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I know they exist, but it's hard for me to imagine a person who enjoys a visit to the doctor. A trip to a medical professional puts a person face to face with things like debt and their own mortality, the things we spend most of our time avoiding. Hospitals invoke images of fleshy incisions, sharp objects and the spread of disease, the real-life horror shit. Understandably that can make people uneasy. Personally, my issues with healthcare are more related to spending time in lines or lobbies, trusting strangers and giving people shit loads of money. The whole process is awkward, dehumanizing and full of fake smiles. It's an experience that, other then the smells and chance that you might be forced to get naked, feels like the equivalent to buying a car while getting one fixed at the same time, a bullshit adventure made up of a series of forms, dire news, waiting rooms and fees. It may be that I am paranoid, but I feel like I'm getting scammed or not told the whole picture no matter what I'm there for. Whether it's the actual practice or the process (or the politics), healthcare fucking sucks. Movie-wise, it's usually the practice that gets the horror treatment. Dread goes well with sharp, pokie shit and operating tables, while expressing the terror of bureaucracy on film can be tricky and mostly confined to the “drama” genre. A strange exception- X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre 1981), kind of stumbles its way through both.
The film starts off with some kids playing with a train set in 1961. Another child comes along to do some creeping and leaves one of them, Susan, a valentines day card. As he watches from the window Susan crumbles the love letter up, and the two take a break from watching a train go around in circles to mock the notion of his affection. This pisses the boy outside off, so he waits for the girl to leave the room, crawls through the window, and in no small feat for a child, hangs Susan's friend on a hat rack by his face. Years later, Susan (Barbi Benton) is a divorced mother of one, spending her Valentines day picking up her physical test results from the hospital. She is driven there by her fiance, Jack(Jon Van Ness), who she leaves in the car assuming it will be a quick trip. As she enters the building, a man in a surgical outfit watches from a window, while doing some heavy breathing and rubbing a picture of her as a kid. The man then damages the elevator leaving Susan stuck inside, giving him time to stab up her doctor. After screaming a whole bunch, she gets free but has trouble getting her paperwork due to her physicians “sudden disappearance". While she bounces around the hospital a little, the killer fucks with her paperwork to further confuse the situation. Finally, she pins down a random guy in a doctor coat(Charles Lucia) and convinces him to check her out. He appears to be compliant but says he has to have a real doctor take a look. The friendly not-doctor takes her to what I hope was the slimiest guy with an MD in the building. This new, real doctor (John Warner Williams) takes a look at her paperwork, kinda makes an “oh shit” face and tells her they will have to do more tests. Susan is understandably annoyed but goes along with the bullshit because everyone there most likely has gone to college. Somewhat refusing to explain, the doctor starts his tests which include asking her to get naked so he can poke her with his fingers and a needle. After that extremely professional moment, she is given a hospital gown and dropped off in a room full of surreal old people to wait. In order to keep her contained to the hospital,( and probably just because he's sick in the dome) the mysterious killer in a doctor's outfit continues killing, badly hiding bodies in various places and dispatching with the people who find them. Thinking she is just up against creepy inefficient medical staff, Susan at some point finally decides to get the fuck out of there. Unfortunately, for her to escape her Hippocratic hell, she must not only overcome a hospital full of assholes but a non- licensed mad man out for revenge as well.
While the flick has got a lot of the sleazy slasher elements in place, most of the attempts at tension in the first chunks come from shared frustration and confusion. It's a mixed bag. It mostly fails at bringing the cliche horror pacing and veers into accidental tributes to classic films, due to it's drawn out scenes and angling. For a good part of the story, the main character’s fears are brought on by her treatment from the hospital staff and have little to do with the killer. It's almost effective if not a little too heavy on the satire for any real horror moments, coming closer to comedic. While people are getting sliced up in the background, Barbi Benton faces the perils of things like broken elevators and bad communication skills. Logic is a little loose, and the critical thinking for most characters is on par with a Jason victim, but because hospitals can be places of frantic confusion, it has room to play in this area. The film moves the main character through setting or situation in a dream-like manner. In each, her pleas for an explanation are continually ignored. It comes off as if the sleazy love child of a Franz Kafka story and a Jerry Seinfeld stand up routine that got lost in the hospital from Halloween II (1981).
The story keeps it mostly simple, bouncing between examples of real-life fears and slasher film tropes. It does a pretty good job of making every man in the movie creepy enough to be the killer. Unfortunately, it gives his identity away pretty quick if you are listening. It involves valentines day, so I guess technically it falls into the “holiday horror”, but it doesn't rely on this gimmick and almost seems to forget about it. Most likely it was just part of the routine as the movie industry continued to try to cash in on Halloween (1978), but it could be removed with little or no changes to the script. I don't mind it taking a back seat, there are plenty of films dedicated to what has to be one of lamest of holidays. The content never quite meets up to its grunge aesthetic. Despite having the same camera work and plot devices of some of the more brutal works from around that time, the kills are bloody but almost tame. Most of the action takes place off screen (or behind a surgical curtain), leaving the viewer with some splatter and maybe the aftermath. The entirety of its nudity comes from one long drawn out moment involving Benton and a malpractice suit waiting to happen. Even though it's a little lighter on the sleaze than the poster promises, it makes for satisfying trash and probably should be more than enough for most Benton fans.
The timing and set ups make sense- as the director, Boaz Davidson, would mostly be known for comedy, including the most brutal conclusion in a teen sex comedy ever seen in The Last American Virgin the next year, (having directed the West German-Israeli original in 1978). It was a Cannon Films production, rushed into the works to cash in on the Halloween (1978) ignited slasher fad. Davidson was brought in last minute to direct after an incident between the original director and Cannon. Along with its alternative release title Hospital Massacre, at one point it was going to be called Ward 13 and was originally developed under the hilarious name “Be My Valentine, or Else…”.
Mostly full of TV and side actors, the film utilizes creepy male figures well. Of note; the creepy hands-on Doctor Saxon, played to asshole perfection by John Warner Williams. This is the only thing I recognize him from (looks like he had a short stint in TV), but he nails the suspicious authority figure routine. Charles Lucia, the infamous “butthead” from Society, plays the helpful intern Harry. He does a creepy-good job of looking so deliberately mild-mannered that its unsettling. The main draw of the flick is Barbi Benton, who makes annoyed and suspicious look beautiful in a way only the start of the 80s could give you. She's not an amazing actress but does extremely well with a script that amounts to mostly looking drastically confused. It's a shame that in between Love Boat episodes she didn't do more genre flicks, but we will always have this and Deathstalker (1983).
As a Halloween clone X Ray(1981) is probably a failure, but it finds a good place to hang out in dark satire. I like to believe that a critique of the hospital experience was part of its original intentions. Plus it's got Fantasy Island’s favorite playmate, some OK blood splatter, and I think somebody gets lit on fire, which is cool. For what it brings to the table, it's more than worth a watch. Whether it's about scalpel, awkward, demeaning interactions or capital hospital anxiety, it is something most can relate to. Unfortunately for everyone, when you need health care there is usually no choice, you just need it. Really you should just be glad you can fucking get it, if you can. None of the hospitals around here will accept any of the aliases I give them anymore. If it helps, just remember that even early 80s Barbi Benton got treated like shit at the doctors office.
| 1981
Director: Boaz Davidson
Writers: Marc Behm, Boaz Davidson


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