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Patrick (1978)

Severin // PG // March 25, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 24, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Patrick (Robert Thompson) is hopelessly smitten. He can't ever seem to turn his eyes away from his latest crush, a pretty young nurse named Kathy (Susan Penhaligon). She
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waits on hand and foot for Patrick; he, in turns, leaves Kathy no shortage of typewritten notes to let her know what's bobbing around in his mind. They while away the hours side-by-side, day after day after day. Kathy takes care of him, and the lovestruck, overprotective, and just a little bit violent Patrick does what he can to fend off some of the more aggressive men in her life.

It's probably worth mentioning that Patrick hasn't moved an inch, uttered a word, or so much as blinked in three full years. This comatose lump of meat is being kept alive by machines, around the clock care, and more than a few taxpayers' dollars. Even referring to him as "alive" seems wildly inaccurate, with Patrick not having registered any meaningful trace of brain activity since the accident. That's what Kathy is told on her grueling first day at this tiny little hospital, anyway. An attentive doctor (Robert Helpmann) treats every day like Patrick's first, never taking his patient's condition for granted. Two nurses on the payroll do nothing but watch over Patrick, to the point of moistening his eyes with drops like clockwork every few minutes. The closest Patrick comes to exhibiting any sign of life is some convulsive spitting. After three long years, if there were any sort of soul lurking inside Patrick, someone would've seen it.

Kathy is quickly told that she's not the first to be dead certain that Patrick's trying to reach out, but what could an inexperienced, newly single-ish nurse discover by her lonesome in days that a small army of seasoned specialists couldn't in years? ...and yet the signs are there. Kathy works out a rudimentary way of communicating with Patrick, despite his inability to utter so much as a single syllable. His body may be lifeless and immobile, but his mind is something else altogether. Whatever psychokinetic talents Patrick wields are enough to jot down a few words on a typewriter, no matter which keys Kathy happens to be hammering away at. He's in love, and although he may never be able to physically embrace Kathy or spend time with her outside the confines of his oppressively sterile little hospital room...well, Patrick's mental fury soon ensures that no one else can either.

Working on a very lean budget, director/co-producer Richard Franklin and company use as few locations as possible and keep the cast lean. Not surprising considering the comatose state of its title character, the bulk of Patrick is set in and around the hospital, particularly Patrick's private room. The pace is relaxed, not demanding another scare or mangled corpse every eight minutes or whatever. The body
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count is light, and the effects work is sparse. Patrick is a minimalist thriller in so many ways, but this Aussie cult classic readily outclasses films with many times its scope and scale. Franklin and cinematographer Donald McAlpine share enough of an adept visual eye to keep Patrick visually interesting despite the tiny handful of locations. The performances and sharply-written dialogue alike are thoroughly impressive, especially the barbed, hyperliterate tongues of Sir Robert Helpmann and Julia Blake as the hospital's senior staff. Despite having seen Patrick my share of times before and knowing full well the twists and turns the story would take, I remain in awe of how genuinely intense and suspenseful a film this is. As daunting as its nearly two hour length may seem given the nature of the story, the time breezes by. (Admittedly, I didn't feel that way in earlier viewings, and even director Franklin has said it could stand to be tightened up.) Patrick is propelled by strong characterization, mood, and atmosphere, seasoned with just enough exploitation in case your attention starts to wane. I also admire the disinterest in explaining. We as the audience are kept at arm's length from the titular Patrick. The murderous prologue aside, we don't know any more about this young man or his nature than Kathy does. Comparisons are too often drawn to Carrie, but I think I'd more readily liken Patrick to The Shape in Halloween. A critical part of what makes it so disturbing is a murderous obsession -- a childlike fixation -- from a mind we can never know or understand. It's also an appreciated change of pace that the supporting cast are all very much adults; no nubile, barely-twentysomethings on the chopping block here, and Kathy is anything but a unspoiled, virginal Final Girl.

Patrick's approach to suspense is one that slowly and quietly burrows its way under my skin. Despite its general disinterest in the usual sorts of shock moments, Patrick is creepy in a way that few genre releases can claim. This is an astonishingly well-crafted film, one that remains remarkably effective more than thirty-five years later. Severin Films has gone out of their way to ensure that Patrick's arrival on Blu-ray is well worth the wait. This high definition release is sourced from a brand new transfer, the extras here eclipse earlier DVD releases, and this is, of course, Richard Franklin's preferred original cut of the film. Highly Recommended.

Patrick easily ranks as the most impressive presentation in Severin Films' Aussie onslaught. Definition and fine object detail are reasonably robust. Some speckling and damage occasionally creep in, but it's far too mild to ever distract. Dead Kids and Thirst each had some degree of questionable color timing; milder in the former and something closer to disastrous in the latter. The hues throughout Patrick, meanwhile, consistently strike me as spot-on. Some may grouse and groan at the level of film grain, but it's their loss. This is a wonderfully filmic presentation, and it's greatly appreciated that this gritty texture hasn't been digitally smeared away. A sheen of grain like this can pose a challenge during authoring, but the AVC encode here is more than up to the task. I couldn't spot any artifacting anywhere throughout. Patrick was the Blu-ray release I was looking forward to the most in this wave from Severin, and I'm thrilled to say that this presentation leaves very little room for complaint.

I have to admit to missing out on Synapse Films' anamorphic widescreen DVD of Patrick from 2008, so I can't assemble as comprehensive a comparison as I would've liked. This Blu-ray release is worlds removed from Elite Entertainment's original DVD from 2002, for whatever that's worth. The Elite disc is non-anamorphic, presumably culled from some ancient Laserdisc-era master. It suffers from drab colors, anemic black levels, heavy analog noise, and a steep drop in resolution over what a proper widescreen release would've delivered. If you're feeling masochistic, crack open these screenshots to full-size and marvel at the difference:

Elite Entertainment DVD (2002)Severin Films BD (2013)
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Severin is releasing Patrick as a combo pack, but as I was only sent the Blu-ray disc to review, I can't comment on how the accompanying DVD looks. As far as the high definition end of things goes, Patrick arrives on a BD-50 disc at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

Disappointingly, Patrick is limited to lossy, low bitrate Dolby Digital audio only: two-channel mono at a miserly 192kbps. This is in every way DVD-quality, taking a sharp left turn away from the lossless audio that's found on virtually every Blu-ray release from the past eight years. It's listenable but thoroughly unremarkable. Patrick very much sounds like a low-budget genre film from the class of 1978, showing its age with limited dynamic range and a lightly boxy quality. No clipping or distortion ever gets in the way of the dialogue, and there aren't any dropouts, pops, clicks, or assorted background noise to fret about either. I can't say that lossless audio would've made a significant difference, but unless the licensor down under couldn't or wouldn't supply something like this to Severin, the exclusion is pretty much indefensible.

Dubs are dished out in lossy two-channel mono in French, Spanish, and Italian as well. That last track is very much worth noting, swapping out Brian May's score for one by Argento mainstays Goblin. There are no subtitles.

Keep an eye out for a couple of Easter Eggs too, by the way!
  • Audio Commentary: Carried over from the Elite and Synapse DVDs is this commentary track with the since-departed Richard Franklin, the director and co-producer behind Patrick. It's a terrific
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    commentary, and cineastes who get giddy hearing technical details about how certain shots and effects were executed ought to be in seventh heaven here. Among the standout moments are a laundry list of Hitchcock homages, the XXX real-life story that inspired Patrick, the premise of the sequel that was bandied about and the bloody Italian followup he'd just as soon not acknowledge, and how a medical consultant's stories about how he'd handle a coma patient wound up being way more visceral than what they'd originally dreamed up. Although Franklin's is the only name on the marquee here, screenwriter Everett de Roche does appear briefly around 45 minutes in.

  • Interviews (81 min.; SD): First up is this twenty minute interview with director Richard Franklin from the very early '80s. This conversation covers the entirety of Franklin's career up to that point, including some television work, Road Games, and The Blue Lagoon. Patrick understandably gets a decent amount of attention, and Franklin touches on his approach to suspense as well as the film's collision of fact and fantasy.

    Running just over an hour is a collection of interviews conducted by Mark Hartley for his essential 2008 Ozsploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood. Featured here are conversations with director Richard Franklin, screenwriter Everett de Roche, producer Antony Ginnane, and actors Susan Penhaligon and Rod Mullinar. There's no shortage of highlights, such as the clunky re-editing/dubbing on this side of the globe, the challenges of acting alongside a silent, immobile, unblinking co-star, reaffirming that the standout moment is a coincidence rather than some lazy Carrie retread, Jenny Agutter being up for the female lead, and what a rarity this sort of contemporary genre flick was in the fledgling Australian film industry. Penhaligon steals the show, but all of the interviews are well worth taking the time to watch.

    Ignore the runtimes listed on the menu, by the way. One of 'em is five minutes off, and the other is a swing and a miss by eleven minutes (!).

  • Promotional Material (3 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer and three TV spots.

I was sent a retail Blu-ray disc to review, but as I haven't seen the final packaging or the DVD that's riding shotgun in this combo pack, I obviously can't comment about that end of things.

The Final Word
Even more effective than I remembered, Patrick's approach to suspense continues to hold up astonishingly well even after three and a half decades. Earlier DVDs offered disappointingly little in the way of extras, and Severin's release comes closer to the special edition that this cult classic richly deserves. Far and away the standout of this wave of Ozploitation by Severin and very Highly Recommended.
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