The late seventies & early eighties saw an explosion of horror films from Australia, and director Richard Franklin's "Patrick" (1978) is perhaps one of the most memorable from the period — although it hasn't really stood the test of time as well as one might have hoped. The film began a short run of success for Franklin, who's most notable moment came four years later when he helmed "Psycho ll" (1983). In-between, he directed the cult classic "Road Games" (1981) which stared Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis and was also written by "Patrick" screenwriter, Everett De Roche.
Like much Australian-produced horror from this time, "Patrick" takes ideas from recent popular and successful Hollywood horror movies and adds its own unique twist. In this case the menacing, bedridden antagonist of "The Exorcist" (1973) and the psycho-kenetic theme of Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976) seem to provide the main sources of "inspiration". After having recently separated from her husband, Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) moves into her new flat and re-enters the nursing profession to support herself after a period away from work. The rather un-welcoming Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake) of the small, private hospital that employs Kathy (we only see one other patient besides the titular Patrick, and only two other nurses) immediately sets her to work, looking after the patient in room 15: a young man called Patrick (Robert Thompson), who has been completely comatose since murdering his mother and her lover a few years previously. According to the eccentric Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann) he is unable to see, hear, or feel anything — his only interaction with the world is an automatic tendency to spit at any movement his retinas unconsciously detect; he is only kept alive at all by special breathing apparatus.
Kathy begins to suspect that Patrick is more aware than Roget and Cassidy are willing to admit (the matron will not even set foot in Patrick's room) and so she lavishes him with lots of attention. Meanwhile, she has to contend with the persistent attempts at reconciliation of her estranged husband, Ed (Rod Mullinar) and the attentions of playboy neurologist Dr. Brian Wright (Bruce Barry). But soon she realises that Patrick has developed a sixth-sense — the power of psycho-kinesis, which allows him to move objects and affect the minds of others! What's more, he also has become rather enamoured with Nurse Jacquard, and starts to endanger the lives of the other men in her life as his jealousy unleashes dangerous paranormal forces...
Franklin gives as a fairly effective thriller which contains one or two shocks along the way (the best of which comes near the end) but some of the performances have dated over the years: although, admittedly, this is as much down to the writing as the acting on display. Robert Thompson, as Patrick, may have little to do but stare menacingly from his hospital bed for most of the movie, but it is one damn-fine menacing stare — and it becomes more disconcerting once we realise how Patrick is manipulating events in the life of Nurse Jacquard. Unfortunately, the character's back story seems very underwritten. This is fine for the first part of the movie, when the little knowledge we have of Patrick, and his killing of his own mother and her boyfriend, adds to the mystery surrounding him. But by the end of the film we have learned very little else to help us put his subsequent actions into any kind of context.
The second most important character is Susan Penhaligon's Nurse Jacquard, who ends up as the focus of male obsession. Although attractive enough, it's hard to see how she would become the cause of so much psychic chaos! Penhaligon doesn't manage to invest her role with anymore realism or believability than the average Australian soap-opera character, and seems to meet every disturbing development with the same uncomprehending cheeriness! For instance, most people would be rather taken-a-back to discover their typewriter typing on its own — apparently controlled by a comatose hospital patient — but Nurse Jacquard hardly bats an eyelid and seems to accept everything that happens to her with the same bland countenance!
There are some fine supporting performances though from experienced players Julia Blake and Robert Helpmann. Blake's character is the stereotypical hospital matron, but she manages to hint at the woman's inner turmoil and create an interesting and, eventually, sympathetic character, despite limited screen time. The redoubtable Helpmann was the original Child Catcher in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) and starred in some of Powell and Pressburger's greatest films of the 40's and 50's. The old pro has no trouble then with this minor, but memorable, role as the strange and obsessive Dr. Roget; he gets most of the script's best lines as well!
The film now comes across as rather a missed opportunity then — since it's unusual scenario certainly offers plenty of scope for something more compelling than the TV movie-style thriller it ended up as. Then again, I remember being rather creeped-out by it when I first saw it as kid, and the ending is still rather unnerving! It's a shame the movie ends just as it seems about to really get going.
Screen Entertainment/Hard Gore bring us quite a nice anamorphic widescreen (1:85.1) transfer of the film which, although it exhibits a bit of grain, is certainly a perfectly adequate presentation for a twenty-five year old film! The audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 English and is clear and free of distortion; extras are limited to a trailer and a selection of trailers for other Hard Gore releases.
"Patrick" isn't a bad film, it just doesn't quite provide the scares it promises. Instead, it serves as a tight little thriller with a psychic element that was fashionable at the time but now seems a little dated.