he's had three years to develop a beauty."
- Dr. Wright
Franklin befriended and admired Alfred Hitchcock, and the influence is seen in many of his works, including Patrick. His 1978 slow-burn suspense film feels like a cross between Carrie, The Haunting and Maximum Overdrive--all filmed through a Hitchcock lens. Robert Thompson--sporting one of the scariest unibrows you'll ever see--stars as the titular character. We see him kill his mother and her lover in the opening scene before we jump ahead to the Roget Clinic, where Patrick has spent the last three years in a coma.
Into his quiet life walks nurse Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a woman separated from her husband and out of work for three years. Kathy's situation doesn't sit well with Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), a stern taskmaster who could probably use some therapy herself: "Because we are a small clinic, some applicants presume that our standards are less rigid," she advises. "Because of this misconception, we tend to attract certain types...lesbians, nymphomaniacs, enema specialists. Am I offending you, Mrs. Jacquard?"
The Matron is afraid to go into Patrick's room, and doesn't believe the facility should be keeping him alive. Disagreeing with her is fellow oddball Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann), who looks at Patrick as the perfect case study, "a born devil on who whose nature nurture can never stick...162 pounds of limp meat hanging on a comatose brain." The doc becomes obsessed with exploring our mysterious lifeforce: "At what point is he dead? As what point does the soul leave the body?" he asks Kathy. "Patrick is a very rare opportunity to study this grey area between life and death."
Patrick's blank stare becomes increasingly spooky, as are his random spitting and blowing tics. As Kathy spends more time with her new patient, she's convinced he can communicate with him. The two develop a bond, but when bad things start happening to Kathy's associates and friends--including estranged husband Ed (Rod Mullinar) and new love interest Dr. Brian Wright (Bruce Barry), two dashing love interests--it's clear that the comatose patient may have developed an unhealthy attachment. Given Patrick's possible telekinetic powers--which are put to the test when Dr. Roget decides to shock a response out of the patient using a cerebral functioning monitor--it doesn't bode well for his enemies.
There's a slow-building tension here that won't be to everyone's liking. Patrick comes across like a made-for-TV movie of the week (one with boobs in it), but a very good one that's scarier than most of its brethren (like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, which still needs a DVD release). The film's pace makes the few jump scares that much more effective. The chills here are mostly cerebral, and it's a credit to Franklin and his cast that they are able to make things like a paperweight and a typewriter (!) spooky.
Franklin plays frequent homage to Hitchcock, with a lot of shots channeling Psycho (the clinic--including its staircase and sign--is just one of many references to that masterpiece). Franklin and esteemed cinematographer Donald McAlpine both show immense talent in this early effort; it's clear both were on the road to success. The camera is placed perfectly to heighten suspense (there are lots of Hitchcockian aerial shots), and it moves beautifully (also look for a brief Jaws tribute).
That helps make up for the film's few misfires (like awkward soundtrack choices) and the running time: Patrick would have a lot more impact if it were about 20 minutes shorter (this is the 112-minute, uncut Australian version; shorter and longer cuts have existed). Still, it's fun to see these talents at work--and refreshing to see that a film that doesn't need to be loud or gory to scare us.
He wastes no time referencing Psycho, noting the connection between the two films--both revolving around a matricidal boy haunted at having killed his mother. "I often refer to Patrick as my first movie, although it was my second," he says. "You'll notice that even the logo is a rip-off...the house was also my attempt to make the film look like Psycho. I didn't know at this time, obviously, that I would subsequently be offered Psycho II."
Franklin notes that after having had somewhat of a failure with his first film, he decided to pay homage to Hitchcock: "I was imitating Hitchcock, with whom I had spent time when I was a student in the States. I followed him through the production of Topaz. [Patrick] is Hitchcockian, and it isn't. Hitchcock kind of avoided the cult; he came close with Vertigo, but if there is any model for this film in Hitchcock's work, then it's the pilot of his television series, which was entitled 'Breakdown', in which Joseph Cotton plays a man in a coma after a car accident." The director is unapologetic with the Hitchcock influence on the film, and also cites Shadow of a Doubt, I Confess, Marnie, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Spellbound and North by Northwest as influences for individual shots.
Franklin also talks about the film's unofficial Italian sequel/retelling, Patrick Lives (Patrick vive ancora) from 1980: "It was a mood thing I think I was after when I decided Patrick is a rip-off of Psycho. Patrick was ripped off itself on more than one occasion. I may get in trouble if I name the films, but probably the most spectacular is Patrick vive ancora, which was made by the Italians after Patrick was an obvious success there. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; I don't know how flattered I am by Patrick vive ancora. It's a very bloody piece, but it's quite extraordinary how they got so close to Robert in their casting of Patrick."
Franklin also talks about the different versions of the film, including the initial cut, which ran about 140 minutes (this one is 112): "Sentimentally, I like to imagine it was the best version of the movie ever," he says of the longest cut, noting that at the time, they had no concept about how to shoot from script to screen in an efficient manner. "None of the additional scenes still exist, I regret to say, or they would be here. But I do recall there was more material with the errant typewriter."
This 112-minute version was released theatrically in Australia, but not in the United States--although it was initially screened at an L.A. film festival. But Franklin notes the two U.S. distributors (Vanguard and Monarch) said the American audience has "needs and tastes that needed to be catered to." So a 96-minute cut with re-voiced dialogue was created (Franklin notes that the use of the word "lift" instead of "elevator" was one of the weak excuses given to him for the audio change), apparently causing Helpmann to pursue legal action. "U.S. audiences who saw this version that you're seeing now were not so pleased at the shortened, re-voiced U.S. version, and a playoff was organized one morning by the science fiction academy who had given the film an award," he recalls. "The U.S. distributors were invited to be present and were severely criticized by the audience." (Dare I say that I agree with the executives from a story shortening perspective!)
At the 46-minute mark of the commentary, a new voice takes over without warning--it's writer De Roche, who hadn't seen the film in 25 years. He briefly talks about the origin of the story and the climate of filmmaking at the time before Franklin returns. Also included are two trailers (U.S. and Australian) and three T.V. spots (totaling 53 seconds).