Hysteria is a film that can't quite find the right balance between the bizarre and the intriguing. It's the kind of film that opens with a man fleeing Dr. Langston's asylum in his car, screaming as he barrels down the road at 100MPH, wrestling with his own arm, before flipping the car and ultimately killing himself by sticking his lighter in a pool of gasoline, then immediately segues into some sort of twisted love story between a crazy person and her doctor. The film jumps around, never quite settling on a particular rhythm or style, happy to peer into whatever nook and cranny Daalder's mind drifts to at a given moment. Although many of these flights of fancy work themselves out as having importance, it can seem as if Daalder is including weird things for the sake of weirdness, like some kind of David Lynch wannabe.
Dr. Langston's method of therapy is to induce a supernatural form of group psychosis on his patients. He implants a little chip into each patient's head, which apparently allows their spirits or souls to exist in every one of the patients at once. Although Dr. Fry is determined to try and save Veronica from the clutches of Langston, Myrna, and the rest of the asylum's inhabitants, he has to try and locate Veronica's mind, which has become untethered from her body. While Fry fights to do so, Langston attempts to demonstrate how his theories work through a number of bizarre sequences, including a strange spoken word / dance performance that eventually concludes with Langston playing the bongo drums while Veronica dances. This section of the film is arguably the least interesting, too rooted in Daalder's indulgence in being strange.
The film is a little more interesting when exploring the nuances of the asylum's hive mind, especially in the confrontations between Myrna and Dr. Fry. Myrna challenges Dr. Fry's ideas of love and the decisions he's made regarding Veronica's treatment. At times, the thread can seem like another slice of the strangeness, especially when Plummer performs a dance sequence of her own, stumbling on uncooperative legs while Dr. Fry sneers at her. Myrna also instigates a surreal orgy scene, which is surprisingly sensual despite drowning in off-putting oddness. However, the scene's meaning is transformed during a later conversation between Fry and Myrna that marks the most interesting moment in the movie...one which is sadly defused by an awkward stunt bit that requires such a leap of imagination in terms of physics that it drowns out whatever else Daalder was trying to accomplish.
Surrounding these bits are disappointingly conventional plot mechanics, including Dr. Fry fleeing to a police station, where he distrusts the one officer on duty. Maloney's performance of this scene, and in most scenes, is incredibly flat-footed -- for most of the film's running time, he runs around with wild eyes, disheveled hair, and an aggressive grimace, insisting he'll get his way without any effectiveness to back it up. Were the Fry role cast better, Plummer and McGoohan would have something better to work off of, but Maloney contributes to the "conventional thriller" feel of too many scenes. There's a compelling short film somewhere in Hysteria, but what surrounds it is often such a struggle to enjoy that it hardly seems worth the effort.
The Video and Audio