The slasher boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s produced some terrific little horror movies, not all confined to the major franchises like Friday The 13th and Halloween. The Prowler (released in the UK as Rosemary's Killer) is a prime example of a routine campus teenkill movie that's fun, well mounted and surprising despite the (by that point) hackneyed central idea. Inevitably, of course, there were some extremely poor slasher films made at the same time: films by people who didn't have any abilities as film-makers but who didn't let that stop them churning them out. Even someone like David Hess, who you'd think would have picked up some tips from Wes Craven, came up with an absolute stinker of a slasher movie in To All A Goodnight.
The very best things you can probably say about Hospital Massacre is that the Arlon Ober score has touches of Harry Manfredini's Friday The 13th music (in fact, both of them worked on the arty porn film Through The Looking Glass) and the title at least does what it says on the tin. That's it for the positives. This is honestly one of the most monumentally stupid films you'll ever clap eyes on: an unstoppable tidal wave of imbecilic plot twists that make absolutely not a scrap of sense. Cretinous, moronic and boneheaded don't even begin to describe the cosmic levels of straight-faced idiocy, even by the shaky standards of slasher B-movies that had no interest in a story that might hold together or characters that behaved even slightly plausibly.
You'd think it was written by a 5-year-old whose sole experience of a hospital was a visit to Casualty when he'd sustained head injuries after being hit several times round the back of the skull with a particularly sturdy piece of two-by-four, but incredibly the script is credited by Marc Behm: someone who should know their way around story and character - but no. Susan Jeremy (Barbi Benton, who's in the movie because she used to be in Playboy and was once one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends) nips into the local hospital to pick up some test results. But she gets stuck in the lift, her doctor has disappeared (lured onto the deserted ninth floor and then murdered and left in a cupboard), and her X-rays show something serious enough for the handy Dr Saxon (John Warner Williams, who couldn't be more shifty and untrustworthy if he was carrying an axe) to demand more tests, including getting her to strip to her knickers so he can take her blood pressure. Who's killing them off one by one? Could it have anything to do with the opening sequence in which young Susan laughs at young Harold's Valentine card?
Well, d'uh. It's a bit pointless trying to wring suspense from "who's the mad killer" when you've gone to all the trouble of including Harold in the opening flashback and then having "Harry" introduce himself to her by name. And it's a stretch to accept that anyone's going to butcher eight or nine innocent people just because he was jilted in a little girl's affections nearly two decades ago. Still: why did no-one simply page the missing Dr Jacobs (or any of the subsequent victims) over the hospital's tannoy system? Why did the boyfriend sit outside in the car for two hours? Why does the sinister Dr Saxon's consulting room have a light positioned exactly to throw crisp shadows of disrobing patients onto the modesty screen? Is it a hospital or an asylum, given the number of shrieking loons on the ward? Isn't it a massively convenient coincidence that Susan just happens to have a routine appointment on Valentine's Day, on the same day that the ninth floor is closed for fumigation? Most annoying of all, why does no-one turn the bloody lights on? Staff, patients and psychotic serial murderer alike all stumble around the dimly lit corridors, wards and stairwells in the middle of the night, not once thinking to hit the light switch so they can actually see through the murk?
Hospital Massacre got a UK cinema release under the international title X-Ray, and came out on a precert VHS as well, but there's been no DVD release (Amazon at least have only the American tape on their listings, and that's "currently unavailable"). On one level, that's no great loss because it is undiluted rubbish - the plot demands that Barbi Benton has to hide on no less than three occasions but she then has to either knock something over or drop something so obviously that a blind man on a galloping horse could find her - but on another level, as something of a fan of dumbo slasher movies, I kind of wish these things were more widely available. But not this one: it genuinely feels as if they turd-picked all the worst aspects from a dozen other slashers and mashed them together in one breathtakingly stupid movie. It wasn't worth doing, and it really isn't worth watching.