback) is a police detective who was already in the hospital overseeing his partner who had gotten shot while on duty. Together with Rachel (Gwynyth Walsh), an on-call emergency room doctor, and Elliot (Don Lake), a entomologist, they go on the offence to trap the giant bug and kill it before it can reproduce.

I was initially not excited about watching this as it’s admittedly a rip-off of Alien and has many of the same shocks while being directed by Canadian horror maestro William Fruet whose other output I’ve found to be only so-so, but this one is surprisingly compelling. It also has some cool effects including seeing the characters running down a darkened hallway that’s lighted from one end with a bluish hue that gives it a surreal vibe. The shocks aren’t plentiful, but the few that they do have work.

This is also one movie where Railsback, who’s excellent playing psychos like Charles Manson and Ed Gein, is effective as a good guy. In other films where he was a protagonist like in Lifeforce he came-off as unintentionally creepy and it hurt his ability to get starring roles, but here his kindly interactions with a group of sickly children help subside that. I also enjoyed Susan Anspach, looking almost unrecognizable in her black-rimmed glasses, as one of the Dr.’s who takes matters into her own-hands without waiting for a male Dr. to tell her what to do. In fact there really aren’t too many men in white coats at the facility that seemed mainly run by females, which I found interesting.

What I didn’t like were the supporting comical characters. Helen Hughes and Joy Coghill as two drunken old ladies was not needed nor was SCTV alums Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke as a goofy couple having a baby. Sometimes in horror movies that are super intense a brief moment of levity is okay, but this movie wasn’t frightening enough for that and if anything needed to play-up the scares more instead of throwing in goofy scenes that makes it seem too much like a jokey-script instead of a scary one.

The actual bug, when seen in its giant proportion, isn’t the chilling sight you’d expect mainly because its made to look like a regular bug, but just bigger, which isn’t imaginative and more reminiscent of the tacky sci-fi ‘creature-features’ of the 50’s where insects suddenly become bigger and most people today find laughable. It also would’ve been nice during the lab scenes for the camera to have focused on the pupa under the glass instead of the scared faces of the people looking at it. We don’t need to see facial expressions to know if something is scary we just need to be shown the scary thing directly and when we don’t see it, it makes the film look cheap like it didn’t have enough money to create an elaborate effect, so it copped-out by doing it this way.

Even with some of these issues it’s still an entertaining ride. It won’t be for everyone’s tastes and it certainly isn’t going to win any awards nor was it intended to, but if you like giant bug movies this one should satisfy your appetite.  It was also filmed entirely in Canada though the setting is supposed to be the US.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: International Spectrafilm

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Coma (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the patients?

Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a Dr. working as a surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital, who learns that her best friend Nancy (Lois Chiles) fell into a coma at the hospital while having routine surgery. Susan is convinced that there must be an answer to what went wrong as Nancy was young and had no underlying health conditions. While reviewing the hospital records she finds that a high number of other patients at the hospital ended up having the same fate and all were of a similar age and body type as Nancy. Susan also notices that the patients had surgery in the same operating room and once they became comatose their bodies where shipped off to a remote facility known as The Jefferson Institute.  Susan’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Douglas), who also works at the hospital, tries to convince her it’s all a coincidence, but the more Susan investigates the more determined she is to uncover the truth even if it means putting her job and even her life on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Cook. Cook, a physician, decided to dabble in writing on his off-hours and in 1973 got his first novel, ‘The Year of the Intern’, published but it was a financial failure. While that book had been more of a drama he came to realize that thrillers was the genre that had the most commercial success. He studied how, in his words, ‘the reader was manipulated by the writer’, in the thriller novels that he had enjoyed and then listed these techniques on index cards and made sure to use them in ‘Coma’, which lead to that book being a best-seller. Michael Crichton, who had met Cook while he was working on a post doctorate at La Jolla’s Salk Institute, agreed to sign on as the director where he hoped to create a film that would delve into people’s fear of hospitals the way Jaws had connected to people’s phobias about sharks and swimming.

The result is a nice compact thriller that moves along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of both the director’s and author’s medical background to help keep the scenario both realistic and enlightening to the inner-workings of a hospital. There’s a couple of cool foot chase scenes with one occurring between Bujold and actor Lance LeGault inside the hospital while another happens at the ominous looking Jefferson Institute with both being quite intense.

Bujold, despite being different than the protagonist in the novel, who was described as blonde and 23 while Bujold is brunette and 35 at the time of filming, was still a perfect casting choice. I loved her French Canadian accent, which gives her character distinction, but she does appear at times to have reddish nose and cheeks making her seem like she had a rash or cold. What I didn’t like was that the feminist angle of the character, which had been so prominent in the novel, gets played-down here. In the book Susan did not know Nancy and simply took on the case through her own personal initiative to prove herself in an otherwise ‘man’s world’, which was more compelling than the pedestrian way here where she investigates the case simply because she’s heartbroken over the loss of a friend.

It also didn’t make sense to me why she was the only one upset over the deaths of these patients. The patients most likely had family and friends, so why weren’t any of them demanding answers to what happened? We live in a sue-happy culture and medical malpractices are the most prevalent lawsuits out there making me believe this racket wouldn’t have been able to survive too long as lawyers and private investigators, who would’ve been hired by the grieved family members, would’ve been on the case demanding answers from the hospital long before Susan ever even got involved.

The Susan character has the same issues as James Coburn’s did in The Carey Treatment where we have a medical professional with no background in investigating suddenly showing amazing instinct on-the-spot that you’d only expect from a seasoned detective. Having a group of people, like the grieved relatives, working together to solve the case would’ve had more interesting banter and camaraderie, which is missing here. While seeing an individual take down a mighty criminal system is emotionally gratifying it usually takes a strong team of people working in tandem to accomplish that.

Spoiler Alert!

I did find the film’s climax where Susan goes under the knife and risks being another comatose victim, to be quite suspenseful, but I found it strange why this woman, who had done all the legwork to uncover the crime, would then just hand-it-over to the creepy hospital administrator, played by Richard Widmark, to finish the job instead of her going to the police with her findings. The Widmark character displayed a lot of red flags from the start, which is obvious to the viewer, so why is Susan, who had been so super savvy the rest of the time, so dumb at the end and trust a creep like him to do the right thing?

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube, HBOMax

Return to Oz (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nobody believes Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) has returned to Kansas and the home of Auntie Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark), but she continues to talk about her adventures in the Land of Oz and can’t get any sleep. Both her aunt and uncle think she’s become delusional and decide to send her to a doctor (Nicol Williamson) who practices electro shock therapy. It’s there that she’s left under the care of Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh) while also hooked-up to one of their machines only to be saved when a lightning storm knocks the power out. Dorothy then escapes out of the hospital and runs into a river where she climbs aboard a floating raft and makes friends with a talking chicken. She then gets whisked back to Oz, but this time finds everything in ruins including the citizens of the Emerald City who’ve been turned to stone.

The plot is loosely based on two of L. Frank Baum’s other novels: ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’ and ‘Ozma of Oz’. The rights to the story had been purchased way back in 1954 by Walt Disney with plans to turn it into a film that would’ve starred Annette Funicello. It was to be a live action movie called Rainbow Road to Oz, but while filming had started and even preview segments aired on TV it was never completed as producers ultimately feared it would be compared unfavorably to the highly popular Wizard of Oz, so the production got scrapped. Then in 1980 film editor Walter Murch convinced Disney executives to give the idea another shot and since they were ready to lose the story rights anyways decided to green light the project with Murch acting as the director. Things though did not go smoothly as Murch had no directing experience and fell behind in the shooting schedule, which got him fired 5-weeks in only to be reinstated when his good friend George Lucas (the two had worked together on THX-1138) convinced Disney to give him another chance by promising that he personally would step-in to direct if Murch was unable to complete.

As a whole, at least in the beginning, I really liked the gothic look of the set design and while some critics complained about the dark tone I actually felt this made it more appealing. Despite being a children’s book the story does have, when you think about it, some very creepy aspects to it, so approaching it in a darker way made sense and the imagery especially during the first half is pretty cool. I particularly liked when Auntie Em takes Dorothy to the doctors via a horse carriage, in which you see a longshot of the carriage traveling across the flat brown prairie, which really brought the desolate quality of Kansas to life, (far better than the original film did, which was shot on an indoor soundstage) with the only irony being that was filmed in Salisbury Plain in the U.K., but the lay out of the land of the Sunflower State, of which I’ve been to many times, still gets replicated authentically.

Initially I liked the way the Land of Oz gets captured as well including the Wheelers, who come off like a punk street gang who have wheels in place of hands and feet. Unfortunately so much has changed here from the original that this ultimately doesn’t seem like a sequel, but a completely different movie instead. There’s no yellow brick road (only shown briefly in a decrepit state, no wicked witch or flying monkeys either.) There is the tin man, lion, and scarecrow, but their look has changed significantly including having the scarecrow appear more like a wide-eyed ventriloquist dummy and not the friendly, amusing character that we’re used to.

The story as it gets played-out is not as interesting. There’s no sense of plot progression, but instead just a constant flow of dangers that Dorothy and her newfound friends get into that are too loosely connected and become more redundant than tense. Dorothy never gets overly upset about anything, which impedes the viewer from becoming emotionally wrapped-up into her peril. After all if she’s taking the whole thing in stride, no matter how dangerous things may initially seem, then why should we. Jean Marsh creates a colorful villain, I enjoyed her closet full of different heads and how she can take one off and put on another one, but she ultimately gets too easily taken down.

The film received only a lukewarm reception and despite working off of a $28 million budget managed to recoup only $11 million. Many felt that director Murch, while showing great eye for visual detail, failed to match it with a riveting story and despite some good elements it’s a misfire.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Murch

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, 

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

shirley4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None