A young man (Zeljko Ivanek) wakes up in the forest, by the roadside, and wanders to the nearby lake where families are enjoying the water and sunshine, then fills his jacket with rocks and proceeds to walk straight in, causing fear and commotion on the shore. He is rescued and escorted to the nearest mental hospital, where he refuses to speak, leaving the staff forced to give him the moniker John Doe. One doctor, Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold), is assigned to his intriguing case and manages to get him to speak, though concrete answers are unforthcoming for the man cannot remember anything about himself, or if he can he is simply not sharing. But he is concealing something: an incredible power.
Though it looked and sounded like an American film, and some of it was shot in Georgia in the Southern States, The Sender was in fact a British production, made to look like something from across the Pond to better its chances internationally for genre movies from this part of the world had lost their allure significantly since the glory days of Hammer and their rivals; Hellraiser faced the same problems this decade, and that was even more obviously made in England with American aspects bolted on. It did fairly well for what it was, then fell out of the collective memory sharply, though in its native United Kingdom it did build an interest from those who stumbled across its regular late night television showings.
Despite that, its profile was never high, as most of those who caught its broadcast would forget what it was called and merely remember the odd, freaky sequence that peppered the storyline. This was one of those horrors that straddled the nineteen-seventies curiosity about psychic powers such as Carrie or The Fury, and the eighties shockers that featured a more surreal landscape for their terrors as dreams were invaded and indeed did the invading, Dreamscape or A Nightmare On Elm Street and its follow-ups for instance. As far as that went, these efforts tended to stand or fall on the quality of their setpieces, and if they were bizarre enough they would succeed in making a solid, strong reputation for themselves.
Or at least be part of the age-old "What was the movie where...?" conversations, which was where The Sender entered into things. John Doe (we don't find out his real name) may be cagey about revealing much about himself, but Gail suspects he may be cursed with some supernatural ability when she sees him break into her house the next night, only to not only disappear but when she telephones the hospital she is told that he has been there all along. Naturally, her boss Dr Denman (Paul Freeman) is sceptical and believes she is getting too close to her patient, but she is proven correct: the sender is transmitting his dreams to other people in a wide radius, and to make matters worse they are causing him to hallucinate in waking life as well, leaving a lot of people very scared and confused.
As if that were not enough, his mother Jerolyn (Shirley Knight, an actress as prolific as her screen son would be) shows up and tells Gail that he is dangerous and she better be careful, all those thinly veiled warnings that set the scene for more mayhem, though when Gail tries to get others to listen to Jerolyn she is never around when she is needed. In case you needed any prompting, you'll have realised what we had in Thomas Baum's script was essentially Psycho with a psychic, and Roger Christian, here directing his first feature after a career in art design, capitalised on that with some truly striking imagery. If you think, well, they're only projected dreams and even if they were nightmares what lasting harm could they do? Then be aware that the sender can put you into a coma through blind terror if he's not careful, and as he cannot control his powers then a solution must be found, drastically. With such visuals as Gail's bedroom filled with rats or the piece de resistance, the alarming effects of electroshock therapy on John Doe that sends everyone around the bend, this may have been stronger on the big effects than it was on plot, but it remains an undiscovered gem for many horror fans. Music by Trevor Jones (also neatly done).