An above-average shocker from Down Under, Patrick employs the creepy premise of a seemingly comatose character using supernatural means to terrorize those around him. Specifically, Patrick (Robert Thompson) has been a resident in a special hospital for several years, ever since he murdered his mother and his lover. Patrick’s cynical caretaker, Doctor Roget (Robert Helpmann), refers to the inert patient as “160 pounds of limp meat hanging off a comatose brain,” but sensitive nurse Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) treats Patrick with compassion and respect. This being a horror movie, things don’t go well for her. Yet the plot, which also includes some romantic-triangle stuff involving Kathy’s estranged husband and her new would-be boyfriend, is of secondary importance, even though Everett De Roche’s script is logical, suspenseful, and tight. What makes Patrick exciting to watch is the way Aussie director Richard Franklin, who cut his teeth on episodic TV and raunchy comedy features, builds a sense of realism around fantastical events.
Franklin and his collaborators get things started with a good jolt, then take their time developing characters, locations, and mood before unleashing the heavy pyrotechnics. The filmmakers also lace the picture with unsettling details, all of which feel germane to the world they’ve created. A good example is the central location of the hospital where Patrick resides. Instead of using the predictable visuals of an antiseptic, institutional building, the filmmakers set the action inside a large Victorian house, complete with soaring gables and a wraparound porch. Juxtaposed against the welcoming décor of the building is the cold behavior of the doctor and his head nurse. This combination of seemingly disparate elements creates both specificity and the necessary quality of uneasiness—something feels fundamentally off even before violent things happen. Similarly, the psychic-phenomena stuff starts slowly and builds steadily, giving the viewer time to accept wild notions of telekinesis and the like. It also helps that Franklin and his collaborators spice the movie with grounded gross-out moments, such as the fate of an unfortunate frog used in a scientific demonstration.
Helpmann is the obvious standout among the cast, giving an urbane quality to the role of a healer hiding horrible tendencies, and Penhaligon acquits herself well as a damsel in distress. Still, much credit is due to Thompson, whose intense gaze makes the title character memorable even though he’s motionless and speechless. An unauthorized sequel, the Italian production Patrick Still Lives, was released in 1980, and a remake, again produced in Australia and again titled Patrick, hit theaters in 2013.