“He’s In A Coma . . . Yet He Can Kill” promised the tagline for the 1978 Australian film Patrick, helpfully establishing both the film’s irresistible hook and its inherent limitations.
A psychological thriller whose bogeyman remains comatose, Patrick was loosely inspired by a true story and stars Susan Penhaligon as nurse Kathy Jacquard who has recently separated from her husband, Ed (Rod Mullinar) and returned to the workforce, landing a job at a small private hospital, the Roget Clinic.
After an interview with the stern Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), Kathy is hired and immediately taken to her new patient in Room 15.
There, she forms a strange psychic bond with Patrick (Robert Thompson), who hovers somewhere between life and death three years after killing his mother and her lover – by throwing a glowing electric heater into the bath they are sharing – in the film’s unsettling prologue.
In spite of repeated assertions that Patrick can’t see, hear, or feel anything, Kathy remains convinced that he is trying to communicate with her, through spitting and via an electric typewriter apparently hardwired to his mind.
As the people in Kathy’s life begin to suffer strange injuries, droll chief clinician Dr Roget (Robert Helpmann) attempts to destroy Patrick – who he describes as “160lb of limp meat hanging from a comatose brain” – only to come face to face with the killer’s awesome psychokinetic power.
Characters are developed well beyond usual fright-flick archetypes, Everett De Roche’s script is intelligent and surprisingly vivid and punchy, the performances are strong, and Richard Franklin’s direction is elegant and suspenseful, relying on mood and atmosphere rather than blood and gore.
Patrick is a lot more fun than most Australian films. Unfortunately, it has one huge drawback. The killer is in a coma . . .
Despite every best effort, nothing can make the film’s bug-eyed bad guy even slightly scary. The unconvincing special effects don’t help matters and betray Patrick‘s ultra-low budget.
By the time Patrick is reduced to telepathically hurling a flower pot across his room, the film has long since crossed the line separating scary from silly.
Director Richard Franklin was candid about how much he stole from Psycho (1960). It obviously paid off as, largely on the basis of Patrick, Franklin was hired to helm Psycho II (1983).
Dr Brian Wright
Detective Sergeant Grant