As hardcore horror fans, sometimes it feels like you’ve seen it all. There are no surprises left to discover, no classic slasher film waiting around the corner to thrill you and slap a childlike grin on your face. You try to feed the fix by searching through lists of “The Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen” only to come across titles like “May”, “The Descent”, and “Suspiria”. These are, of course, films that us diehards know and love all too well. That’s where I come in, dear reader. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the bowels of obscure horror from decades past and uncovering titles that might have fallen “Through the Cracks”.
AKA: Hospital Massacre and Be My Valentine, Or Else..
Directed By: Boaz Davidson
When it comes to Valentine’s Day horror flicks, you would think there’d be a heart-shaped box load of them cluttering your video shelf. However, outside of the V-Day hack-n-slash staples of My Bloody Valentine and it’s third-dimensional remake, there’s not much worth writing a sonnet about. In my attempt to Indiana Jones myself through the dusty underworld of unheralded gems, I began watching a little post-Scream DTV slasher called Lover’s Lane (streaming now on Amazon Prime). It features a before-she-was-famous performance from Anna Faris and an actress I swore I knew from one of the many Saved by the Bell rip-offs. Turns out, she was actually from Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Same diff. All of this is pointless because that little ditty was so unbearably bland that I had to hit the big white “X” in the top-right corner of my screen midway through. So, what VD gift do I come bearing for you fiends that will satisfy your craving for obscure horror goodness? I remembered there was at least one other Valentine’s slasher that I’d enjoyed a few years back. Maybe it was worth a revisit?
X-Ray is an early entry into the booming slasher cycle of the 80s, though, it’d be easy to mistake it for a late cycle cash-in. This is one of the few slasher films in the cannon of Cannon Films (alongside New Year’s Evil). Despite the somewhat glossy production, there’s a sense of murder by numbers to the overall exercise. The plot, as it stands, won’t be wooing anyone with its originality. Young Susan, Elizabeth Hoy (one of the psycho tots from the previous year’s Bloody Birthday), is sharing a playdate with a boy when neighborhood whacko, Harold, drops a personalized Valentine off at her door. Susan and her friend take the romantic gesture as a joke, wadding the card into a ball on the floor. Harold is creepily watching from the window…much like creeps are want to do. When Susan leaves her friend alone in order to cut two pieces of cake with the largest friggin’ kitchen knife ever (perhaps a nod to Bloody Birthday?), she returns to find her playmate has been hung from a coat rack while that dastardly Harold is laughing at her from outside the window.
That quick prologue is all you’re going to get in terms of motivation for the remainder of the film. We jump forward 19 years later, and Susan has grown into the gorgeous Barbi Benton (most well known for being a Playboy playmate) who has a daughter of her own, a sneering ex-husband, and a doting new beau, Jack. It’s Valentine’s Day and Susan has to pop into the hospital real quick to pick up test results from a routine physical that will clear her for a new position at work. When a man dressed as a doctor with surgical mask and cap concealing a [small] portion of his face starts knocking off people in the hospital, it doesn’t take much cognitive ability to determine Harold is back, and he’s still got the hots for Susan.
So, sure, this is “Slasher 101,” but that’s what us old school slasher fans love about these flicks. It’s like sitting down to a warm cup of chicken noodle soup for the horror lover’s soul. Of course, it’s not enough to just feature a final girl run afoul of a psycho with a knife. Screenwriter Marc Behm truly exploits the hospital setting. He’s not content to simply throw in a few medical inspired deaths. There are plenty of uncomfortable moments that play on the widespread fear of hospitals. Personally, I’ve always been skeeved out by hospitals due to several unpleasant childhood experiences with said establishments. What starts with Susan rushing in to grab a certificate proving her “clean bill of health” turns into a nauseating comedy of errors, all orchestrated by her loony slasher. From mixed medical records, tampered with test results, whispered conversations amongst doctors in plain sight, and an incredibly long, drawn-out physical exam, it all manages to crawl under the viewer’s skin as things get increasingly worse for Susan.
The exam scene, in particular, plays up the real world anxiety of such doctor’s visits (especially with women under the care of a male doctor). With some stranger’s roaming hands poking and prodding our bodies, it’s an unease inherent in us all. As this moment plays out, this anxiety is exploited right along with Ms. Benton herself. The camera lingers on her assets uncomfortably so. This is just one of many moments that perhaps I give director Boaz Davidson too much credit for. Is he using Benton’s nude form to heighten the unease, or is it just “Yay! Boobies!”? This uncertainty extends to the dark humor throughout. You could potentially read some of the funnier moments in the film as merely failed attempts at shock and horror (such as the hysterical moment Susan runs screaming for help only to stumble into a room of grunting men in full body casts). After all, the genre was still in the early stages. Would they already be picking apart the conventions?
A suspenseful scene involving a dropped zippo and a threadbare curtain that wouldn’t stand to conceal anybody is unbearably nerve-jangling despite the nonsensical logistics at play. It’s laughable if you put an iota of thought into it, so it’s best you don’t. Take the killer’s guise, for instance. The film is loaded with red herrings. From the ex to every single doctor and janitor in the building, they’re all suspects and act rightly so. This is, of course, despite the fact that we can clearly see the majority of the killer’s face and… QUASI-SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO, LIKE ME, DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO NAMES ALL THAT WELL…
…We know from the beginning that the killer is named Harold. Very early into Susan’s visit, she meets a doctor who introduces himself as Harry! Granted, I completely failed to notice his name, yet I still pegged him as the generically handsome white guy behind the surgical mask as opposed to the other generically handsome white guy suspects. Surely the filmmakers had no intention of trying to trick the audience with the killer’s identity, even if the reveal is treated as such. This is just a takeoff on slasher conventions, right? END SPOILERS
Whether intentionally humorous or not, X-Ray is a lot of fun. There are moments that might drag in the second act, but Boaz manages to kick things into high gear with the final reel’s nonstop chase. It all feels like the type of nightmare I’ve had too many time before. Overly bland lighting that slowly descends into harsh greens and blues, the over the top score that features totally out of place choral chanting, and the high body count – this is one Valentine’s gift worth giving to lovers of slasher cheese. Available from Scream Factory on a double disc with Schizoid.