So you’re wading through piles of slasher films from the ‘80s, keen on discovering a lost gem far removed from the normal gang in the woods or high school sis-boom-bah stab and gab. You’re thinking maybe a different setting will yield a fresh take, already tired tropes blurring your vision and making the distinction between a hockey mask and a fencing one harder by the day. Well…have you tried the hospital yet? Most folks are terrified of the antiseptic halls and robotic empathy doled out by uncaring staff. (Yes, yes, they also save lives, I know. I’m trying to set a mood, dammit.) And if you do decide to enter the medical field, I strongly suggest you pay a visit to Hospital Massacre (1981), Israeli King of Schlock Boaz Davidson’s wild attempt at a horror comedy, where some of the humor is even intentional.
First released in Mexico in the fall of ’81 (I guess to start up the hype machine?), Hospital Massacre (AKA X-Ray, AKA Be My Valentine…or Else!) was released stateside in April of ’82, missing an opportunity to capitalize on its Valentine’s Day setting. Produced and distributed by Golan-Globus and their Cannon Group, Hospital Massacre carries out the mandate of the company - good production values married to absurd content. And this one wears its goofiness on its blood splattered smock.
Our film opens in 1961 at “Susan’s House”, as the screen helpfully informs us. Inside are 10 year old Susan (Elizabeth Hoy – Bloody Birthday) and her friend David playing with a train set. A young lad named Harold (Billy Jacoby, also Bloody Birthday – killer kid reunion!) leaves a red envelope on her front step, knocks, and hides outside the living room window. When she opens the Valentine’s Day card from him in disgust, Harold is none too happy. Susan leaves to get some cake, and when she returns, she finds David hanging around…from the coatrack.
Cut to “19 years later” (thanks again screen, and why 19 years?) and we meet up with Susan (Barbi Benton – Deathstalker, quite serviceable here), a divorcee with a bitter ex husband and a little girl. Susan is on her way with her boyfriend Jack (Jon Van Ness – The Hitcher) to the hospital for test results. Little does she know that someone dressed as a doctor is paving the way for her stay to be…permanent. Could it be the doctor who insists on checking Susan’s vitals while she’s stripped down to her underwear? Or perhaps the perpetually drunk, leering handyman? How about the nice, helpful intern, Harry (Chip Lucia – Society)? CAN YOU POSSIBLY FIGURE IT OUT?
Hospital Massacre does a lot of things right by getting most of them wrong. Davidson came aboard to direct the day before filming, and had no experience with horror other than highlighting gratuitous disrobing in most of his other features. (His follow up to this was The Last American Virgin, which jockeyed against The Beastmaster for all of HBO’s show times.) And he carries over his cheery brand of sleaziness to this one (which I’m okey dokey with, as long as no one’s getting hurt), making sure that Benton’s checkup scene plays out in real time, allowing the viewer ample opportunity to count the bumps on her areolae. (They’re called Montgomery glands. I looked it up.) He really has no idea how to pace for suspense, usually letting a scene play out for too long or not building the tension at all. However, he likes to wade in the weird, with beautiful, bright photography from Nicholas von Sternberg (Tourist Trap) giving the film a surreal glow, which suits the screenplay by Marc Behm (Charade, Help!) to a tee.
The basic story is completely shopworn; it’s Behm’s lack of reasoning (and sanity) that makes it such a gas. The hospital is so full of red herrings it’s practically a fishing derby, and Davidson ensures that you take a look at all of them, very carefully. Even the ex husband, nowhere near the hospital, is seen repeatedly stabbing an orange. Throw in a trio of elderly women (one of whom is clearly a guy in drag) who wander around on a floor that’s being fumigated (!), Jack waiting in the car like a dumbass for most of the film, and a nursing staff who apparently stumbled onto the set from an Ilsa film. Add in some solid, yet fairly tame murders (there’s blood, but it’s certainly no Pieces) and Davidson’s broooad swipes at comedy and you’re left with an oddity of its time: a horror comedy with the frights heightened to the point of absurdity while the intended laughs inspire head tilts and little more.
It’s these factors that allow Hospital Massacre its own peculiar spot in the slasher sweepstakes; you could check out Visiting Hours (1982) for a much grimmer take on similar material, but life is short. If I ever have to stay in hospital, I’d rather deal with hammered janitors, old drag queens, poison gas filled hallways, Gestapo inspired front line staff, and math lessons with Barbi Benton. This is a healthcare system that every horror fan would do well to embrace.
Hospital Massacre is available on Region 1 Blu-ray as X-Ray as part of Scream Factory’s Double Feature with Schizoid, and a Region 2 standalone from 88 Films.