Three years ago Patrick (Robert Thompson) murdered his mother and her boyfriend on what seemed to be a whim decision. Since that time he’s for some reason been lying in a comatose state at the Roget Clinic, run by Dr. Roget himself (Robert Helpmann) who continues to treat Patrick as a human guinea pig, determined to find out that crucial link between life and death. One day Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a nurse currently going through a separation from her husband Ed (Rod Mullinar), applies for a job at the clinic and finds herself immediately employed by the desperate doctor, much to the chagrin of Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake). Soon into her new job, Kathy becomes quite familiar with Patrick, who takes a liking toward her and begins displaying his psychokinetic powers by communicating to her via typewriter. Of course Kathy is the only one allowed to personally witness these strange events and no matter how insistent she is when explaining to phenomenon to others, nobody seems to believe her. Enter Dr. Brain White (Bruce Barry), a playboy neurologist and an admirer of Kathy’s, whom after some persuading attempts to rationalise Patrick’s current state of mind. But when Brian gets closer to Kathy, and just as Ed seems to be turning his life around in order to do the same, Patrick starts to get real pissed, directing his hatred toward those who threaten to spoil his idyllic romance with the young nurse...even though he wants to die with her, mind.
The once aspiring musician Richard Franklin broke on to the Australian television scene at a young age, barely past twenty when he began directing episodes for Aussie drama Homicide in 1970. He soon followed up with a couple of obscure tales in Belinda and Loveland, while even turning his talent toward lewd sex comedies such as The True Story of Eskimo Nell and Fantasm. None of those did him any huge favours though, and it wasn’t until 1978 that he’d finally show where his true passion lay. Franklin got on the scene quite early with his take on ‘cerebral’ horror. There were few prior examples such as 1975’s Psychic Killer, and to a lesser extent - being it dabbled in Telekinesis - Carrie. Patrick was well timed then, entering a period when science fiction saw a huge resurgence at the tail-end of the seventies. The success of Franklin’s psychological thriller in America and Europe subsequently enabled the director to travel to the States shortly after directing Jamie Lee Curtis in Roadgames to helm Psycho II. He made it no secret throughout his career that he adored the work of Alfred Hitchcock and often imbued his features with loving nods, none more so than in Patrick, which still remains one of his defining moments.
Patrick borrows from several genres. It’s first and foremost a horror/thriller, but there are fantastical twists and a sense of romanticism strung throughout. Unconventional in a sense that there aren’t any serious shocks to be had, or lashings of gore given what might be expected of it, it is indeed something of an oddity as it travels a more dramatized path. Franklin very much sets up his story with a clear focus on its protagonists, in fact Patrick himself is largely a non-entity, residing in the Jason Voorhees/Michal Myers personality department. But then he’s comatose, so we’ll let that slide. Neither do we ever learn about Patrick’s past, save for the fact he killed his mother and her boyfriend and moreover it’s a mystery as to how he even ended up in such a traumatized bed-ridden state. But this ambiguity works in the film’s favour: Kathy suddenly being thrown right into the thick of it and expected to deal with this supposedly brain-dead individual. The film is methodically paced, building upon Kathy’s current situation; the love triangle she now finds herself in, not just between new admirer Brian and her husband Ed, but as far as Patrick’s concerned him too, not to mention the ever looming threat of losing her job. Its supernatural elements then are underplayed for a good hour or so, only ever teasing us with Kathy’s frustration as she struggles to communicate with her new patient, while also finding it incredibly difficult to reason with anybody else in her immediate life. During this slow build-up Franklin adopts a systematic approach as he then spurs on mild topical discussion in between the various relationships playing out. It’s never incredibly in-depth given that its purpose isn’t to stir ethical debate, but it provides a suitable backdrop for the weird goings on. The director’s approach is almost too laid back at times with such an intimate setting and few places to go, but the film is nuanced and Franklin composes some very intriguing shots. As Patrick begins to unravel his direction becomes more intense, however, resulting in a rewarding last act where the visual effects come out and the atmosphere all goes to hell.
Despite having starred in a few notable British horrors beforehand, TV veteran Susan Penhaligon’s movie career never really took off after Patrick. She fell back into doing bit-parts on television, and it’s something of a shame given her natural sympathetic qualities. In Patrick she plays the perfect everywoman; her performance guaranteeing that we side with her all the way - and she’s immensely attractive to boot. On occasion there’s a sense that she’s a little uneasy, perhaps misdirected, but it’s difficult to ignore her sincerity because for all intents she does portray a well-rounded individual. In fact the majority of the cast help immeasurably is securing Patrick as a little cult gem, from Julia Blake’s snooty Matron to Robert Helpmann’s oddball Dr. Roget - fans of frogs beware!
Whilst I can’t speak for the old Elite issue of the film (though I believe it was non-anamorphic) for comparisons sake I can say that Synapse’s restored “Widescreen transfer of the original Australian version” looks bloomin’ good. Colours are vibrant, detail is strong, if a little on the soft side at times, and much to my happiness grain is rich. Patrick has something of a gritty look to it, and it’s nice to see Synapse maintain that where other companies might seem to think filtering such things out is necessary. Compare it the UK release from Hard Gore for instance: a horribly compressed transfer with muted palette. Either it’s the amount of artefacts present or it’s been smoothed out a bit, suffice it to say it isn’t a patch on this new edition. Below is a brief comparison, with Synapse on top.
The English DD mono track is certainly good, but leaves me with little to elaborate on so forgive my laziness. There are no detrimental signs here; dialogue is clear and all the other elements come together nicely in carrying over the original and intended source.
While Synapse continue to put out quality releases I continue to be disappointed by their lack of subtitling; it’s an area they really should be looking at improving.
Director Richard Franklin recorded his audio commentary a few years back when the film was licensed by Elite. And it’s a very informative one too. Franklin has a great recollection of most things, going into particular details regarding certain camera set-ups and working with limited sets. He has plenty of little stories about his actors and has more than enough to say about the genesis of the project; he even brings up the bloodier Italian sequel and more interestingly tells of a 140 minute cut of Patrick - which I can only imagine would make the film incredibly tedious. Around 46 minutes into the commentary screenwriter Everett De Roche chimes in unannounced for what appears to be a separately recorded track. He only sticks around for 3 or 4 minutes and in that time he simply tells of how he came up with the idea, based upon a real life story he once heard. A few lengthy pauses here and there, but overall a decent little listen.
Also accompanying the feature is the US and Australian trailers and three TV spots.
Richard Franklin sadly passed away last year, so misses out on Patrick’s new treatment and the chance to reach a wider audience who can hopefully enjoy it. It’s nice to see this rather overlooked feature fall into the right hands at Synapse. Fans will be happy to see the film looking like this, though the lack of further bonus material is a little disappointing.