'Patrick' Is a Solid Little Creepfest

Ozploitation psychic killer classic remade and revamped

Among the living: Sharni Vinson and Jackson Gallagher in telekinetic terroriser Patrick

They say a good documentarian should really know their subject so well they could do it themselves. So when Mark Hartley, maker of Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood, turns storyteller for a remake of classic chiller Patrick, expectations are going to be higher than a koala up a eucalyptus tree.

The original 1978 Patrick is a bit of an oddity in the history of Australian flicks: Not least that it gathered a real international reputation (big enough that it spawned an unsanctioned Italian rip-off sequel two years later Patrick Still Lives.) Most Ozploitation films are either car crash crazy or sexploitation with an Ocker accent. This is really only one of two horrors to make foreign ears prick up, and since Russel Mulcahy did the definitive giant killer boar flick in Razorback, Hartley went with the psychoknetic killer instead.

Sharni Vinson (star of Fantastic Fest 2011 fave You're Next) takes Susan Penhaligon's part as Kathy Jacquard, the new nurse at a weird facility on the Australian coast. The crumbling hospital is dedicated to the long-term care/storage of people in a permanent vegetative state. But one stands out: Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), a young man whose body seems to be defying the atrophying and ulcerating process that comes with his immobility. However Charles Dance (in fine fettle as the merciless and malevolent Doctor Roget) sneeringly dubs him "165 pounds of meat hanging off a dead brain."

But is Patrick's brain really so dead?

Patrick is basically a ghost story where the ghost isn't dead yet. Instead, he's immobile in a hospital bed. Dance's unpleasant experiments are doing more than just making the audience squirm: They're triggering all kind of unexpected synapses to fire inside that silent noggin. With the villain stuck on a gurney, Hartley relies on some creepshow set pieces, like cellphones that produce mystery messages, self-propelled scalpels, and a cast that can carry the air of menace while they're being threatened by a guy whose only physical action is an involuntary spit.

Obviously, there are a lot of changes from the original. Hartley replaces director Richard Franklin's dusty, sand-blasted wooden Victorian hospital with a crumbling stone mansion on the coast, permanently shrouded in mist. Whereas the original made the facility look like a run-down gem with mostly modern, this reinvention is pure Gothic, with its equipment a mixture of purloined contemporary tech and Frankensteined electrics. As Hartley explained at the first Fantastic Fest screening last Thursday, he wanted to make an old style chiller, the kind people don't make any more. Well, arguably it would sit well with Vincenzo Natali's charming scarer Haunter, which played well at SXSW.

It's a small cast: Aside from Vinson, Dance and Gallagher, Peta Sergeant (Crawlspace, Iron Sky) provides a jovial big sister turn as Jacquard's only fellow nurse. Meanwhile the oft-overlooked Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) chews the scenery with glacial menace as the matron.

So it's mostly down to Vinson to carry the emotional core of the film (and there is one, as Patrick's telekinetic jealousy fits mean bad times for her potential suitors.) Gallagher, who has little to do but lie there and glower does so to great effect. There's a juvenile fury behind those eyes, contrasting to the sheer demonic menace conjured up by Robert Thompson in the original.

Hartley knows exactly what he's doing here. He's not just trying to revive the Ozploitation brand. He's trying to make an effective frightener that will make the audience jump and their skin crawl in equal measures. He arguably improves on the original's sometimes wandering narrative, instead focusing on the stripped-down mechanics of a good old fashioned sinister sanitarium flick. What hath mad science wrought? A solid little creepfest.

Fantastic Fest presents Patrick, Monday Sept. 23, 7.45pm. D: Mark Hartley, 95 mins.

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Fantastic Fest, Patrick, Fantastic Fest 2013, Mark Hartley, Sharni Vinson, Jackson Gallagher, Peta Sergeant, Rachel Griffiths, Charles Dance, Alamo Drafthouse, Alamo Lakeline

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