Josh Baker (Eric Roberts) is a comic book artist who on his way to work has often noticed an attractive woman (Janine Turner) on his route, though he's never done anything about this attraction - until this morning. He approaches her in the street and begins to chat her up, though she makes it clear she's not really interested, and is giving him the brush off when she suddenly takes an odd turn and collapses to the ground. Josh is shocked, but does his best to make her feel comfortable as the ambulance quickly arrives, only getting her first name - Cheryl - as she disappears...
And when I say disappears, she genuinely does vanish as if she'd never existed, leaving Josh with a puzzle to solve: what happened to Cheryl? Actually, we have the answer to that when he does not, for we see where she ends up, at a converted hospital for diabetic patients who have been kidnapped by a mad doctor (Eric Braeden) who wishes to experiment on them, to the point of their death. Interesting to see the mad scientist angle used as if it were still the nineteen-thirties, but such was the quirky world of writer and director Larry Cohen, in one of his final features as he only directed two films in the nineties.
He continued to churn out the scripts, certainly, but the horror genre was a lesser place without his determinedly offbeat view for such low budget fright flicks. Here The Ambulance was a mixture of things, from outright horror (the thought of getting ill, whisked away to hospital, then made even sicker by crazed medics was a potent one) to thriller to action (as expected, there was a chase or two through the streets of Cohen's native New York City) and even comedy, as a sense of humour shone through in many scenes, all of which a varied cast were only too pleased to put over with unexpected flair for what could have played a few midnight shows before being relegated to home video.
To see everyone committed to a work that would likely be dismissed by all but the cultists was cheering, and paid off in the entertainment stakes, with even Roberts proving himself a more than competent leading man, his opening sequence of apparent annoyance to someone he had just met developing into a far more civic minded, then downright heroic, investigation into what has happened to Cheryl (Turner was about to become famous on TV for Nothern Exposure, and then later notorious for her own brand of fundamentalist Christian yoga). For a while it seems as if new characters are being introduced every couple of minutes, including potential love interests for Josh, and truth be told it never really settles down.
But this busy nature operates as a way of keeping the audience on its toes, as Josh goes to the police only to be faced with frankly crazy cop James Earl Jones, who is unconvinced though as luck would have it he also meets one of his staff, Officer Sandra Malloy (Megan Gallagher, known to fans of cult TV as the harrassed wife in Milllennium). She tends to accept him more, though the "They won't believe me!" element of many a paranoid thriller is well to the fore and Cohen conjured up many scenes of his trademark eccentricity, most notably featuring the character Josh meets in hospital, Elias Zacharia, played by Red Buttons in one of his last great roles, and didn't he know it, giving it just the right amount of old geezer pep as an aged reporter who senses a big story when Josh tells him all. To say more would be to spoil the surprises, but with Josh setting his muggers on the ambulance drivers or the vehicle smashing up a nightclub, you knew you were in for no ordinary suspense movie, and that was all to the good. Music by Jay Chattaway (of many Star Trek episodes).
Talented American writer/director who often combines exploitation subject matter with philosophical/social concepts. Began working in TV in the 1960s, where he created popular sci-fi series The Invaders, before directing his first film, Bone (aka Dial Rat), in 1972. A pair of blaxploitation thrillers - Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem - followed, while 1974's horror favourite It's Alive! was a commercial hit that led to two sequels.