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
18 | 1hr 29min |Horror, Slasher
Some twists are so obvious you don’t 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 melt 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, but one that was not necessarily synonymous with the horror genre.
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 home 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 a big part of the martial arts craze of the 1980s, but in 1981 the slasher movie was the undisputed king of the home video market. Horror wasn’t particularly their forte, but for a short time the small-risk sub-genre seemed like a fine jumping-off point for their low-end venture.
Ultimately, the cousins would bite off more than they could chew, 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 thrown in for good measure. They were even behind Andrei Konchalovsky’s Oscar-nominated classic 1985 thriller Runaway Train. When the commercial dust had finally cleared, the cousins had left behind quite the legacy.
As well as being both cheap and hugely popular, the slasher was also rather straightforward from a production standpoint ― at least in principle ― and was certainly one that ticked all the right commercial boxes. 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 such as, X-Ray, Ward 13 and Be My Valentine ― but it fails to grasp any of them on a credible level. Like dozens of 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 goal, 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. He doesn’t seem to show any remorse either. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s as if that first murder has awoken something terrible inside of him, namely a burning desire to repeat the act over and over. Perhaps having him locked up would be the best course of action.
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. On Valentines Day no less! You might say this is pretty careless behaviour, but despite 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 hospital’s doctors would share the name of the demented child who had killed Susan’s friend all those years ago, who had somehow been allowed to go through medical school and qualify as a medical doctor. I mean, would you willingly put your life in the hands of a murderous doctor dubbed ‘Mad George’? Me neither.
Regardless of the who, what, where and why, bodies soon begin to fall at an alarming rate, and when an X-Ray of Susan’s intestines comes back looking like a tapeworm burrowed its way in there, doctors begin to fear for her life and not the technology responsible for highlighting the most dubious medical condition ever imagined by a schlock-peddling movie studio. In light of these findings, Susan is forced to spend the night on a hospital ward with three croaky old hags who ooze foreboding like the three witches of Macbeth, and 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 doctors 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 really be that simple, could it?
This is silly, harebrained fare, but the movie has its plus points. 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)