Patrick (Richard Franklin / Australia, 1978):

A dilating pupil is rhymed in the glassy bulge of a bedpost, with the wall between them providing split-screen and oedipal baggage; seconds later, still before the opening credits, the titular youth (Robert Thompson) spoils mom's post-coital bathtub lounging with a heater tossed into the water. Next seen, he's vegetating in a clinic bed, immobilized by a scrambled cortex, spitting reflexes and unblinking peepers -- "the moment of death," extended as an experiment, head doctor Robert Helpmann tells Susan Penhaligon, the latest addition to the starched-uniform crew. She has problems of her own (impending divorce from hubby Rob Mullinar, namely), but that doesn't keep her from becoming reluctant mediator to the telekinetic surges still rattling inside Thompson's comatose body: first windows swung open but, soon, telepathically wrecked apartments, hands burned and willed toward high-voltage fuses. As with underappreciated horror films in America around the same time, this Aussie genre piece is much more interesting than the faux-British tastefulness of Peter Weir -- a spoof of Johnny Got His Gun, though only a shot of Helpmann ascending the stairs toward the camera or a close-up of a door knob are needed to peg Richard Franklin as a terrific Hitchcock student. Not so much Psycho, however, as Rebecca, dour matron Julia Blake as the presiding Mrs. Danvers, donning Mother Superior habits yet dispensing bleakness: "No God, no justice, no compassion... only fear." Franklin's framing and cutting maintain the utmost control, but in the end the narrative, like those of Stateside fellow Hitch-adulator De Palma, is about the heroine's resourcefulness fighting the male gaze, even as that gaze is attached to a literally stunted form of possession -- attempts to hold back female independence turned spastic, a frog's post-mortem reflexes. With Bruce Barry.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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