Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Patrick Still Lives (1980)

Marty Feldman scared the living shit out of me as a child.  A large portion of why has to do with his unmistakably protuberant eyes.  They looked all but ready to pop out of his skull at any given moment.  They were freakish to me.  The rest of his facial features were no less severe: he had a gaunt face, a bulbous nose, and if nothing else, he certainly looked like the son of Ukrainian immigrants that he was.  None of this was lessened by his sense of humor which could fairly be described as absurd (he did, after all, work with soon-to-be members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the series At Last the 1948 Show).  When I saw the trailer for In God We Tru$t, my fear only heightened.  It started off with a closeup of Feldman in direct address, and I felt like he was staring straight at me.  The shot of him walking with an extra set of legs hidden beneath his monk’s robe put me in mind of some nightmarish centaur.  The equally outlandish Andy Kaufman makeup did nothing to quell my fear.  It wasn’t until much, much later that the full appeal of Feldman truly hit me.  He was no monster.  He was an extremely funny and intelligent comedian who knew how to best use his unorthodox appearance to bring laughter to people’s hearts.  Today, I count him as one of my favorite comedic actors of all time.  I understand why I, as a child, was unnerved by the man: people who look far different from us can be unsettling when our world view is so small.  But we learn, we mature, and we begin to see the world as ludicrously as he sometimes did.  Even as I type this, I find myself singing “The Kangaroo Hop” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother in my head.  

In much the same way as Feldman’s eyes distressed me, so too did those of Robert Thompson in 1978’s original Patrick, but there at least the whole point was to frighten with those unblinking, seemingly dead orbs (in fact, Thompson’s face was similar in some aspects to Feldman’s).  All this said, I think that Mario Landi’s Patrick Still Lives (aka Patrick Vive Ancora) misses the boat in this regard.  The titular character still stares out at the audience with lifeless eyes, but Gianni Dei’s gaze doesn’t have the same impact, largely because his eyes (though a noticeable attribute) aren’t as exaggerated as Thompson’s.  He just looks like somebody with his eyes stuck open.

Patrick Herschel and his doctor father (Sacha Pitoëff) are broken down on the side of the road, when a passing motorist carelessly (or maliciously, depending) flings some object out of their car window as they pass, injuring Patrick.  Dr. Herschel saves his son’s life, but the young man lapses into a coma.  Several years later (and we are never told about how much time has passed until much further on in the narrative), five guests arrive at Dr. Herschel’s Wellness Resort for some off-season vacationing, but it’s not just their personal demons they’ll need to face.

 The original, Australian Patrick was, if my memory serves me correctly (it’s been a few decades), an effectively creepy, fun Horror film.  I know it was made on a low budget, and I would imagine it was profitable.  But either Landi and company were huge fans of what I always assumed was merely a cult favorite, or the Richard Franklin film did gangbusters business in Italy and/or Europe, because on the list of films one could choose to rip off, I wouldn’t consider Patrick anywhere near the number one spot.  But in the true Italian style of inimitable imitation, the filmmakers took the basic idea of the film, bound it, gagged it, and shoved it into a car trunk, sped down a highway in the wrong lane, and then veered the car right off the road, down a steep embankment.  And then blew it the fuck up.  Without giving away too much, let’s look a few examples.  Maid Meg (Anna Veneziano) is an extremely bizarre woman who just loves the vicious German Shepherds kept at the resort.  She also loves telling our lead (?) David Davis (Paolo Giusti) cryptic things about the danger he’s in and then refusing to expound on any of this.  David himself is about as charismatic and interesting as wet bread, and he seems not in the slightest bit concerned about the very odd goings-on at the estate (actually, the most animated character in the film is a secondary one, although the case could be made that they’re all secondary).  The story (such as it is) makes almost no sense, and the dialogue is some of the most bizarrely horrid stuff in the history of cinema.  To wit:  “It isn’t hard for me to love,” “It’s clear that [character’s] death was due to a fatality,” "Screaming women make me nervous, “ and “Drugs turned you into a faggot” (I could go on, but this will start to read like a commercial for a K-Tel compilation album).    

So, what do you do when your movie is the thinnest of veiled retreads?  You guessed it: ramp up the sleaze.  There are very few scenes in the film that don’t feature graphic nudity of some variety (male and female).  Every single female character, from the slutty Stella (Mariangela Giordano) to the chaste-ish Lydia (Andrea Belfiore) drops their kit at some point or another, and everyone sleeps in the buff (also above the sheets).  Adding to this, a couple of the movie’s murders happen while the characters are nude (or semi-nude), and this adds to the skincrawling joyousness of the whole affair.  There’s even a psychic rape that left me a bit awestruck.  Underpinning all of this is a rather cynical view of mankind.  These aren’t simply innocent victims gathered together for a slaughter.  Each of them has an unseemly side (with one exception I can recall), and none of them goes very far out of their way to even attempt redemption.  The various backgrounds from which the characters come are also telling for their breadth.  David is a rich, privileged youth, Lyndon Kraft (Franco Silva) is a member of the House of Lords, (yeah, I guess this next one may be a SPOILER, but come on, how could you not see this coming?) Stella is/was a prostitute, and so forth.  This condemnation of society is not class-based.  It is equal opportunity from the elite to the dross; a microcosm rotten to its core.  

Nonetheless, like so many other films that are no more than hot messes of various consistencies, I have to say I wound up enjoying Patrick Still Lives far more than I probably should.  The gore effects are nicely done and imaginative, the women are all attractive, and the plot is suitably bizarre enough to keep things moving (not at a gallop, to be sure, but at a decent trot).  Plus, this has one of those headscratcher endings that could be read multiple ways, so it somehow winds up working better than I could foresee and making up for some of the movie’s many deficiencies.  If only they could have gotten an actor with more character in his face to play the titular role.

MVT:  I have to give it to the sleaze factor in the film.  It’s rampant and unashamedly so.  You have to admire that, at least a little bit.

Make or Break:  There is a murder scene that takes place in the kitchen that simply amazed me, not only in what transpires but also in how explicitly it is all portrayed.

Score:  6.75/10    

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