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AICN HORROR talks with Mark Hartley director of PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS! Plus reviews of PATRICK (1978) and the remake!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to catch up with director Mark Hartley who directed the remake of the Australian coma-horror film PATRICK. Entitled PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS, this new version of the film is pretty similar to the classic version, with a few differences we get into in the interview below. Towards the bottom, I go into how the film stacks up against the original. But first, here’s what director Hartley had to say about PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Alright, hi Mark. So we are going to be talking about PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS today, is that correct?

MARK HARTLEY (MH): I think so.

BUG: Were you part of the whole process of remaking PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS or was that later on that you came upon the project?

MH: No, when I was on a documentary called NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and while we were still making that it seemed that every single film that has been rejected in America was getting a remake done on it One day just we were musing about what films would be right for a remake and PATRICK seemed pretty ideal. And we basically just pitched in our idea for it and the producers loved it and that was, that’s what started the ball rolling. It was all very accidental to tell you the truth.

BUG: Yeah, and Synapse is actually re-releasing a lot of the old Ozploitation films, PATRICK among them. Actually it’s coming out I believe the same week that the remake is going to be coming out. Was the coordinated in any way or was that just a happy coincidence?

MH: Not sure, but it’s a good thing the original is coming out and that people will get to be able to compare them and see what changes we’ve made.

BUG: Definitely, well I had a chance to watch both this weekend; both the original and the remake and I really did like them both. I think that it does kind of update it to a more modern kind of story but it also keeps a hold of a lot of the classic elements. What was the process of what you wanted to hold on and what you wanted to let go as far as the story was concerned?

MH: I think what we wanted to do was give it a very different sensibility; a very different atmosphere and obviously wanted it to be, a lot more old fashioned in a way. I mean we did update it but in the same way we kind of made a film that is a lot more old school and old fashioned than the original. We wanted it to be a gothic chiller, which is yet is a kind films that are not really made anymore. And we decided whether we didn’t want it to be sent in today’s date so we could have technology creep into the story as well. This was because we liked the idea that the effects and technology has made privacy more difficult today.

I always thought it was an important thing. When we were watching the original we knew that there were certain key things and key moments that we had to include because we did want to appease fans of the original. We were fans of the original as well. It was a very landmark film when I was a kid growing up to see PATRICK. It had been made in my hometown and it was, you now it was like an American film. It was like watching the films that I love that are American but have been made in Australia and that was kind of the great thing about it when I was a kid.

BUG: Very cool. Well how did you assemble this cast? It’s a really great cast, with Charles Dance, Rachel Griffith, Sharni Vinson—how did each of them become involved in this film?

MH: We always wanted to get some kind of prestige cast for this film. And so when we wrote the screenplay we really did overwrite it, we wanted it to read like it was a smart dialog-driven story so we could attract a decent cast. And thankfully Charles, you know, responded to it, and Rachel had been a fan of the original when she was a kid so I think that was part of the appeal for her also in playing Julia Blake’s role. Sharni, I think Sharni was just an actress who like the script and sent in an audition and almost at the same time as we originally started casting this film, YOU’RE NEXT had played Toronto had played Midnight Madness and it made huge buzz of that film so casting Sharni seemed like a complete no-brainer to reach a link to the sales agent for this film.

BUG: Speaking of Dance, he’s such a distinguished gentleman sort, in a diabolical way. Was it tough to get Charles Dance to eat the frog?

MH: It wasn’t tough to get Charles to do it. He was great. He was up for anything. He was sitting on the floor in the kitchen covered in frog slime and I kept thinking of this horrible taste he must have had in his mouth. There were some moments when I did think surely this actor is above this. But no, Charles was really great and it was amazing coming to work each day and hearing him put his life into the character that we scripted.

BUG: Very cool. Well, I have to ask; was there at any point when you considering giving the actor who played Patrick a unibrow like Patrick in the first one?

MH: Well I think if, well have you’ve watched both films I think you can see that we did step into a slightly different direction in terms of casting Patrick. In the original film, I couldn’t understand how Kathy could fall in love with Patrick because he was a very weird looking guy. And we said we really want to have Patrick to be, almost like a wax effigy of a person. At casting brief we wanted someone who was like John Phillip Law in BARBARELLA and Jackson (Gallagher) came in and you know he was good looking but he also had something a little bit strange behind the eyes which I really liked as well. And, so he was, he was right into it too. All the shock therapy stuff you see in the film—none of that is being enhanced with any visual work or anything at all, he’s doing all that work himself on screen so he really threw himself into the role.

BUG: There is a little bit of CGI in here, there are some ghostly images and things like that.

MH: That’s that part that takes most of the flack in the film and it’s kind of strange because we wanted everything to look a little bit non-real. We wanted it to look surreal. It’s all actually intentional; it’s all a part of the style of the film. Some people haven’t embraced that element as much as others.

BUG: I think that it does definitely add a new element to the film and it makes it different enough so that it isn’t a carbon copy of the original or anything like that.

MH: We wanted the first half of the film, obviously people know what Patrick is, but for people who didn’t have a clue what Patrick was and have stumbled into this film, we actually wrote the first of the film to play like an old fashioned haunted house movie and then sort of reveal Patrick almost halfway through. So I think that’s part of the reason why there are those ghostly images was that I want it to be the very old fashioned horror films that I saw when I was a kid, and back in those days, no one was apologetic of the jump-scares. That is the reason you went and saw these films. You didn’t go to these films to see people get their eyes cut out with scalpels, you went because you wanted those old fashioned jump-scares. So we certainly threw in every single one we could think of.

BUG: What kind of direction you give to an actor playing a coma patient?

MH: Don’t blink. [laughs]

Jackson was really interesting to me thinking that it was all about being very intense and keeping that intensity boiling throughout all the time he was lying on that bad and hopefully you do get a sense of that. It’s really interesting; the first thing we shot on the film was Jackson murdering his mother in that bath. So that was day one on the set. And that was a pretty intense scene for everyone to throw themselves into because the actress really was getting pushed out of the water and she really was getting close to drowning. And thankfully those actors were so wonderful and lovely doing that scene and that put the whole crew at ease about doing that scene. Everything after that was so easy. I think it was a good way to start the film.

BUG: Well I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. Is there anything you’re working on now or coming up that we can look forward to seeing from you?

MH: We just finished shooting my final documentary in my documentary films which are about Cannon films. It’s called the ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS.

BUG: Nice, nice. Ok well thank you so much for talking with me today and have a great day.

MH: Thanks a lot.

BUG: PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS is available now on DVD, On Demand, and digital download. Below the trailer are my review of both PATRICK (1978) and the remake PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS!

Retro-review: Available on DVD from Synapse!

PATRICK (1978)

Directed by Richard Franklin
Written by Everett De Roche
Starring Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, Rod Mullinar, Bruce Barry, Julia Blake, Helen Hemingway, María Mercedes, Carole-Ann Aylett, and Robert Thompson as Patrick!
Available now on DVD, On Demand, and digital download!!


Directed by Mark Hartley
Written by Justin King
Starring Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths, Peta Sergeant, Damon Gameau, Martin Crewes, Eliza Taylor, Simone Buchanan, and Jackson Gallagher as Patrick!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There’s no denying it. Coma people are freaky as hell. There haven’t been a lot of coma horror films, but the ones that have been made have been pretty damn creepy. PATRICK is the king of coma horror in that it both exemplifies the mystery of the coma and also takes it into perverse avenues uncomfortable for most.

I believe I saw the original PATRICK at a very young age. The film stuck with me, not only because of the boobs and sex (which at the time was something I saw little of), but because of the grimy feeling I felt upon watching it. Numerous scenes hinge on that voyeuristically perverse as a man lays helpless on a table while a woman who is set to care for him fantasizes about having sex with him, falls in love, and even feels his penis under the sheets and is caught by her superior. The voyeurism angle is also addressed in Patrick’s origin flashback as he falls into a coma after having witnessed his mother and a man having sex. Again, the act of seeing a sex act is punished.

It doesn’t help that the original PATRICK is filmed as grimy and gritty as they come. Nothing looks sterile. The people are relatively odd looking and Patrick himself (played creepily by Robert Thompson) looks like he’s the bastard offspring of Frida Kahlo and Sesame Street’s Bert with that massively under groomed unibrow he’s got going on. It’s great that the doctor has kept his muscles alive through electro-shock, but would it have killed them to do a little brow-scaping every now and again? Still the look of the bushy eyebrows above Thompson’s piercing eyes is the stuff of sheer nightmare and the heart of most of the scares of the film.

The story deals with a lot of taboos, which also makes it all the more effective in the scares and creep out department. New nurse Kathy (Susan Penhaligon) is fascinated by the comatose patient who communicates with her via spitting (another gritty aspect of the film). After developing a bond with him and having the rest of her life fall apart, she becomes somewhat obsessed with Patrick, crossing many boundaries with the patient. But just when you’re feeling a bit sorry for Patrick, the narrative does a switcheroo and Patrick’s true obsessive colors begin to show. Morally, this never really set right with me as Nurse Kathy seems to have made advances toward Patrick for most of the first half of the movie. Is it really a wonder that the psychokinetic comatose boy falls for her when she’s the only person to reach out to him in a caring manner? And when this grown man, who never really developed properly as he went into the coma as a child, lashes out in a childish manner, is it really that surprising—especially when he’s been tortured by a sadistic doctor for years and years? It almost feels like halfway through the film, the filmmakers remembered that they had to make Patrick a villain, but at this point he’s been the victim and is only lashing out as a reaction to a woman who all of a sudden shows interest in another man. Sympathetic villain or no, this is not a by the books, uncomplicated little film.

The remake does a lot of things right. It almost shot for shot/line for line remakes certain key and iconic scenes from the original, yet adds a nicely gothic and mysterious tone to it. Had I not seen the original, I may have believed this was more of a ghost story a la THE ORPHANAGE than a story about a psychokinetic coma patient with obsession issues. Much of the first half relies on dark hallways, flickering lights, and moody atmosphere to imbue a sense of danger.

Still, the perversion angle is there. Patrick is caught peeping on his mom and kills her before falling into a coma, but here he seems to be a bit older than in the original. Again, Nurse Kathy (this time played by YOU’RE NEXT’s Sharni Vinson) is attracted to Patrick, fantasizing about him and caught feeling his well chiseled chest muscles by her superior, though the perversion is slightly cleaner since this is a much cleaner time, I guess. Still, it’s interesting that the line “Patrick needs his hand job.” is left in, despite the fact that Kathy’s hand never really goes near his nethers in this one.

To the remake’s benefit, the filmmakers have gathered a fantastic cast. Vinson shows the same kind of spunk and likability here as she did in YOU’RE NEXT and this film benefits from that as it is easier to sympathize with her since she is so likable, despite the fact that she is showing some pretty perverse desires here. GAME OF THRONES Charles Dance is regal and cold as Dr. Roget; his presence always is welcome in any movie. And Rachel Griffiths plays the head nurse with a Nurse Ratched like chill, yet adds enough shady moves to make you wonder what kind of shenanigans she’s up to.

The weakness in the remake is in the choice of the titular character of Patrick. I understand what director Mark Hartley was going for in the remake by choosing the Ashton Kutcher-esque actor Jackson Gallagher and going for a more good-looking model type. In order to attract Nurse Kathy, one would have to be appealing to the eye. This is a logical decision, but it ends up killing what made the first film so effective in the first place. It’s the psycho eyes of Patrick that is the central spooky aspect of the original. Take that out and you take out an integral scare.

In the end, should this film have been remade?

Probably not.

But director Mark Hartley does a decent job of conveying an old school haunted house vibe throughout the entire film. The overly CG-ed latter half does distract quite a bit from the gothic charm established in the first portion of the film, but in terms of perverse themes, the remake does a better job than I would have thought it would at retaining the creep factor. In the end, though, I prefer the grimy original which left me with a feeling of utter unwash after viewing. This newer version is too clean and good looking for my tastes, but the cast is phenomenal and the mood is right. Still, if they went toe to toe, both have a lot of same scenes of ooky goodness (especially the frog eating scene which is in both), but the original wins out because of those creepy eyes that the remake just failed to capture.

And finally…here’s something I didn’t know. An unofficial sequel to PATRICK called PATRICK STILL LIVES was made in 1980 in Italy and by the looks of it, it was pretty awful. Still, while we’re on the topic of PATRICK, we might as well show the trailer for the sequel. Hopefully, one of these days I’ll get to check it out. Beware, there be boobies and 70’s bush in this here trailer!

See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be an Uptown 6 Films feature film), Zenescope’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13, UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES, and the critically acclaimed THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark wrote/provided art for a chapter in Black Mask Studios’ OCCUPY COMICS. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

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