Director Mark Hartley Says Patrick Is "A Love Story With a Body Count"

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Aussie Director Mark Hartley saw the 1978 hospital horror Patrick when he was a kid. “When I was a teenager I realized the director [Richard Franklin] had gone to my high school and I asked him back and forged a relationship.” Years later, Hartley developed directing projects with a unique interest in the history of Australian cinema. His last feature doc Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozsploitation put him face-to-face with the lion’s share of directors from the Golden Age of Australian Cinema. His next film, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is premiering in Australia in July with hopes of a Toronto premier in the fall. With roots this deep, it seems impossible to think any director could be more qualified to adapt one of that film industries’ lynchpins of international attention: the oft-imported horror about a lonely coma patient with telekinetic powers: Patrick.

Hartley was inspired by the “central premise of a man with unlimited powers but limited ambition.” The comatose Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) lives bedridden in a secluded, private hospital, and he’s been there so long he’s regarded as another vegetable with a bedpan. Then Kathy arrives. Kathy (Sharni Vinson) regards Patrick as more than a vegetable and defends him when it seems the head of the hospital, Dr. Roget (Charles Dance), has let his experiments on Patrick grow destructive.

Hartley’s adaptation is “a modern take but a throwback. I felt the original lacked atmosphere. Franklin had arguments with the DP about style and we wanted this one to be a throwback chiller with haunted houses and basement where things go bump.” Hartley used the Spanish film The Orphanage as a reference: the looming shadows and dangerous empty spaces the two movies have in common stand in evidence. For Patrick, the haunted house is like an echo of the half-inhabited body of its master—a bedridden teen who runs the place when his doctor’s not looking.

While Patrick’s growing telekinetic prowess is a big part of the second and third act frights in this flick, one thing Hartley insists is that he never saw the half-dead Patrick as undead or zombie-like. “We thought Patrick was alive, never been dead, just in a coma that had somehow developed other senses. He was alive in different ways to the other [coma patients].” As such there was less theoretical stuff to negotiate: in the 1978 version, the character here played by Rachel Griffiths (HBO’s Six Feet Under), expresses a particularly pointed opinion about the ability of medicine to prolong death instead of life. Yet, that wasn’t the facet of Patrick that intrigued these movie re-animators.

“From the very start, Patrick has to be a love story with a body count.” The root of Patrick’s interest in Kathy is to bring her to his side and their perverted love story is awash in things Patrick “does to kindle a spark of love between Kathy and himself. He doesn’t kill people willy-nilly it’s about trying to get Kathy to fall in love with him. So he’s romantically evil.”

Harley said focus groups showed the film’s reception was divided in terms of gender. “Men said “Patrick is evil” and women said, “Patrick is misunderstood.” Something about him is appealing: women could identify with Kathy’s relationship with Patrick, whether romantic or motherly.”

It just goes to show there are few things more alluring than a man on his back.

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