Like everyone, Valentine’s Day makes me think of two things, obsessive love and murderous jealousy. Cinematically speaking, at least. I believe there are one or two fringe movies out there that focus on the holiday without involving a body count, but no titles come to mind. The gold standard for this time of year is, of course, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, a movie so good it spawned a sonically ferocious indie band (My Bloody Valentine) and a 3D remake (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, BUT IN 3D). Instead of being obvious, though, I’m going to look at a lesser yet still raggedly entertaining V-Day film, Cannon Group’s X-RAY (1981).
Susan stops by the hospital to pick up some test results. Unfortunately, a lunatic in a surgical mask and a long-time fixation with her kills her doctor and switches her x-rays. One of the hospital’s three other doctors insists she be admitted so they can 1) run more tests, 2) not give her any details about her sudden life threatening illness, and 3) perform a lecherous examination. The hospital becomes stranger and stranger as Susan encounters free roaming drunks, aggressive nurses, fog filled hallways, and a chorus of deranged old women. Meanwhile, the love sick lunatic continues to bump off anyone who could help her leave the hospital. Could he really be Harold, the homicidal nerd she spurned on Valentine’s Day nineteen years ago? Signs point to yes.
X-RAY, aka HOSPITAL MASSACRE, aka HAROLD REALLY KNOWS HOW TO HOLD A GRUDGE, isn’t the most Valentine-y of Valentine’s Day horror movies. No one gets choked to death with handfuls of chalky heart shaped candy, no one is shot with arrows, no one gets their actual heart removed. There is a head in a Valentine’s Day cake box, which is always welcome, but the big connection to the holiday is with the killer’s motivation. The movie starts with ten year old Susan enjoying an electric train (the traditional toy of Valentine’s Day) with her young Leif Garrett looking friend Dave. Shy Harold leaves a Valentine on her doorstep and spies through the window as she opens it, crushed as she laughs when she reads his name. He expresses his frustrations by hanging Dave from a hat rack when she goes to the kitchen, and then stews silently for nineteen years. As far as a killer’s traumatic backstory goes, this has to be the most insignificant, even beating out PIECES’ mom-caught-me-with-a-pornographic-puzzle flipout. Yeah, it was rude, but Susan didn’t even know Harold was watching. HUGE overreaction on Harold’s part, in my opinion.
Since the identity of the killer is obvious from the beginning, the trick is to figure out which of the hospital staff or patients is the grown-up Harold. It’s fairly easy to figure out, especially once the suspect pool starts to thin out, but the movie throws more red herrings at you than SCREAM. No one in the hospital behaves like a normal human being. Everyone moves very slowly and deliberately, everyone leers menacingly. Even her ex-husband acts suspiciously, and he isn’t even at the hospital. He just sits around his apartment with their daughter, ignoring her phone calls and incessantly stabbing fruit with a pocket knife. If it wasn’t for her milquetoast boyfriend, I would think Susan’s mere presence somehow made people go nuts.
This is probably because she unwisely chooses Nightmare Hospital for her healthcare provider. Even without the killer, the place is a madhouse. For one thing, it’s one of those huge hospitals that seems to have a staff of only ten people. Also, none of the patients are there for any discernible reason. A drunk wanders the halls swigging from a bottle of booze, while accosting Susan at every opportunity. Susan’s roommates are three disapproving old women, one of whom is clearly a man in drag (never acknowledged). When Susan insists a killer is after her, the overbearing nurses strap her to a gurney. At one point she runs into a tiny room where three men in full traction are lined up side by side. They begin frantically moaning and waving their bandaged limbs as soon as they see her. As far as I can tell, none of this is played for comedy, just weirdness. Seriously, this place is only a couple of rungs above the vision-of-hell hospital in JACOB’S LADDER.
X-RAY was directed by Golan & Globus pal Boaz Davidson, who was admittedly unfamiliar with the horror genre. It shows. Technically, it’s not bad. The kills are varied and bloody, the atmosphere is unsettling, and some scenes deliver a good amount of suspense. It can be a bit off, though, hilariously so at times. Ridiculously over the top OMEN style theme music plays whenever Harold is in evil surgeon mode. One scene has Susan hiding behind a changing screen as the killer slowly walks past. It’s nicely cut and full of tension, except that there is more than a foot of open space between the screen and the floor, where Susan’s legs are painfully obvious. Lucky for her, Harold is apparently incapable of looking down. Another scene has him rushing towards his victim holding a white sheet extended in front of him. Visually arresting, but kind of impractical if you want to see where you are going.
It’s also funny that none of the doctors ask Susan any questions about symptoms, even though her fake x-ray makes it look like she has a boa constrictor living in her abdomen. Seems like that would at least be uncomfortable, but no one seems curious. They just quietly consult with each other, stare, and make plans to operate.
SPOILER ahead. It turns out grown up Harold is actually the friendly and handsome internist who tries to help Susan but keeps mysteriously disappearing. Not obvious at all, except that he is the only person not behaving like a potential killer. And that his name is Harry. Otherwise, total surprise. I would have loved if the killer turned out to be the wandering drunk, but there you go. There’s no mention of why he waited 19 years to avenge his broken heart. I guess he got distracted for a while.
So remember, when an awkward, emotionally fragile loner gives you a crudely drawn declaration of love, let him down easy. He might grow up, go to medical school, get a successful job at a hospital, wait for you to coincidentally visit the same hospital for routine test results, murder a dozen innocent, mostly unrelated people, and try to cut your heart out. It's all part of the game of love.