In Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008), the writer/director explores a substantial group of underappreciated Australian genre films produced in the 1970s and 1980s. The genteel historicity of culturally sanctioned “AFC genre” films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) and My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong, 1979) defined the so-called Australian New Wave era, but Hartley venerates their cinematic flipside in the contemporaneous sex comedies, action extravaganzas and horror films of the period (1). Representing an alternative and frequently discomforting view of Australian society, many of these Ozploitation films unsurprisingly often failed to appeal to local critics but conversely garnered a dedicated international following.
The horror genre is central to the Ozploitation canon and an important focus for Hartley’s thesis of domestic critical neglect. And prominent within that subgenre is Richard Franklin’s accomplished telekinetic tale of terror, Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978). Written by Everett de Roche, responsible for a series of equally suspenseful horror/thriller scenarios of the period [Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978), Snapshot (Simon Wincer, 1979), Roadgames (Richard Franklin, 1981) and Razorback (Russell Mulcahy, 1984)], the screenplay was inspired by the true story of a priapic young paraplegic patient of the same name (2).
Where marital infidelity was allegedly the cause of the real Patrick’s emotional distress, de Roche situates the source of his eponymous character’s malign influence firmly with his promiscuous and neglectful mother. Having brutally dispatched the latter in the opening scenes, young Patrick (Robert Thompson) lies comatose in a clapped-out clinic bed, subjected to Dr Roget’s (Robert Helpmann) dubious experimental treatments and the ministrations of a nubile nurse, Kathy Jacquard (British import Susan Penhaligon). Rounding out the main cast is Julia Blake as Nurse Ratched-inspired Matron Cassidy, playboy neurosurgeon Brian Wright (Bruce Barry), and Kathy’s estranged husband Ed (Rod Mullinar).
Unsurprisingly, Patrick’s developing obsession with Kathy ensures his telekinetic powers are put to evil purposes rather than good, and the body count is distressingly high by the close of business. Director Richard Franklin’s friendship with Alfred Hitchcock, and thoroughgoing appreciation of his oeuvre, particularly Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), was a formative influence in shaping the matricidal backstory, striking visual style and taut direction that made Patrick an effectively suspenseful film (3).
Quentin Tarantino’s voluble endorsement of Patrick in Not Quite Hollywood, and overt homage in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003), attests to the film’s considerable following outside Australia. Nominated for AFI Awards in the Best Film, Editing and Original Screenplay categories, the film was described in a contemporary review as a “modest but rather well handled thriller” (4). Patrick is thus less typical in the context of Hartley’s claims for critical neglect in attracting a degree of both local and international acclaim.
It was perhaps unsurprising that Hartley’s choice for his own fiction feature film debut would be a re-imagining of Franklin’s 1978 chiller. And his timing is impeccable. No other period in Australian filmmaking history – the dizzy days of 10BA aside – has arguably been a more conducive time in which to release a contemporary horror film. Where Not Quite Hollywood makes a compelling argument for the collective contempt that greeted many Ozploitation productions, the same cannot be said for the increasingly enthusiastic commercial and critical response to a series of cine-literate horror/thriller films produced in this country over the last decade.
Inaugurated by the low budget, restrained atmospherics of Lost Things (Martin Murphy, 2003), the Spierig brothers promptly followed with their international zombie box office hit Undead (Michael and Peter Spierig, 2003) – and the decade of horror has continued. Melbourne filmmaking duo Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s Hollywood-produced Saw (James Wan, 2004) and its numerous sequels is currently ranked as the most successful horror franchise of all time, grossing over US$1 billion in worldwide cinema and DVD sales (5). For a modest $1.4 million budget the frankly terrifying Wolf Creek (Greg, Mclean, 2005) returned a very healthy global box office of $50 million (Mclean is currently filming Wolf Creek 2). Modern Love (Alex Frayne, 2006), Black Water (David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki, 2007), Mclean’s follow-up Rogue (2008), Dying Breed (Jody Dwyer, 2008), Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008), Daybreakers (Michael and Peter Spierig, 2009), and The Reef (Andrew Traucki, 2011) have had varying degrees of critical and commercial success and are just some examples of the burgeoning local horror oeuvre.
If “Aussie horror” is emerging as a “brand” in the global marketplace, then Hartley’s remake of one of the most admired classics from the earlier Ozploitation era is strategically well placed to benefit from this generic momentum (6). With the backing of Ozploitation heavyweight and uber producer Antony I. Ginnane (Patrick, Snapshot, Thirst [Rod Hardy, 1979], Harlequin [Simon Wincer, 1980] and Turkey Shoot [Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1982]), and a cleverly reconfigured script by Justin King, the remake is an assured and self-consciously knowing take on both the original and the genre (7).
King has tweaked the storyline considerably, cutting some of the more superfluous subplots and enjoyably florid dialogue of the original, while grafting appropriately 21st century concerns onto the remake. Some of these additional issues (class based tensions) and plotlines (Matron Cassidy’s backstory; the expanded storyline for Mr Fraser), in turn, are somewhat contrived and the film is and feels substantially longer than the original. But both films are driven by a theme fundamental to the modern horror genre. Repressed sexuality and associated family dysfunction – the definitive horror within – is clearly the source of the telekinetic trouble in both the original and the remake.
The modern American horror film has been characterised as an overt expression of the prevailing social and sexual anxieties of the turbulent post-1960s period, a proposition that has had equal purchase in subsequent decades and beyond the boundaries of mainstream American cinema (8). In its simplest formulation, this psychoanalytic understanding of the genre suggests that the bogey men – alien figures or supernatural forces of the classic horror film – have been read as representing a threat external to society. By contrast, the danger in the modern era has moved much closer to home where evil categorically lurks within the community, the family and even the individual. Broader socio-cultural anxieties – assertive female sexuality, racial and ethnic difference, and homosexuality – therefore found expression during this formative modern period in the psychological complexity and explicit violence of films as diverse as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968), Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974).
Both versions of Patrick are exemplary in this respect. The sins of a callous, promiscuous mother are visited upon the profoundly disturbed son. In Hartley’s version, a licentious Simone Buchanan excoriates Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) as a “pathetic little perv”. The consequences of their obliquely Oedipal conflict are expressed primarily through Patrick’s malevolent telekinetic powers. These powers are predictably directed at the sexually active Kathy (Sharni Vinson in 2013) and the various men competing for her attention. In the remake, King cranks up the fraught family dynamics further by making Dr Roget (Charles Dance in top form) the tyrannical father of Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths – more tortured but less compelling than Blake’s venomous turn in the original). The consequences of this repressive father-daughter relationship are dire as Julia Cassidy remarks with deliberate ambiguity, “My father and I have done terrible things”. Enough said.
If King escalates the family angst, the other discourse central to the original receives equally hyperbolic treatment in the remake. The combination of barmy doctors and bad medicine is an enduring and fertile trope of the horror genre. Adaptations of the Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde literary classics in the early decades of cinema history were followed by surrealist European takes on the topic (Les Yeux sans visage [Eyes Without A Face], Georges Franju, 1960). A steady stream of more contemporary tales have continued to invigorate the form including Coma (Michael Crichton, 1978), Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988) and, most recently, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert, Wyatt, 2011).
Both versions of Patrick tackle the proposition of medical mayhem with gusto. Helpmann’s enjoyably histrionic performance makes his earlier incarnation of Dr Roget benignly bonkers whereas Dance’s sinister superciliousness is evil incarnate from the start. Both scriptwriters characterise the alleged ‘research’ carried out at the Roget Clinic in the context of the medico-scientific discourses of the day. De Roche posits Roget’s misguided experimental techniques in terms of topical debates exploring the “gray area between life and death” (9). It is tempting to also read Franklin’s film in the light of the disastrous, home-grown Chelmsford “deep sleep therapy” scandal of the 1960s and ’70s.
In Hartley’s Patrick, neuro-scientific research is “not medicine but PR”, nurses are “belles among the brain dead” and the eponymous hero, “165 pounds of limp meat hanging off a dead brain” (10). The Hippocratic antecedents for the 21st century Dr Roget are made clear with a succinct montage of tabloid headlines spelling out the “Shock Doc” and Frankensteinian connections. In this version, Dr Roget justifies the radical and overtly sadistic “trailblazing treatments” via a feverish explanation about “goading neurons into making new connections” (11). However simplistic the reference, King’s script clearly taps into current neuroscientific developments and thinking around brain neuroplasticity.
As with the original, Hartley’s Patrick is also distinguished by careful attention to the trappings of medical science, adding considerably to the atmospherics of the creepy clinic setting. Smart phones and vintage glass syringes do battle in the opening scene, an anachronistic melange of medical Victoriana and modern technology that is a feature of Robbie Perkins’ production design throughout. Flo Nightingale-style hospital wards, 19th century nurses uniforms and strangely antiquated clinical equipment are effectively contrasted with the latest in 21st century design. The constant intrusion of phone calls and the clever use of text messages provide a (literally) startling visual and aural counterpoint to the clinic’s silent, penumbral interiors and religious iconography.
The building itself is a significant element – arguably a central character – in both the original and the remake. Where Franklin located Patrick in the benign surrounds of suburban Melbourne, Hartley’s film is set in an unspecified, relentlessly gloomy, semi rural area. Unlike many of the aforementioned horror films that deploy features of the Australian landscape to sinister effect, in Patrick it is the built rather than natural environment that provides the singular atmospherics. As with the original, the forbidding former convent specifically evokes the oppressive presence of the Bates family home and is shot from the outset in overtly Hitchcockian, aerial style (12).
The homage to Hitchcock via Franklin doesn’t end there. An early scene features the main protagonist navigating a delirious, winding coastal road a la Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) or North by Northwest (1959), and various Hitchcockian flourishes appear throughout. The pre-eminent Italian born composer Pino Donaggio (whose early thriller/horror credits include Don’t Look Now [Nicholas Roeg, 1973], Carrie and Dressed to Kill [Brian De Palma, 1980] provides an unsettlingly insistent, strings dominated soundtrack evoking Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Vertigo and Psycho and making a substantial contribution to the atmosphere of escalating suspense.
A droll vein of Hitchcockian humour also underpins the action – queasy visual puns involving sandwich grills, burnt flesh, submerged cars and effervescent drinks recall playfully ghoulish references in Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972) amongst other works. But Hartley’s Patrick is not simply a slavish remake of Franklin’s film or an extended tribute to Hitchcock but equally an enjoyably cine-literate riff on the genre itself.
Haunted houses, thunderstorms, dreams and nightmares, Hartley draws adroitly on many of the standard conventions of the horror film. His remake references an expansive range of cinematic texts, from the celebrated Hammer horror tradition to explicit homages to Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), Carrie, Coma and other modern American horror classics to which both versions of Patrick are clearly indebted (13). The transparent symbolism of the colour red that defines Franklin’s film and many other examples of the genre is in Hartley’s version replaced by a more subdued palette of cool, clinical blues and grays, leavened by the occasional burst of diabolical soylent green.
With former soapie stars rubbing shoulders with A-list actors (and a few original cast members making cameos), the casting is a sly acknowledgement of the genre’s mixed historical appeal as “one of the most popular, and at the same time, disreputable of Hollywood genres” (14). A self-reflexive and seriously stylish remake, Patrick makes a shrewd and entertaining contribution to the flourishing local horror genre.
- Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka, “An Australian Film Reader In Question”, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture vol. 1, no. 1, 1987: http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/1.1/Dermody.html.
- Richard Franklin, Audio Commentary, Patrick, DVD, Umbrella Entertainment, 2009.
- Franklin subsequently went on to direct Psycho II (1983).
- David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1980, p. 252.
- Mark David Ryan, “Whither Culture? Australian Horror Films and the Limitations of Cultural Policy”, Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy no. 133, 2009, p. 47.
- Trenchard-Smith’s prison grindhouse saga Turkey Shoot is also apparently receiving a remake courtesy of Jon Hewitt: http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/cannes/mcintyre-to-star-in-turkey-shoot-reboot/5056236.article.
- Robin Wood, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan, Columbia University Press, New York, 1986, pp. 70-73.
- Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978).
- Patrick (Mark Hartley, 2013).
- Patrick (2013).
- Peter Shelley, Australian Horror Films, 1973-2010, McFarland and Company, North Carolina, 2012. Shelley notes that Franklin specifically selected the clinic building (an abandoned Toorak hotel) because of the resemblance to the Bates House in Psycho.
- Interestingly, Carrie (Kimberly Peirce, 2013) has also received a remake this year, and appropriately enough, releases a month after Patrick in Australia.
- Wood, p. 77.