By Scott Dorward
Patrick (Australia, 1978)
“Well I think Patrick and I are going to get along just… Argh!”
I have a soft spot for odd horror films, the kind that don’t fit neatly into any particular category. Today’s pick for the challenge is definitely such a film. Patrick is a blackly humorous thriller with a creepy antagonist who never gets out of bed.
We open with a short but frenzied opening scene in which Patrick, an intense young man with even more intense eyes, kills his mother and her lover by tossing an electric heater into their bath. The two play a deadly game of catch with the heater, punctuated by screams and serious burns. In the end, however, the heater wins.
The film then jumps forwards a few years. English nurse Kathie Jacquard is trying to rebuild her life following the breakdown of her marriage to her Australian husband. She takes a position at the Roget Clinic, a private hospital in Melbourne, where she is put in charge of caring for the now-comatose Patrick.
We never learn why Patrick is in a coma, but this is not important. He now spends his days in bed, eyes open wide, staring into space. The doctors believe he is braindead, but Jacquard starts to believe otherwise, especially once he starts psychically commandeering the electric typewriter she uses to write her reports. His missives quickly turn to declarations of love.
Outside work, Jacquard has become romantically involved with a doctor and reconnected with her estranged husband. This does not please Patrick one bit.
Despite being bedridden and apparently comatose, Patrick proves quite an adept stalker. He is able to project his consciousness outside his body and use psychokinesis to torment his romantic rivals in increasingly vicious ways.
At the same time, Dr Roget begins to carry out experiments on Patrick, exploring the middle ground between life and death. Matron Cassiday becomes convinced that Patrick poses a danger to all around him and must be stopped. And Nurse Jacquard finds herself caught in the middle of it all as the situation turns deadly.
The 1970s were a weird, heady time for horror cinema. Changing social mores and relaxed censorship allowed nastier stuff on the screen than ever before. Independent production companies were springing up and even the larger studios were willing to take creative risks that seem insane these days. And some of the most exciting horror came out of Australia.
The movement that became known as Ozploitation birthed low-budget, sometimes seedy films of all sorts of genres, including, most notably, the Mad Max franchise. A number of memorable horror films also came out of the movement, including Wake in Fright, Long Weekend, Thirst and, of course, Patrick.
Going into Patrick, I had no idea what to expect. While I had some basic idea of the premise, I had conflated it with a British horror film from the same year called The Medusa Touch, in which Richard Burton also plays a bitter misanthrope with telekinesis. Although Patrick is unarguably a horror film, it was a very different kind than I’d anticipated.
While you would be hard-pressed to call Patrick a comedy, it has a sardonic wit that makes it a joy to watch. Many of the supporting characters are delightfully eccentric, falling just short of being caricatures. Matron Cassiday’s clipped spitefulness and ranting monologues are a highpoint, inviting us to hate her even when we know she is the only person to see Patrick for what he is.
Considering he does not have a single line of dialogue and barely moves at all, it is amazing how much Robert Thompson dominates this film. Barring a little action in the opening scene, his performance as Patrick largely involves lying still and staring into space. His large, protuberant eyes and the rigid, menacing cast of his face are absolutely magnetic. He radiates malign energy.
Patrick is a nasty little gem of a film. While it has a straightforward premise and an obviously low budget, it abounds with imagination. Every scene has something to commend it, and while there are no great twists or revelations, Patrick never fails to engage.
If you’re looking for something frightening for Halloween, however, Patrick may not be it. While it builds tension nicely and manages a few shocks, it is not a particularly scary film. There are a few gory scenes, and Patrick himself is a creepy presence, but the tone is more low-key than modern horror fans may expect. Regardless, Patrick is still an enormously entertaining film and well worth your attention.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!