The Sender (1982)

TheSender

Netflix in the UK is currently showing an obscure little horror film from 1982 called The Sender.  Directed by Roger Christian, the film tells the story of a young man taken to a mental hospital after trying to drown himself.   Whilst there, the doctors attempt to find out who the man is, why he tried to commit suicide and what role his strange mother has to play in his story.   Unlike many horror films from the period, this avoids the stalk and slash formula, opting for a mystery/thriller approach instead, but wrapped up in a packaging that is unmistakably horror.  The script is intelligent, the direction solid but unflashy, and the acting above-average for a horror film of the period.

These issues alone, along with its obscurity, would make the film worth seeking out while you can.  However, there is more of interest here to the horror fan than just a decent movie.  Indeed, it seems clear that this is a predecessor and inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street.  The horror element of the film is tied up in the fact that the young man at the centre of the narrative can “send” his thoughts and dreams to others around him, making them think and feel what he is thinking and feeling.  It’s telepathy, but almost in reverse.  It’s also Freddy Kreuger, but in reverse:  rather than entering other people’s dreams, he can make people enter his.   The whole feel of the film is very similar to Elm Street, from the invasion of dreams scenario to the eerie musical soundtrack which clearly bears similarities to the later film.  The “if I die before I wake” prayer even plays a prominent part here, too.   The connections are too many to be coincidental – and that’s before you take into account the even greater similarities between this film and the third in the Elm Street franchise.

Also of interest is that I have written a few times about the negative ways in which those with mental health conditions are portrayed in horror films.  Here, though, the portayals of patients are generally inoffensive – that’s not to say they are ideal, but for a film made thirty years ago, The Sender was clearly somewhat ahead of its time in this regard.  The young man at the centre of the story, for example, might unintentionally injure others thanks to his “sending” capabilities, and yet he is presented to us in a sympathetic way – he is shown to be a victim, not mass murderer who goes on the rampage.

All in all, this is a film that deserves to be better known, and quite why it isn’t is something of a mystery.  Even Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying it was one of his favourite horror films of the early 1980s.  Its great to see Netflix presenting it over here in the UK (there has never been a UK DVD release), in HD no less.  These films are not often permanent fixtures, and so grab it while you can.

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Mortuary (2005)

mortuary

The 2005 horror film Mortuary suffers from a single, if significant, flaw:  it was made.   The following review contains spoilers.  But spoilers are only a problem if you intend to watch the film in question.  Believe me, you don’t.

Quite what possessed Tobe Hooper, the man behind such classics as Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to make such an horrendous film is rather baffling.  This is a film, after all, in which the storyline is basically about a mother and her two children taking over a mortuary that suffers from an outbreak of black goo-like moss that turns people into zombie-like creatures.  I would give you a reason for the existence of the goo, but sadly the film doesn’t give us one.  I’d tell you why there’s a madman living in a tomb, but there’s not a reason for that either.  Nor is there a reason why rock salt “kills” the goo, but that’s kind of just left to our imagination (or perhaps Hooper had caught an episode of Supernatural at some point).  I’d give you reason for the film’s existence, but that’s not clear either.

What I’m trying to say here is that Mortuary is a pile of crap.  That’s not a description I often use in my reviews, but it’s very apt here.  And this comes from a guy who has recently watched more than his fair share of Elvis films over the last few months for a project I’m working on – in comparison, Kissin’ Cousins is Gone with the Wind.

What makes Mortuary slightly interesting (at least for this writer) is that it is one of two films from 2005 by horror maestros in which one of the teenagers at the heart of the narrative is gay.  The other film, Cursed by Wes Craven (hardly a classic, but better than this), makes more of a fuss about the gay issue than Hooper does here.  In the case of Mortuary a teenager announces to his friend that he’s gay, he says “that’s cool,” and it’s never mentioned again.  And that, in fact, is rather cool.   There is often a link between (homo)sexuality and horror, but it’s often implicit, and all too often links homosexuality with the monster at the heart of the film.  That’s not the case here, and the inclusion of a character who just happens to be gay in a teen horror film (well, I’m guessing it’s aimed at teens) is a welcome one, and it’s a shame it doesn’t happen more often.  Of course, the gay guy dies first – killed by a dead, hairy old man in briefs.  Don’t ask.

Horror films with gay characters normally end up being directed by David DeCoteau who, if you don’t know already, makes horror films in which attractive twenty-something males spend most of the film in their white boxers, writhing around in bed (alone).  In other words, he took the similar images from Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and made a career out of it.  DeCoteau’s films aren’t good.  In fact they appear to get worse as time goes on, but at least you know what to expect.  With a film directed by Tobe Hooper, one expects something that at least passes the time effectively.

Sadly the issues with Mortuary don’t end with the stupid plot.  The CGI effects are awful, and the pacing often makes the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a fast-moving action thriller.  The three teens at the heart of the narrative are at least likeable and slightly kooky, and the actors do well with what they are given to work with.  Sadly what they are given is a director who has lost the plot, and a script that should never have been filmed.

Mortuary was Hooper’s last film to be released for eight years.  Djinn (2013) was made in the United Arab Emirates and its release had been delayed since 2011.  Critics have not been kind to the movie – perhaps Hooper’s best days are far behind him.