Back in 1961, Susan (Barbi Benton) was a little girl living with her parents and brother in their house, and one Valentine’s Day the kids were playing with their train set unaware they were being watched by a little boy: Harold, who had a crush on Susan. With that in mind, he had made her a card professing his love and left it on the doorstep for the object of his affection to discover, but as he spied on her he was horrified to see her treat the token of love with disdain, crumpling it up to drop it on the floor, utterly rejected. After that, she went into the kitchen and picked up a huge carving knife, brandishing it as she crept across the room – to the cake, which she cut a couple of slices from. But when she returned to the toy trains, she discovered her brother hanging from the hatstand!
What does that have to do with hospitals? That’s not entirely obvious, but what we do know nineteen years later is that Susan, now grown up and with a daughter of her own, needs a routine test there and after leaving the girl with her ex-husband, she is dropped off at the establishment by her boyfriend, thinking she won’t be long. Ah, but she reckoned without it being the creepiest hospital since… well, since Halloween II’s creepy hospital the same year, and whatever faults that film had at least it moved at a fair clip and didn’t come across as if its creators were jumping on a bandwagon that was already looking old hat, even if there was plenty of life to be squeezed out of it in years to come. Going under a selection of names, X-Ray (also known as Hospital Massacre) laid on the sinister atmosphere so thickly that the whole shebang resembled a spoof that somehow was taken seriously.
No surprise then that it was one of the opening salvos in the nineteen-eighties from Cannon Films, lacking their distinctive logo at the beginning but patently their product, with its opportunistic air well to the fore. For a start, there was only one star in the cast, and she was best known for being Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend in the previous decade, which inevitably meant he had coaxed her out of her clothes and in front of the camera for a photo shoot to be displayed prominently in his magazine, though by the time she had appeared in X-Ray she was staking out her claim as a country and western singer. When that didn’t make her a superstar in the field, she decided to prop up her celebrity with acting.
And this was her attempt at establishing herself in the movies, so of course there was a nude scene for her, which tied in with the unease about the medical profession running through the plot, though it was so designed to put every inch of her body onto film that you wondered if not only was Susan exploited by the menacing doctor examining her, but also by the Cannon group for putting her through a Cannon grope. Most of the rest of it was filled up with what many a slasher director – in this case Boaz Davidson, parachuted in at the last minute after the original director was fired the day before shooting began over a budget dispute – found was the cheapest thing in this genre, wandering about and plenty of it, and not just Barbi’s peregrinations either, as over half the cast got the wanderlust.
As you may have guessed, Harold has grown up into quite the hulking psychopath, obviously a grudge-bearer of ginormous proportions and sports a surgeon’s scrubs and mask so as to disguise himself from, er, it’s not too clear why he bothers with the concealment other than slasher villains were fond of their masks. He starts finding various methods of bumping folks off in deserted corridors, usually on level 9 which has been closed for fumigation, as Susan is told when she arrives there apparently by mistake, though actually because Harold is orchestrating her journey through the hospital by messing with the electronics, murdering people she’s supposed to see, and fixing her test results to ensure she sticks around. But since every man, and some of the women too, are threatening presences who loom out of the darkness and/or mist (mist?!) it seems Harold has competition for his creepitude. The fact is X-Ray was undistinguished once it really got going, which was to say plodded from acid bath to decapitation, blatantly made for the money rather than the art - and no matter what they say, art was possible in a slasher. But not here. Music by Arlon Ober.