(a.k.a. Hospital Massacre)

Director: Boaz Davidson
Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness

Lloyd Kaufman, the president of Troma Films, once made the following statement: "Too many people think that if you throw in half a can of ketchup and half a can of bikinis, a film will evolve. In fact, it takes a certain vision, sincerity, and something that will intrigue an audience. My inspiration is Roger Corman." To a significant degree, Kaufman was right. Making a movie - make that a good movie - takes a lot of effort. You have to get the right ingredients, and then present these ingredients in the right way. Too often I have seen movies where the filmmakers seemed content to fill ninety or so minutes of running time and not that concerned with delivering the goods. It doesn't matter what genre the movie being made falls under. That includes the slasher genre. While it is true that many fans of slasher movies can forgive an effort that doesn't have any big stars in the cast or a particularly high budget, there's still a lot of things a slasher movie filmmaker has to deliver if he wants the finished product to attract a big audience. I'll list some of those key ingredients right now. Obviously, one of the big things that a slasher movie audience craves in a slasher movie is a lot of blood and gore. Though while this seems obvious, I have all the same seen plenty of slashers with little of this stuff, though this may be because the filmmakers feared getting an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Another key ingredient for a good slasher movie is characters. You have to have a good antagonist who provokes fear and chills in the viewing audience, but you also need protagonists who are likable enough that the audience with empathize with the characters. And if the female members of the protagonist cast happen to like taking off their clothes and get into sexual situations, many people in the audience will like these characters even more.

There's another key ingredient in slasher movies that helps make these movie work or not, and that is the environment where the slashing takes place. The right environment can do wonders for a slasher movie; it can add great atmosphere, and possibly also add production values to the finished product. It should come as no surprise why so many slasher movies have been set in the wilderness - Mother Nature is spectacular, and can generate the feeling that the character are far from aid. It's also not surprising that a lot of slashers have been set in learning institutes. Such places are filled with young people full of hormones, and that can attract the young moviegoing audience out there. But there are some locations that oddly haven't been used for that many slashers. One of those locations is medical centers like hospitals. The only slashers that immediately come to mind that have used this location were the disappointing Halloween II and the underrated Canadian movie Visiting Hours. At first glance this little use seems puzzling. After all, medical centers are full of death, surgical weapons, and creepy corridors, all of which could be exploited. But a little more thought brings some possible reasons why medical centers have been so seldom used. It may be hard to film in an actual medical center, trying to find shooting locations where doctors need all the space they can get for their patients. Also, slasher filmmakers may be reluctant to use these places since it might be a turn-off for many potential audiences. Few of us know someone who died at a summer camp, but many of us personally know a loved one who died in a hospital.

Another possible reason might be that it would be harder to convince youths to watch the end product. A hospital full of young people with hormones may not feel realistic and be downright silly. Whatever the reasons might be, the fact is that there have been few slashers set at medical X-Raycenters. To tell the truth, I would like to see a few more, because it would break the monotony of seeing endless slashers set in the wilderness or at learning institutes. So when I got a chance to see the slasher movie X-Ray - set, of course, at a medical center - I immediately jumped at the chance. But that's not the only thing that attracted me to the movie. Being a fan of the output of Cannon Films, I was pleased to see the movie was a Golan-Globus production. Also, the movie was one of the few horror movies that these film producer cousins made, so I was interested to see if they could do R-rated slashing as entertaining as they did with R-rated action. X-Ray starts off in the year 1961, introducing us to a young girl named Susan (Elizabeth Hoy, Bloody Birthday). When Valentine's Day comes, she gets a Valentine from Harold (Billy Jacoby, Bloody Birthday), a boy around her age. She laughs off the Valentine along with her young friend David, something that Harold secretly witnesses. Enraged, Harold gets revenge by impaling David's head on Susan's family's coatrack. Nineteen years later, Susan (now played by Barbi Benton of Deathstalker) has grown up, and on Valentine's Day heads to the local hospital for the results of a recent health test. However, Susan does not know that an unidentified member of the hospital staff has got a hold of Susan's test results and changes them to make it appear she is very sick and needs to stay in the hospital for treatment. Susan protests being told she needs to stay at the hospital, but she's stuck there. Meanwhile, the unidentified hospital staff member does everything he can to keep Susan in the hospital, even if it means bumping off various people in the building. Who among the creepy-acting hospital staff is the killer? And could this individual be a now grown up Harold?

If you have seen your share of B movies, there's a chance that you saw Barbi Benton before in Deathstalker, but are probably scratching your head as to what other films you might have seen her in. While she did make a number of appearances on television in the '70s and '80s, they were almost all one-shots on established series. As for feature films, she only made three in total. Though a look elsewhere in her background gives a clue as to why she wasn't given more prominent roles - before and during her acting career, she did several layouts in Playboy magazine, and Playmates usually aren't taken seriously by Hollywood. And a look at her performance in X-Ray gives another clue as to why she didn't become a big star on the silver screen. Now, I have to say that Benton's acting is far from the worst from what I have seen from a Playboy model turned actress (that dishonor goes to the late Anna Nicole Smith). Indeed, I have to admit that some of Benton's performance in this movie is acceptable, such as the scenes when her character either bursts into tears or gets into a screaming fit - she puts in a lot of effort in her character's great emotional outputs. However, the scenes when her characters is a lot calmer and more collected are somewhat lacking. Don't get me wrong, she is not grating or annoying in these low key sequences, but at the same time she comes across as somewhat bland. When her character, for example, starts to get clues that her diagnosis is far from a clean bill of health, she doesn't come across as terribly concerned. In other parts of the movie, she also seems a little unsure of herself and even a bit uneasy about these quieter moments of her character.

In fairness to Benton, I have to point out that her performance is far from the worst that is put on display in X-Ray. She is trying hard to act at least some of the time, when in fact none of her co-stars seem terribly interested in giving a good performance. I felt an enormous feeling of contempt from the other actors, like they thought that what they were being asked to do was greatly beneath them. There are clues as to why there's such a snotty tone from the cast, one of them being that the writing makes their characters be incredibly stupid. You expect some professionalism and seen-it-all from people in the medical profession, but what these particular doctors and nurses do and say in no way convinces the viewer that they are experienced. But the awful writing of the screenplay goes beyond stupid characters. For example, it's pretty easy to figure out who the killer is among the hospital staff, because all the other "suspects" in the hospital can be instantly ruled out (like the female nurses) or are obvious red herrings. If you happen to be poor at whodunits, don't worry - the movie gives a blatant clue by the name of one of the hospital staff. All of that is bad enough, but the worst is yet to come. (Warning: spoilers ahead). As you've probably guessed, the killer is indeed a grown-up Harold who is still smarting from his rejected Valentine years earlier. But the movie gives us no explanation as to how the adult Harold got into his position in the hospital after killing someone when he was a child. We don't learn if he was punished or locked up after doing the killing, or somehow got away with it at the time. For that matter, we don't really learn how the killing affected Benton's character. I think any audience member would crave as much explanation as I did, and will be in the end as frustrated on this plot point as I was.

It's possible that a number of potential viewers, while frustrated by X-Ray's lacklustre script, may be a lot more concerned about the movie delivering the goods that are normally associated with a slasher movie. Those ingredients being sexual and violent in nature. I'll start with the former first. While there is no sex in the movie, Benton does once take off her top for her character's physical examination sequence, and the camera just l-i-n-g-e-r-s close-up on her exposed breasts. No doubt that scene will please many viewers, though personally I though the sequence was much more sleazy than erotic. As for the violence in the movie, there is occasionally some serviceable splatter, though more often than not the murders seem somewhat holding back on blood and gore. (One scene involving a bone saw seems like it was cut down, possibly to save the movie from getting an "X" rating from the MPAA). Director Boaz Davidson (The Last American Virgin) seems more interested in building atmosphere and tension rather than letting the gooshy stuff spill. Unfortunately, he isn't particularly successful in doing so. While he did manage to shoot the movie at an actual hospital, which sometimes gives the movie an authentic air, he adds things such as the use of an offscreen fog machine, which to me didn't fit this particular environment. His other technique for directing the movie relies on lingering repeatedly on empty hallways and rooms minutes on end in an attempt to build mood and suspense, but it just ended up making me feel impatient and had me repeatedly telling the movie to get on with it. This is one slow movie. Neverless, along with my fading memories of New Year's Evil and The Godsend, it did provide an answer to one thing I had questioned for a long time - that question being why Cannon didn't make that many horror films.

(Posted August 27, 2017)

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See also: Slaughter High, Sorority House Massacre, To All A Good Night