Tagline: You have nothing to fear…until they operate.
Director: Boaz Davidson
Writers: Marc Behm (screenplay) Boaz Davidson (story)
Starring: Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, John Warner Williams, Den Surles, Gloria Jean Morrison
18 | 1hr 29min |Horror, Slasher
Some twists are so obvious you never see them coming. Made during the slasher‘s golden age, Hospital Massacre is another slash-by-numbers feature buried beneath the reams of explicit VHS tape, one that retains a certain charm thanks to its impossibly beautiful leading lady Barbi Benton, a former glamour model who smoulders so hard she threatens to set fire to the screen. What may surprise you is that Hospital Massacre is the brainchild of The Cannon Group, a bottom rung production company who would invade the movie industry with the kind of output that could fill an entire section of a VHS store on a yearly basis.
When Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus bought the cash-strapped Cannon Group at the turn of the ’80s, they had a very different business model in mind. Founders Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey had peddled soft porn before upping the stakes by producing larger scale movies on a tight budget. They had been prudent, and it had failed. But Golan-Globus had bigger ambitions, and in the burgeoning video market they saw their chance to get off the ground. The company is perhaps most famous for its highly successful, low-budget action vehicles. Movies such as Enter the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination and American Ninja were largely responsible for the VHS ninja craze of the 1980s, but in 1981 the slasher movie was the undisputed king of the home video market, and you best believe they were about to get themselves a piece of the pie.
Ultimately, the cousins would bite off more than they could chew, living hand-to-mouth for the most part, with a production schedule that left them in the red from one movie to the next, and when a brief period of success inspired the hugely infectious Menahem Golan to take on the big leagues, a series of ambitious mainstream flops such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and misguided Star Wars derivative Masters of the Universe spelled the end for their renegade production antics. Cannon would forge quite the catalogue on Golan’s watch, one packed-full of cheapo cult classics, with a fair few oddities and even an Oscar-nominated classic in Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1985 thriller Runaway Train. When the commercial dust had finally cleared, the cousins had left behind quite the legacy.
Still, horror was relatively new territory for them. In 1981, the slasher flick was the safest bet for independent filmmakers looking to break into the industry, being both cheap and hugely popular. The sub-genre was also rather straightforward (at least in principle) and was certainly one that ticked all the commercial boxes for Cannon’s production blueprint. The casting of Barbi Benton was their obvious masterstroke. Skimpily-clad ladies were the most fundamental ingredient for low-grade horror, and by casting the beauty behind Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion (apparently it was she who persuaded him to buy it), they hit the proverbial ball right out of the park. Other than that the movie fails quite astonishingly as an exercise in horror. All the ingredients are there ― including a ludicrous number of alternate titles that such as, X-Ray, Ward 13 and Be My Valentine ― but it fails to grasp any of them on any credible level and barely attempts to do so. Like dozens of other slashers released in the wake of Sean Cunningham’s Halloween derivative Friday the 13th, Hospital Massacre is a straight-up cash-in with a single-minded purpose, but unlike other sub-genre clones such as Joe D’Amato’s Absurd, it’s goal is not to displease its way to notoriety. In pure Golan-Globus fashion, the movie is crammed with so many ludicrous moments, purposeful and otherwise, that you can’t help but be charmed by it.
Once again our killer’s motive is rooted in childhood. The story begins in 1961, when a young Susan finds a Valentine’s card from admirer Harry, only to mock his sentiment with another male friend. Unluckily for that little blighter, Harry is not the most stable of children, and after his prepubescent frame somehow finds the height and strength to hang his love rival from an eight foot hat rack, his grinning face sticks around long enough for Susan to establish him as the guilty party.
Twenty years pass and Susan is a happily married woman and mother of one who fails to exhibit even a morsel of mental scarring, laughing off her husband’s reminder of a recent massacre that took place in the Los Angeles County hospital where she is due some test results. You might say this is pretty careless behaviour, but in spite of her gruesome past, a now adult Susan (Benton) does have a point. I mean, what are the odds that two massacres would take place at the same location in as many years. Pretty slim, right? As are the chances that one of the doctors would share the name of the demented child who had killed Susan’s friend all those years ago. Although, if this was the same person, surely she would recognise him! I mean, I know it’s been a while but how could she not?
Regardless of the who, what, where and why, bodies soon begin to fall at an alarming rate, and when Susan’s X-Ray comes back looking like a tapeworm, doctors begin to fear for her life. In light of these findings, she is forced to spend the night on a hospital ward with three croaky old hags who ooze foreboding like the three witches of Macbeth. But the lunacy doesn’t stop there. As hospitals go, this one is a veritable nuthouse, a building under partial fumigation where drunks and perverts wander the corridors unchallenged and rapey docs operate with impunity.
In a thinly disguised twist, it turns out that somebody has switched Susan’s results in an attempt to prolong her stay at the hospital, and with our delightfully frenzied killer masquerading in full surgeon regalia, it is impossible to identify the true culprit, though when doctor Saxon (Williams) demands that Susan strip nude for a routine examination and practically begins fondling her, your suspicions start to stir somewhat, especially when he dismisses her claims of seeing her husband’s head in a gift box and straps her to a gurney like a mental patient. But with half of the movie left to run, it couldn’t be that simple, could it?
This is harebrained fare, but the movie has its positives. A wonderful score by the late Child’s Play composer Arlon Ober is enough to substitute for an almost complete lack of tension, one that often juxtaposes with perplexing levels of silliness that seem to spring up from every sterile corridor. There are also some pretty decent kills on offer, which, though far from the most brutal the genre has to offer, are rather fun and creative; and yes, downright ludicrous. Is this essential viewing for slasher fans? Perhaps not. But it is essential viewing for anyone fascinated with Cannon’s inimitable thumbprint, which elevates the movie above the realms of mediocrity, resulting in a goofy delight that will either leave you grinning from ear to ear or shaking your head in disbelief.
What a wonderful time to be a horror fan.
After finding one of the hospital’s nurses slashed to ribbons and hanging upside-down in an improbably placed locker, a perverted janitor has his mush deliquesced in a pool of sulphuric acid.
Most Absurd Moment
While taking the hospital elevator, Susan is aghast to see a seemingly dead man leaning against the corner with an inordinate amount of blood dripping from his mouth, only to realise at the last moment that the man is actually a drunken slob eating a burger and the blood is in fact ketchup.
Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Moments before leaving his once traumatised, murder-witnessing wife at the hospital, husband Jack suddenly remembers something.
Jack: ‘Hey, wait! isn’t this the hospital where they had all that trouble last year?’
Susan: ‘What trouble?’
Jack: ‘Some patient ran amok or something.’
Susan: (scoffing) ‘Oh, please!’ (laughing)