Friday, July 18, 2003

The Sender (1982)

Directed by Roger Christian
Starring Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Paul Freeman, Shirley Knight, Al Matthews, Sean Hewitt
It’s weird to see a movie you saw on video or cable a really, really long time ago and suddenly distant memories begin returning. My parents saw this movie ages ago and I remembered three things: the premise, about a young guy who can telepathically transmit his dreams and thoughts; a shot of the young guy deliberately walking into a lake at the beginning of the movie, trying to drown himself Virginia Woolf-style in front of a bunch of people (the scene happens, the shot I was imagining turns out to have been a product of my imagination); and a not-very-good chase between the protagonist doctor lady and a pickup trick with no driver. This was probably one of the first horror movies I ever saw, which makes these moments especially interesting.
As for the movie itself, it’s okay but doesn’t quite live up to its own premise. One problem is a matter of focus. The filmmakers seem to have decided that it wasn’t enough to concentrate on a guy who can broadcast his thoughts and dreams, he also needed to have been told he was a messiah ever since he was a child; and since that notion isn’t really ever explored, they also tossed in the ghostly apparition of his dead mother to haunt the young fellow. So the movie’s plot is a little overstuffed. But Shirley Knight as the mom is great, looking extremely creepy merely by being placid.
This is also the only other movie I can think of to feature Paul Freeman, aka Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The single best scene in the movie is an interlude in which they give the young guy electroshock treatment, thinking it’ll solve all his problems. Everyone’s going about their business until the switch is flipped, at which point all hell beautifully breaks loose. Everyone moves into slow-motion, one nurse starts screaming, everyone starts floating around or being propelled backwards as from an explosion, one guy knocks into a tray seemingly filled with green liquid, and another guy flips backwards through a big plate-glass window. It’s a beautifully choreographed scene that rivals anything DePalma’s ever done in slo-mo. There’s also a good scene in which a bunch of bathroom mirrors start cracking and bleeding.
But a lot of the rest of the movie is only okay. And at the end, they just let the guy go about his business! As if the military wouldn’t be sweeping him up immediately and vivisecting him ten minutes later.

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