Sunday, March 17, 2019

Barbi Benton, Scream Queen

Be My Valentine, Or Else...
(1982, Rated R and, apparently, banned in West Germany, but I have no idea why).

 An edited version of this movie was on Comet last night, under the title X-Ray, so I dug this 2000s-era blog out of the archives, since it's no longer on the Internet in its original form.

Also known as X-Ray, Ward 13, and, on the lurid video box that I picked up, Hospital Massacre, this film does tangentially refer to Valentine's Day, but not with as much emphasis as that more well-known seasonal slasher, My Bloody Valentine. It does, however, share the obvious something-nasty-in-a-box scene, and the fact that it's not a heart does show a teensy bit of originality. But don't get your hopes up.

We didn't have those lives-of-the-celebrities reality shows in the '80s (thank goodness), but it's almost certain that star Barbi Benton would have been offered one. I remember the days when she lived with Hugh Hefner, and he was wayyyyy too old for her. That was thirty years ago. Yes, he's been icky for a long time. (NOTE: This was originally published during the 2005-2010 run of The Girls Next Door, a reality show about the elderly Hefner’s multiple girlfriends living together in a mansion).

At any rate: Benton is largely forgotten today, but she was once so ubiquitous, she appeared eight times on Fantasy Island, as eight different characters. Her movie career (starting out in a German comedy called The Naughty Cheerleader) never really took off, but here she is, in a starring role where she is, yelling at nurses who don't believe she's witnessed a murder, and, probably most importantly to the producers, taking off her shirt.

In flashback, a little girl laughs at another kid's valentine, an act which is going to haunt her for the rest of her life, especially after he hangs her ... playmate? Brother? Whatever. Years later, divorced mom Susan (Benton) stops at the hospital to pick up the results of a routine physical, her boyfriend waiting outside with the car running. Behind the scenes, her doctor is killed and her tests altered, so she's kept at the hospital more or less against her will, because she seems so direly, and mysteriously, ill.

Between killings (which, in classic slasher style, have no M.O. whatsoever), Susan gets shuttled around between various oddly dark hospital rooms (I can testify that we did, in fact, have electricity in 1982), and meets a personable young doctor named Harry. Her psycho childhood admirer was named Harold, so this is either a dead giveaway at the 23-minute mark or a not-even-trying red herring, and it's eye-rolling either way.

Eventually it becomes clear that the masked man is killing all these people just to falsify her medical records and keep her there for unnecessary treatments. Since our protagonist, despite varying degrees of impatience, is largely left to her own devices for much of the movie, this seems like an oblique strategy even by '80s standards. The filmmakers seem to be going for a mood of low-brow Kafkaesque, and I guess there's worse things. The dream-like "death by sheet" scene, for example, is so bizarre that I don't know how the victim even knew she was being threatened, although she started screaming the moment she saw a guy down the hall billowing a sheet behind him. But overall it does drag on, watching people wait for a doctor to get back to them.

In selecting this film, I was really hoping for a dated slasher laugh riot along the lines of New Year's Evil, but really, this film mainly exists to showcase Benton's famous chest. On that note, a tip to the ladies: if a doctor makes you take off your clothes and sit topless while he checks your blood pressure and examines your FEET, you're in creepsville.

Really, my favorite part of the movie is the fact that everyone comes into the hospital from the street level, and when the desk attendant refers them to the 8th floor, they immediately turn and go down a flight of steps. Not much of a recommendation, I admit, but it did amuse me.

While this isn't available on DVD, and hence not on Netflix, don't worry: you're not missing anything. (UPDATE: Actually, you can now get this from Shout! Factory, as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo double feature with Schizoid! The world is such a mess, and we are simultaneously in a very peculiar and specialized Golden Era. I guess we should take what we can get).

Image result for hospital massacre