(This review is of the 110-minute cut of Patrick (1978). The version currently playing on Shudder appears to be a shorter 96-minute re-edit.)
As my streak through Nick Dallas’ chosen list of “Flickchart’s Top Ozploitation” kept stretching out within a narrow 55-59% zone, I became nervous. It was one of my longest streaks to-date, but without the unqualified success of a 60+% ranking, which would earn it a FREE PASS to Round Two. I first heard about the next movie on his list, Patrick (1978), when I watched Mark Hartley’s documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008) earlier in The Silver Screen Streak movie challenge. From the clips shown there — especially the “shocking” ending — I supposed Patrick might well amuse as bargain-basement shlock, but I was dubious about the chances of such an effort extending my streak through Nick’s list. Such is the magic of both Ozploitation and movie challenges, that Patrick easily became my favorite movie yet from this Ozploitation list but nearly wiggled into my Top 10 movies of the entire challenge.
Susan Penhaligon stars as Kathie, a newly employed nurse who forms an unhealthy bond with Patrick (Robert Thompson). a patient who has been comatose — despite appearing to be wide awake — for three years. While Katie becomes obsessed with reaching the young man locked inside of Patrick’s inert body, Patrick goes to paranormal lengths to reach Kathie.
I was prepared for some lurid shocks and low-budget mayhem from Patrick, but I got something quite different: a compelling drama with sharp writing, controlled direction, creative visuals, and exemplary performances. I shouldn’t be surprised: Patrick is the first “proper” feature from director Richard Franklin, whose Hitchock-influenced cult classic ROAD GAMES (1981) earned him the responsibility of helming an actual Hitchcock sequel, Psycho II (1983). Patrick shows few signs of beginner jitters — he may have got those out of his system with softcore efforts The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) and Fantasm (1976) — but is instead full of meaty character work and carefully placed cinematic flair. It’s no coincidence that Patrick shares a quality of cinematically eager tension with the concurrent early work of Brian De Palma, another Hitchcock devotee.
While the biggest shortcomings in Patrick are found in its script — there is little sense of “why,” and the “shock” ending aims to cover up a lack of real climactic narrative progression — it’s still overall strong work from screenwriter Everett De Roche (who also wrote both RAZORBACK (1984) and LONG WEEKEND (1978) from earlier in this list). The dialog, even when it ventures into (Hitchcockian) psychobabble, is often laced with entertaining wit and sting, especially when coming from Julia Blake as the harsh Matron Cassidy and Robert Helpmann as irascible Dr. Roget. While Thompson has little to do beyond stare, bug-eyed, into the beyond, he is a memorable and chillingly consistent visage, and Penhaligon grounds it all via a deeply empathetic and charming center. It’s an interesting twist that, where most movies might attempt to fashion an otherworldly romance between Kathie and Patrick, DeRoche seems more interested in exploring different facets of Australia’s toxic machismo.
Cinematographer Donald McAlpine — who would go on to shoot little Hollywood features like Predator (1987) and earn an Academy Award nomination for the lavish shit-show of Moulin Rouge (2001) — devises some unusual and effective vantage points that work in concert with Franklin’s unnerving focus on character discomfort.
With good music from Queen’s Brian May (a shorter cut apparently replaces May’s music with tracks from Dario Argento’s Goblin, which were written for another project), no shortage of loud nose-breathing, and several genuinely unsettling if not exactly frightening moments, Patrick is the most complete and satisfying movie yet from this Ozploitation streak and a new addition to my shortlist of favorites from Australian exploitation cinema.