"You have nothing to fear... until they operate"
While receiving a routine check-up at her local hospital, Sarah has her test results swapped and she kept in for observation. Here, she is then stalked by a maniac dressed as a doctor who is out to avenge a childhood Valentine's Day humiliation.
With the hospital setting from Halloween II and a Valentine’s Day revenge plot straight out of My Bloody Valentine, X-Ray has been on my ‘To Watch’ list for years now. Under its other title of Hospital Massacre, the promise of a medical massacre has had me desperate to see it for a long time. Made in 1982 during the golden age of the slasher film, I was always hopeful that I’d be looking another great slasher gem. Alas X-Ray is a sporadically-violent but grossly overrated slasher which abandons any sort of logic or sense of story from the opening moments and is content to plod along in its own little slasher bubble.
Clearly borrowing the medical setting from the previous year’s Halloween II and taking it a little bit further, X-Ray treads out a whole heap of blatant clichés which entertain at times, bore at others and generally frustrate during the rest. The glaring problem is that there is no real story keeping everything ticking over. Sarah goes in for her results, the killer swaps them around, and then the rest of the film is spent with Sarah desperately trying to convince everyone that she’s not ill whilst the mad doctor literally kills off every single person in the hospital. We know literally nothing about Sarah at the start of the film and only a little more by the end. There’s no one else to get behind or root for – characterisation is at zero. Ex-Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton is Sarah and you can bet the director made sure he got her stripping off for the role, partaking in an overlong, and extremely sinister, medical examination where the doctor (not the killer I might add, just a regular doctor doing his job) takes forever checking over her body.
Taking forever is a trademark of X-Ray though. Despite getting down to the no-frills business rather quickly when Sarah arrives at the hospital, it’s virtually impossible to engage with the story or invest in a character. What follows is virtually a series of non-characters being killed off by the killer in a hospital which hardly has any patients or staff. It’s not scary in the slightest, despite a number of false scares thrown around. Due to the lack of any character to get attached to save for Sarah (and even then she’s so thinly-sketched she might as well be another patient), you’ll not feel a connection to the film at all. What’s worse is that X-Ray is pretty silly, bordering on comedy at times. It’s unintentional humour but adds a thick layer of cheese to proceedings.
With a copious amount of red herrings introduced at the beginning, it’s pretty obvious who the killer is going to be and X-Ray doesn’t go for the subtle route. Close-ups of creepy janitors. Slobby, perverted patients peeking in on examinations. Fumigators with gas masks on. Sleazy interns. You name it, X-Ray presents a slew of male characters for us to wonder who the killer is. Only we know that from the start, X-Ray is nowhere near clever enough to pull the wool over our eyes and so the killer will inevitably be linked back to the prologue where the lead character spurns a wannabe Romeo, leaving him shattered and psychopathic. Again, the daft use of these red herrings would indicate more of a parody but the film continues to play it straight.
The kills are reasonably violent for 1982 though mostly gore-free, with strangulation via stethoscope, a syringe-in-the-chest moment and a token bath in acid all featuring prominently. The medically-themed kills are at least original enough to keep slasher fans entertained and the high body count (I counted ten) keeps things ticking over nicely enough. The problem is the pacing of the film means that you get little clusters of kills before it goes quiet for a while. The Omen-esque Latin-Gregorian choir music which plays during the kill scenes is a little off-putting but together with some of the surreal cinematography, including a smoke-filled floor which is being fumigated, the film has some sort of quasi-Italian feel to it. All it needed was a Goblin score and it would have been right at home in the midst of Fulci, Bava and co.
X-Ray contains no plot and no characters so you’ll find it hard to stay invested in it all the way through. With a messy approach full of silly comedy, a laughable script, incompetent acting and a general sense that no one really had a clue what they were attempting to make, X-Ray is one hospital appointment you’ll want to miss.
Also Known As: Hospital Massacre
Director(s): Boaz Davidson
Writer(s): Marc Behm (screenplay), Boaz Davidson (story)
Actor(s): Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, John Warner Williams, Den Surfes, Gloria Jean Morrison
Duration: 89 mins