Patrick: Patrick’s fury
Dr Roget (Robert Helpmann) attempts to kill Patrick (Robert Thompson) with a lethal injection. Patrick responds by unleashing his psychokinetic powers.
Summary by Richard Kuipers
All the terror in Patrick is launched from room 15 at the Roget Clinic. Barely moving a muscle throughout the entire film, Patrick is a superhuman villain by virtue of malevolent mental powers that can control events far beyond his sterile surroundings. Patrick has been the prized guinea pig of Dr Roget, but like Frankenstein’s monster he is now running amok and must be destroyed by his ‘creator’. It is interesting to imagine what this scene might look like with today’s computer generated special effects. On a par with comparable international horror movies of the day, the effects in Patrick are simple and effective.
Patrick (Robert Thompson) has been in a coma since he murdered his mother and her lover three years ago. He is the patient in room 15 of a private psychiatric clinic run by Dr Roget (Robert Helpmann), who treats Patrick as a guinea pig in his study of the transition from life to death. Starting work at the clinic is Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a nurse who is separated from her husband, Ed (Rod Mullinar). Kathy is instructed by Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake) to care for Patrick and begins to sense that he can communicate. Patrick has psychokinetic powers and talks to Kathy by transferring his thoughts to an electric typewriter. Strange and dangerous events begin to occur. Neurosurgeon Dr Wright (Bruce Barry), who is romantically interested in Kathy, is attacked by an invisible force; Matron Cassidy is killed by Patrick’s thoughts; and Ed is trapped in an elevator. Patrick declares he is in love with Kathy and asks her to commit suicide so they may be together in death.
Patrick is the pivotal film of respected Australian director Richard Franklin (1948-2007). A film student at USC in the 1960s, Franklin made the bawdy comedy The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) and the soft-core sexploitation flick Fantasm (1976, as Richard Bruce) but wanted to follow in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock, whom he had watched direct Topaz in 1969. Armed with a script by thriller specialist Everett De Roche and supported by his Fantasm (1976) producer, Antony I Ginnane, Franklin launched his successful international career (Psycho II, 1983; Link, 1986; F/X2, 1991) with this efficient supernatural pulp thriller.
Like most of Ginnane’s productions during this period, Patrick is not set anywhere specific and featured an imported star in the lead role, primarily to increase the film’s overseas sales prospects. No stranger to genre material with roles in UK shockers House of Mortal Sin (1976) and The Uncanny (1977), British actress Susan Penhaligon proved a good choice and generates critical audience sympathy as the emotionally vulnerable Kate. Franklin would hone his skills to a much higher degree but his flair for mystery and suspense are abundantly evident here. He chooses a startling extreme close-up of Patrick’s eyeball to open proceedings and uses reflections, mirrors and anxiety-inducing Patrick point of view shots to good effect. Even a small detail, such as the shot of an electric spark emitted by a tram as Kathy enters the Roget clinic for the first time, is well thought out as a premonition of the role electricity will play in Patrick’s deadly deeds.
Fitting into the cycle of telekinetic and psychokinetic thrillers initiated by Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Patrick doesn’t have the pyrotechnic firepower of its overseas counterparts but does boast involving human drama in between the shocks, and an interesting cast. As the severe Matron Cassidy, British-born Julia Blake (now a beloved treasure of Australian cinema) makes the most of De Roche’s punchy dialogue about the ghastly things that go on at the clinic, and legendary ballet dancer and occasional actor Robert Helpmann (The Red Shoes, 1948) applies just the right amount of ham to the oddball Dr Roget. Elsewhere there’s solid support from Rod Mullinar and Bruce Barry as the men jostling with Patrick for Kathy’s affections.
Nominated for Best Film at the 1978 AFI Awards (Newsfront (1978) won that year) and winner of the Best Director prize at the prestigious Sitges Fantasy Film Festival in Spain, Patrick proved that Australia had the capacity to produce exportable exploitation movies – even if local audiences showed little interest. Patrick was released on the drive-in circuit in the US and performed very well in several European territories. In Italy, Brian May’s score was replaced with music by Goblin, the Italian rock band noted for its collaborations with horror maestro Dario Argento. Like many of its Australian genre stablemates of the time, Patrick is more highly regarded locally now than it was in 1978 and continues to enjoy minor cult status.
Patrick was released in Australian cinemas on 28 September 1978.
Notes by Richard Kuipers