There’s no doubt that Aussie documentarian Mark Hartley has established himself as the “go-to guy” when it comes to chronicling the history of exploitation cinema — his films tracing the rise and fall of the “B-Movie” industry in his both his own country (NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD) and the Philippines (MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED) are thorough, exhaustive, and above all, highly entertaining accounts of the trials and travails of making low-budget flicks in settings far removed from the Tinseltown blockbuster machine. His forthcoming retrospective on Cannon Films, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, is something many of us have been waiting on with baited breath for some time now, and the mere thought that it’s finally about to see the light of day fills me with a kind of irrational giddiness that, frankly, I’m just not used to.
Still, it’s surprising that there’s been such a long wait between his second and third exploitation-related documentaries when you consider that his first and second were barely a year removed from each other. Of course, there’s an explanation for this — and that is his 2013 remake of director Richard Franklin’s 1978 Ozploitation classic PATRICK (which was followed, believe it or not, by an Italian sequel entitled PATRICK STILL LIVES — only in the ’70s, my friends, only in the ’70s), a project that Hartley undertook some time after ELECTRIC BOOGALOO was already well underway, but one that resulted in an inevitable hiatus for the Cannon-centric doc since it’s kinda hard to work on two feature film projects at the same time.
So — was it worth having to hold out a bit longer for a flick we’ve all been eagerly anticipating to allow Hartley a bit of leeway to complete this obvious labor of love? Reviews of his version of PATRICK have been lukewarm at best, to be sure, but I would have to say the answer to my (probably rhetorical, but what the hell) question is a fairly resounding “yes,” because I don’t know what anyone else has been smoking, but I think this little chiller has everything you could possibly ask for and then some.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original (or, for that matter, this remake), the premise works as follows : young nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) is so desperate for a full-time gig that gets her away from a deteriorating relationship back home in, I’m guessing, Sydney or Melbourne, that she signs on at the remote, foreboding Roget Clinic, a decidedly experimental “treatment” facility for comatose patients overseen by the ethically compromised (to put it kindly) Dr. Roget (Charles Dance, in terrifically eerie performance) and his daughter, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths, apparently “slumming it” back in her home country now that her two absolutely risible American soap operas — Six Feet Under and Brothers And Sisters — are, mercifully, off our television screens). The only other staff member on site appears to be local “good time girl” Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant), and the whole place feels a lot more like a fucking tomb than a medical center.
Roget has promised his increasingly-nervous financial backers that he’s on the verge of a “breakthrough” of some sort in terms of bringing the brain-dead back from their — sorry to be blunt — vegetative states, and his prize guinea pig appears to be a patient in room number 15, one-time psychopath Patrick (played by Jackson Gallagher, who gets the most an actor possibly can from a part with, essentially, no lines), but the “breakthrough” Patrick has in mind is far different from the one his not-so-good Doctor thinks he’s coming close to achieving with his ever-escalating, violent shock “treatments” (incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me how when someone has electrodes attached to their genitals we all recognize it as being torture, but when they’re attached to someone’s head it can be called “therapy”) — you see, our guy Pat’s been fusing his consciousness in with the electrical grid, and when he’s finally amped up sufficiently, he’s gonna wreak bloody havoc on everyone who did him wrong, starting with Roget himself.
Hartley’s obviously absorbed a few lessons from the many exploitation stalwarts he’s had the chance to get to know over the years, because his take on PATRICK positively drips with atmosphere and tension right from the outset, and as Nurse Jacquard’s feelings for her patient progress from pity to concern to, finally, terror, the undercurrent of genuine menace that runs throughout is successfully ramped up in accordance with the raising of the story’s stakes. Sure, some of the CGI exterior effects (lightning, fog, etc.) are a bit on the cut-rate side, but even there one gets the sense that Hartley’s going for a purposeful “old Hollywood” look rather than cutting corners. His budget here isn’t high by any stretch of the imagination, but by and large he seems to have picked up a good deal of knowledge from the likes of Brian Trenchard-Smith and Cirio H. Santiago on how to make a little go a long way. In short, he’s seen how the pros do it and is more than ready to apply the skills he’s heard so much about.
Obviously, a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required in order to even buy into the premise here, and fans of the original are probably a bit disappointed by Hartley’s decision to steer the story away from the realm of ESP (although that certainly becomes a factor, especially towards the end) and into a more technologically-oriented milieu, but it makes sense in this day and age when everything’s connected, and doesn’t, at least from my own point of view, detract from the impact of what’s happening in any way. All in all, this is a very worthy “modern grindhouse” feature and I sincerely hope that Hartley will pursue more projects of this ilk in the future, since I can’t think of anyone better, this side of Tarantino and Rodriguez, to continue the ethos of the exploitation film into the current century.
PATRICK — which, in true drive-in style is also known by the alternate title of PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS — is available on DVD and Blu-ray, sure, but it’s also part of the instant streaming queue on Netflix at the moment (which is how I caught it, hence the lack of technical specs for its physical-storage versions in this review), and is well worth any horror or “B-Movie” junkie’s time to check out. I almost never like remakes, but this feels more like a rebirth –which, given its subject matter, is highly appropriate indeed.