(A.k.a. HOSPITAL MASSACRE)
"Susan's House, 1961".
Young Susan and her male friend are busy playing in the former's living room, while smitten Harold sneaks up outside and posts a valentine card through the letterbox. Upon discovering it, Susan and her pal titter at Harold's expense. Mistake: Harold is spying on them through the window and witnesses the whole thing. He reacts by spearing the mocking boy on the nearest coat-stand.
19 years later, we meet the adult Susan (Barbi Benton). She's a divorcee with new boyfriend Jack (Jon Van Ness), and a jealous ex-husband - Tom (Jimmy Stathis) - with whom she has daughter Eva (Tammy Simpson). We meet her as Jack is dropping her off at the local hospital, where she's due to pick up the results of a routine check-up she went in for a week earlier.
It's Valentine's Day, incidentally - and it's also the first-year anniversary of an incident in which a patient "ran amuck" in the very same hospital. It's not looking good for Susan, is it?
Sure enough, the day begins badly when she gets stuck in the hospital lift. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, the doctor she has an appointment with - Jacobs (Gay Austin) - is brutally stabbed to death by a killer wearing a surgeon's mask.
Eventually escaping the lift, Susan roams the building in her quest to locate Jacobs. Instead, she runs into intern Harry (Charles Lucia) who agrees to find her test results for her. Double-checking her x-rays, he refers the bamboozled Susan to shady Dr Saxon (John Warner Williams) for further tests. She rings Tom to say she'll be back late to pick daughter Eva up that evening, but Eva tells her he's nipped out to do something important...
In the meantime, Jack sits outside in the car like a lemon, waiting while Susan is held against her will by Saxon and his nurses - who insist she must stay for further tests, but won't tell her why. All the while, no-one seems to be aware of the murders being committed under their very noses.
What is the nature of Susan's mystery medical condition? Who is killing those around her? And what does all of this have to do with that 1961-based prologue?
False alerts galore (young Susan grabs a machete with what seems to be malicious intent, only to use it to slice a cake; what appears to be a blood-soaked corpse winds up merely being drunken patient Hal [Lanny Duncan], asleep and with ketchup smeared all over him) bulk up the pace during the film's first half. Once the killings begin, we're bombarded with potential suspects: creepy nurses, sullen porters, dodgy-looking doctors, devious exes ... everyone acts sinister to an almost bizarre degree. The result is accidentally nightmarish.
The killer - I won't reveal their identity here - has a wooden walk that hilariously adds to the dreamlike absurdity of it all. Murder set-pieces are propelled more by the melodramatic strings and chants of the score than by their moments of minor gore.
Elsewhere, production values give the film an unusual amount of gloss for an early-80s slasher. Benton is glammed up from the start, looking like one of Charlie's Angels. The orchestral score sounds like something akin to what you'd hear on TV shows like "Hart To Hart", save for the Gregorian OMEN-style chants which are thrown in during the horror scenes.
Neither as taut as HALLOWEEN 2 or as gripping as VISITING HOURS - the two other prominent hospital-based slasher flicks of the early 1980s - X-RAY is nevertheless a fast-moving and flab-free slice of unpretentious, trashy entertainment. Benton makes for a likeable lead (yes, the former Playboy centrefold does get topless) while her bizarrely incompetent supporting actors only add to the unusual atmosphere.
Already available on blu-ray in the US via Scream Factory, albeit on a region A encoded disc which pairs the film - somewhat oddly - with SCHIZOID, X-RAY makes its UK HD debut courtesy of our friends at 88 Films.
Clocking in at dead-on 89 minutes in length, the 1080p transfer here is not only uncut but very good indeed. Sharp, bright, crystal clear and benefitting from the use of an exceptionally clean print having been used, this 16x9 presentation - respecting the film's original 1.85:1 ratio - affords the film a degree of visual finesse that previous formats never revealed.
English 2.0 audio is a lossless Master Audio affair, and is as impressively clean as the excellent picture quality.
The region B disc opens to an animated main menu page which is wise to tantalise with the silhouetted image of Benton disrobing.
From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with an entertaining 20-minute interview with Davidson. Presented in HD, this finds the jovial filmmaker discussing how his career brought him to America and how he inadvertently got the gig of directing a horror film, after having established himself with soft-core comedies like LEMON POPSICLE. He speaks of how he got spooked out filming in a hospital at night, and how he'd never been a fan of the genre. Interestingly, Davidson has gone on to become a successful producer with hits like THE EXPENDABLES series of films under his belt.
A 15-minute interview with cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg follows. He speaks with a good memory for detail, enthusing over how he became involved with the project and the trials he ran into filming in the hospital on a budget.
Justin Kerswell is also on hand to deliver a lively, fluent and enjoyable audio commentary track. He reveals the link between SCHIZOID and X-RAY, point out the ties this film has to BLOODY BIRTHDAY - another 88 Films blu-ray release - and much more. The early 80s hysteria of video nasties is discussed; we learn a great deal about the cast, especially the lovely Ms Benton; segues are made to allow nods towards films as diverse as NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION, SUPERSTITION and FRIDAY THE 13TH.
88 Films' usual trailer reel is present and correct, offering 22 minutes of previews which take in the likes of PUPPET MASTER, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, DOLLMAN and TOURIST TRAP.
Finally, this set - number 9 in 88 Films' "Slasher Classics Collection" - comes with very attractive double-sided reversible cover art. The red blu-ray keepcase is a nice touch too.
X-RAY is a cheap, fun and sincere romp through slasher tropes. It looks great in HD, and stands up surprisingly well for a low-budget trash-fest from 34 years ago. 88 Films have furnished this enjoyable film with its best release to date.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|
|see main review|