[Guest authors Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner of Really Awful Movies share their diagnosis of healthcare horror movies with Daily Dead readers.] When the US was overhauling its healthcare system, much to-do was made about so-called “death panels,” government committees who would decide who lives and dies based on asset allocation. As far as healthcare horrors are concerned, it turns out that playing God is very real, but luckily only in film and Sarah Palin’s fright-filled imagination. Nefarious nurses, murderous docs, and psychopathic hallway stalkers in horror movies have effectively put end-of-life issues at the forefront, but not in a way that can be reasonably debated: your life, their ending of it.
We’ve decided to weigh in on the healthcare hullabaloo by looking at fictional settings that make One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look like the height of patient-centered thinking. So sit back and self-medicate with whatever’s in the fridge (or better still, the medicine cabinet) and take these seven healthcare horrors—but don’t call us in the morning.
Hellhole (1985): A women-in-prison film, minus the prison, Hellhole refers to a secret separate wing of a mental institution for women. There, nefarious human experiments are taking place under the auspices of one Dr. Fletcher (Mary Woronov), whose legs are so impressive they should walk away with their own IMDb entry. When not cavorting with nubile female staffers (Jacuzzi-side no less—this facility really is on the vanguard when it comes to progressive workplaces), Fletcher busies herself by performing chemical lobotomy experiments away from the prying eyes of hospital administrators.
One of her unwitting patients, Susan (Judy Landers), is an amnesiac—the favorite plot device of screenwriters who’ve forgotten the finer points of their craft. She’s also heir to a very large fortune and is being hunted by a madman working undercover as an orderly. He goes by “Silk”, and his name and MO are derived from his killer scarf, which would be very giallo if he didn’t look like the illegitimate son of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen. Silk is trying to glean financial information from Susan, but darned if she can remember it.
The cast of Hellhole is B-movie heaven. In addition to the great Woronov, Hellhole also features Marjoe Gortner (Food of the Gods, Starcrash), a Pentecostal preacher-cum-exploitation-film-regular. There’s also the late, great Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop), the man with a chin like a Henry Moore sculpture; Edy Williams, Russ Meyer’s ex-spouse and star of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; and Ray Sharkey, Burt Reynolds’ co-star from Cop & ½. Speaking of half a star, there’s not much to commend about Hellhole, as much of it is very silly and the cinematography is murkier than Lake Erie. Still, if you’ve ever wondered about the therapeutic benefits of sand, how exactly so many attractive young women seem to be institutionalized, or wished to see Robert Z’Dar run around a boiler room swinging a pliable billy club obviously made from rubber, you can thank us for finding a great way to spend your next Friday night.
Hospital Massacre (1982): The best thing about Hospital Massacre, aka X-Ray, is its dynamic movie poster showcasing a doctor shining a surgical lamp at the prone form of Playboy After Dark stalwart, one-time Hugh Hefner paramour, and Hee Haw singer Barbi Benton (try reconciling that experience on a LinkedIn profile). She plays Susan, who as a young girl witnessed her brother get murdered after she rejected a creepy kid’s overtures on Valentine’s Day. His “death by hat-rack” is unique enough that we included it in our book Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons.
Fast-forward to the present day (like all derivative ’80s slashers do), and someone is hunting Susan down in a hospital. And that someone is a masked killer of obvious provenance who is violating both the Hippocratic oath and any nurse or orderly who comes across his path by getting very stabby indeed.
Hospital Massacre’s hospital is not exactly the Mayo Clinic when it comes to offering quality medical care. Elevators open to floors being fumigated, and it’s understaffed beyond belief with long, lonely corridors—and this was before the killer started populating the morgue with the results of his handiwork.
Dr. Giggles (1992): Dr. Giggles is more dangerous and more of a discredit to the medical profession than a conference of homeopaths. It stars Larry Drake, whom we lost in March 2016, and who gave much exuberance to Sam Raimi’s criminally underrated Darkman. This one, though, is among the least imaginative slasher films you’ll ever see.
Dr. Evan Rendell is the fruit of the loins of Doc Sr., and they form an evil father-son organ-harvesting physician duo. When the townsfolk find out about their Frankenstein dealings, an angry mob dispatches with dad. Doc Jr. escapes the mob, but is confined to a mental hospital where the audience learns that “they call him Dr. Giggles. Nobody knows his real ID.” This kind of record keeping doesn’t inspire confidence in the healthcare system. What sort of operation do they run over there? They better not be the first line of defense against the Zika virus.
Because their security is as robust as their data management, Dr. Giggles manages to escape, but not before freeing his fellow mental patients and going nuts in the operating theater. He then goes to town on the townies of Moorehigh, a fictional college burg populated by the usual assortment of interchangeable coed cannon fodder.
Giggles, medical bag in tow, murders to his heart’s content as if he’s an old-timey bone saw making house calls—but the gimmickry doesn’t end there. Dr. Giggles, as the name suggests, is something of a Catskills comic type, delivering zingers like, “If you think that’s bad, wait until you get my bill!”
It’s like the old line, “My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I wanted a second opinion. He said ‘okay, you’re ugly too.’” We went and got a second reviewer’s opinion and they said Dr. Giggles is pretty dull, too. For all its silliness, it’s redeemed by two solid and inventive kills which very nearly made it into our book: one by a sharp thermometer and the other via a liposuction pump.
Nurse 3D (2013): Who doesn’t love a sexy nurse? Someone getting a catheter put in, perhaps? Also, the various victims in Nurse 3D: a healthcare horror film that does for the nursing profession what Plan 9 from Outer Space did for planning. Model/actress Paz de la Huerta is a graduate of the rigor mortis school of stiff acting and sinks the film quickly, but what surrounds her isn’t much to get excited about either.
Huerta plays Abby Russell, part of a very comely batch of nurses dubbed, “the nurses corp.” She’s a dedicated nurse by day and an avenging Dexter-type by night, prowling the nightlife and looking for straying men to butcher. She’s nude a lot of the time. And what’s also nakedly obvious is this isn’t really New York, but the city’s oft cinema-doppelgänger, Toronto—much like how producers (very badly) tried to pass off our Canadian hometown as the Big Apple in Death Wish V.
This healthcare horror film also features former ’80s sexpot Kathleen Turner and former Brat Pack heartthrob Judd Nelson. But the most fascinating thing about this dud is the massive lawsuit filed against Lionsgate by its lead actress over allegedly unsafe production practices during one of the stunts.
Horror Hospital (1973): Horror Hospital begins with a limousine parked in the pastoral English countryside. There’s a black-gloved gent in the back with a little person sitting next to him. Suddenly, two blood-covered teens are spotted fleeing in abject terror. The little person, Frederick, pulls a switch and a blade shoots out of the car, Bond style. The blade lops the teens’ domes clean off and into a waiting basket. And so the fun begins.
Horror Hospital is a terrific British horror film from 1973 starring Michael Gough (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Alfred in four Batman films) as the diabolical Dr. Christian Storm and Robin Askwith (The Flesh and Blood Show) as Jason. Askwith, who looks and sounds like the love child of Malcolm McDowell and Mick Jagger, plays a young hippie looking to get away for some R&R. Unfortunately, he gets more than he bargained for when he answers an advertisement in the paper for “Hairy Holidays – Fun and Sun for the Under 30s.” Jason, who “fancies something a little hairy,” books an all-inclusive week at Brittlehurst Manor. (In retrospect, he should’ve chosen the offered trip to the Bahamas instead.)
The retreat is sort of a health spa/hotel/hospital run by Dr. Storm and Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock, the aunt of pretty Judy, whom Jason meets on the train and becomes fast friends with), but it’s really a front for Storm’s nefarious experiments. At dinner, Jason and Judy sit at a table populated with pasty, lobotomized youths who sit in abject silence, staring off into space.
If that’s not indication enough that the manor perhaps might not be the best vacation spot, the grounds are patrolled by motorcycle-helmet-wearing, black-clad guards brandishing dogs and batons. Soon, Jason and Judy are prisoners of the mad Storm, who, in best mad scientist fashion, reveals all his no-good plans and evil origin to his prisoners before informing them that they, too, will befall the same calamity. (Couldn’t mad scientists/supervillains/Bond heavies ever keep anything close to their vests just one time?)
Seems that the manor is a front to lure “dirty” youths out to the country where they will undergo Storm’s evil experiments. By lobotomizing his patients, Storm has created a private army of sorts, impervious to pain, which only he can control. “You see, just like puppets. And I’m the puppet master!,” he gleefully boasts.
Will Jason and Judy escape with their brains and bodies intact? Will fellow hippie Abraham be able to save his girlfriend Millie? What other secrets is Storm keeping? To find out, watch Horror Hospital, a surprisingly gory medical malpractice horror movie that delivers!
Halloween II (1981): John Carpenter’s 1978 uber-classic Halloween is horror royalty. The movie set the template for the slasher boom that followed. The masked killer, the POV shots, the bumping off of sexually promiscuous and/or substance-abusing teens, the indelible theme song, the virginal final girl—Halloween is credited with either originating or popularizing them all.
The cultural and commercial success of Halloween necessitated a sequel. And so, three years later in 1981, Halloween II was unleashed. For the second film, Carpenter opted not to direct, although he did write the script along with his collaborator, Debra Hill. Replacing him in the director’s chair was Rick Rosenthal.
Halloween II is set on the same night as the first film and picks up virtually immediately when its predecessor left off. The Shape has been shot to death (six times!) by Dr. Loomis and is dead. Or is he? Upon running outside, Loomis sees Michael Myers’ indentation on the grass where a corporeal Michael Myers should be. A bathrobe-clad next-door neighbor runs out and inquires, “What’s going on out there?” We wonder where he was during the entire commotion that concluded the first film. Some Samaritan that one! A distraught Laurie Strode, mentally disturbed and physically much worse-for-the-wear after her encounter with her (soon to be revealed) older brother, is taken via ambulance to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
HMH has to be the most sparsely populated medical facility in celluloid history. Besides a doctor or two and a skeleton staff, there is literally no one there. Laurie even gets a private room for her convalescence! Seriously, there’s not one other patient in this entire hospital!
Brandishing a knife that he stole from an old biddy making her husband a ham sandwich, Myers follows Laurie to HMH and stalks the empty hallways, attempting to finish what he started. He encounters a portly security guard, a doctor, and sundry nurses and paramedics whom he offs in ways a little more creative than the mere stab-and-slash method he employed in the first film. There’s even one nurse who gets her head repeatedly dunked in a hot tub’s scalding 120-degree plus water—a death by burning/asphyxiation that’s also chronicled in our book.
Halloween II is not as artistically successful as the first. However, it’s a good time and is probably the best of the Myers sequels. But, lest you think the boogeyman in the inside-out William Shatner mask is the most terrifying killer to ever stalk a hospital’s halls, keep reading!
Visiting Hours (1982): Ah, Visiting Hours… an incredible and criminally underrated 1982 Canadian “tax shelter” era flick, starring the great Michael Ironside (Scanners, Turbo Kid) and featuring everyone’s favorite scenery chewer, William Shatner. And it’s the real Shat this time; not a latex facial replica.
Deborah Ballin, played by Oscar-winner Lee Grant (Damien: Omen II, Mulholland Drive), is an outspoken television personality who has taken a firm on-air stance in a controversial case regarding a battered woman who defensively attacked her abusive husband. This raises the ire of Colt Hawker, a misanthropic, misogynist sociopath who, naked and wearing Ballin’s own jewellery, jumps out of her shower and brutally attacks Ballin in her own home. She barely makes it out alive and wakes up in County General Hospital—the go-to generic hospital name in films, sort of what Bellevue is to asylums.
Ironside is in full psychopath mode and is utterly menacing as Colt. He is positively relentless in stalking Ballin to finish the job. And woe to any patients and nurses who get in his maniacal way; most end up seeing the wrong end of his extremely large switchblade knife.
Colt poses as all manner of hospital staff, from a flower deliverer to a doctor, to get at Ballin. He even resorts to injuring himself to gain access when the hospital is on full lockdown mode following an earlier attempt at Ballin’s life.
Visiting Hours is tense, mean, brutal and a superb exemplar of cat-and-mouse horror. Its somewhat cheesy tagline, “There’s No Known Cure for MURDER”, belies the film’s craft and complexity. This is the real deal, folks, and the finest example of hospital horror we’ve seen.
Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner are the authors of Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons and founders of www.ReallyAwfulMovies.Com and the Really Awful Movies Podcast.