Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #508
Also known as X-Ray, Be My Valentine…Or Else
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 1982
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Boaz Davidson
Producers: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Screenplay: Marc Behm
Special Effects: Joe Quinlivan
Cinematography: Nicholas Josef von Sternberg
Score: Arlon Ober
Editing: Jon Koslowsky
Studio: Golan-Globus Productions
Distributor: Cannon Film Distributors
Stars: Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, Lanny Duncan, John Warner Williams, Gay Austin, Den Surles, Gloria Jean Morrison, Karen Smith, Michael Frost, Jimmy Stathis, Gay Austin, Bill Errigo, Beverly Hart, Ann Charlotte Lindgren, Judith Baldwin
Suggested Audio Candy
 Mötley Crüe “Dr. Feelgood”
 Kiss “Calling Dr. Love”
Over thirty years on from the initial boom of the American slasher, it would appear as though all players have long since been accounted for. With the likes of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, Tony Maylam’s The Burning, and George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine representing the sub-genre at its most illustrious, and lesser-known gems such as Joe Giannone’s Madman, J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday To Me, and Joseph Zito’s The Prowler now benefiting from hindsight and long-term word of mouth, we could be forgiven for thinking that no stone remains unturned. However, the output during this period was staggering and numerous entries have long since either faded into obscurity or failed to gain the spotlight in the first place.
Thanks to 88 Films, the current trend is for reinvention, courtesy of swanky new Blu-Ray transfers, and this fresh lick of paint allows certain well-meaning also-rans to finally show on our radars. One such labor of their love for all things slasher is Boaz Davidson’s 1981 oddity Hospital Massacre. Now rebranded as X-Ray, very little has been said of this curious slab of irreverence and, had it not been for their insistence on defibrillating the decade’s less fashionable genre patients, then it would likely have remained flatlined. The painstaking process of reinvigorating thousands of frames of footage with a film such as this affords us the chance to watch through a fresh set of eyes and offers a far truer reflection of its director’s original vision to boot.
With the likes of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps due for the post-millennium 88 Films makeover in the coming months, I fully endorse their pursuits. Having said that, no amount of gloss can make a turd sparkle, and realistic expectations are critical to works such as this. The chances of unearthing our new favorite slasher are slender to say the very least and, thick-rimmed rose-tinted spectacles, an absolute must. While it needs to be addressed that Davidson’s film sank without a trace for good reason, a more charitable approach will undoubtedly reap its own dividends. Whether the movie sucks a little is not in question, so does Debbie but it didn’t stop her from doing Dallas. But that doesn’t mean we don’t find her cheek dimples cute when she has her mouth full.
Davidson is under no illusion that this is one of his less illustrious features. With over 150 production credits to his name, including The Expendables trilogy, there have certainly been finer hours than Hospital Massacre and no amount of spit and polish can change that fact. However, he also upholds that “Films are a lot like children. Even if they’re a little fucked-up, you still love them” and I will always love him for that hilarious nugget of wisdom. The Palestinian was fortunate enough to be highly regarded by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan and this project literally landed in his lap a day before shooting was set to commence. He hadn’t even read the script prior to their request and any experience with the Lemon Popsicle features that provided his comfort zone was of scant consolation when grasping the baton.
Actually, it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to work out where his allegiance lies as Hospital Massacre is all the better for not being taken seriously and his numerous comical touches are responsible for the film’s few redeeming features. To his eternal credit, aside from a tendency to veer ominously towards slapstick on more than one occasion throughout, he plays it straight down the line. A fair share of the laughs will be gleaned at the film’s expense and, while many of these are unintentional, it all makes for a surprisingly affable 89 minute beer and buddies no-brainer. I shall tackle each of its shortcomings in turn but, more critically, do so with a twinkle in my eye and a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of my tummy. Fast food may not provide nutritional bonuses but, with a fair pinch of salt, I’ll gladly suffer the indigestion.
If Hospital Massacre had one particular weapon in its armory upon its release, then former Playboy cover girl and Hugh Hefner’s one time personal dick wallet, Barbi Benton, was surely the sole ace in its hand. Here she plays beautiful divorcée Susan Jeremy and, as one would expect, it isn’t long before we are treated to a glimpse beneath her hospital gown. Susan arrives at her local hospital for a routine check-up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but soon discovers that a clean bill of health is not so easily obtainable in this particular clinic. Moreover, bedside manner is questionable to say the absolute least. Pushed from pillar to post by perhaps the least sympathetic medical staff ever to don a stethoscope, she is soon left exasperated and her fortunes are only about to get worse.
If the fact that somebody is falsifying her test results isn’t already cause enough for concern, then the one-to-one care of Doctor Saxon (John Warner Williams) has the warning bells chiming loud and clear. His painfully slow and deliberate all over check-up leaves her grateful that she didn’t book herself in for a smear although discharge is beginning to look increasingly less likely, leaving her in the similarly dubious care of his nursing staff. To add injury to insult, while Susan’s spirits are being soundly crushed, a killer suited in surgeon scrubs and mask is whittling down the night staff in no uncertain terms and planning to perform his own procedure on the hapless patient.
If plausibility is critical to your investment, then you couldn’t be more shit out of luck with Hospital Massacre as it is ludicrous in the über-extreme. As much as I would love to report that it takes a sly dig at the medical profession, Marc Behm’s bare bones screenplay just isn’t intelligent enough to boast of such subversive commentary. Almost entirely devoid of characterization, the rest of the players are nothing more than stiffs waiting to be tagged and bagged, and only kindly intern Harry (Charles Lucia) emits the vaguest sense of purpose. If the hospital staff are a few buttons short of a blazer, then her fellow patients are flat-out unhinged and include three batty old ladies, one of whom is clearly sporting a dong, and a whiskey swigging wandering nutbag for whom no amount of prescription medication could ever cure. It’s a fucking circus, to be perfectly blunt.
As for the identity of the killer, an opening flashback leaves us under no illusion as to why she has been selected for special treatment and any attempts at upholding a sense of mystery are downright insulting to any detectives amongst us. However, for all of the preposterous shenanigans she is subjected to, Benton actually gives a rather admirable account of herself and acquits herself like an absolute trooper throughout. Without her spirited turn, no amount of morphine could relinquish the pain, but she plays Susan with just enough gusto to keep things believable, albeit extremely tenuous. Against our better judgement and totally in spite of itself, Hospital Massacre provides a fair share of enjoyment and certainly couldn’t be accused of being uneventful.
Another factor that prevents the dreaded flat line is the chosen playground. Hospitals come with their own stigma and there are few less encouraging locales than the one place on Earth more people enter than vacate. In the same year, Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II offered a prime example of how to squeeze every last drop of tension from similarly tight corridors and both Jean-Claude Lord’s Visiting Hours and Sheldon Larry’s almost totally anonymous 1985 effort Terminal Choice also took advantage of such inhospitable close quarters. The cinematography of Nicholas Josef von Sternberg is surprisingly effective, a fact further showcased by the recent restoration job by the wonderful folk at 88 Films.
Any hopes of Hospital Massacre receiving a clean bill of health may be stretching even my good nature a dash too far and all but the most forgiving slasher enthusiasts will likely turn off its life support long before the end of theater. However, it isn’t without its charms and, when you consider it comes from the man responsible for a slew of seventies sex comedies and reluctant to change the habit of a lifetime, it starts to make a little more sense. There may be few films of its ilk quite so unapologetically harebrained but there are a fair number of entries into the eighties slasher cycle more culpable of malpractice. Say what you will about Davidson’s enthusiastic hotchpotch but, unlike its hapless heroine, it never outstays its welcome.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: This is where a trick was missed in my opinion. Considering the bloated body count and varied instruments of dispatch on-hand, there’s precious little in the way of bona fide grue. The dreaded off-screen kill is way too prevalent and, aside from some rather delightful disembodied head candy and a pleasing toxic face pack, Joe Quinlivan’s practical effects are little more than serviceable and consist mostly of the customary blood splashes. Davidson makes up for this with a healthy dose of flesh courtesy of Benton’s willingness to bare those famous love missiles. To call her plumpened nipples perky is akin to referring to Justin Bieber as a mild irritant. All encompassing is more apt as the blast radius of these pink projectiles has to be seen to be believed.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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