17 Days ’til Halloween: X-Ray aka Hospital Massacre (1981)


I’m so caught up in gothic horror and “classic” cinema this year that I want to make sure I don’t skimp on the bloody slashers. There are quite a few good ones, but as they’re an extremely popular genre of horror it’s sometimes hard to find a quality slasher that folks might not have seen. X-RAY fits the bill.

Maybe it’s more popular and better known than I realize. X-RAY, usually titled HOSPITAL MASSACRE, was a common find in video stores when I was puppy, but it had one of the most unappealing video box covers in the horror section: a grainy black and white photo of a surgeon standing over a body on a gurney. The art I feature at the top of this post is a gussied up, more aesthetically pleasing version of the same image. Still, unless you have a deep seated fear of surgeons, it doesn’t do much to advertise the contents. Such a shame, really, because it turned me off to watching the video for years and it really is one of the more stylish, well-crafted, and well-acted slashers of the early eighties. The lead is a likable adult woman, to boot. She’s intelligent, self-sufficient and, oddly, professionally dressed (…until she’s not). Sure, she’s full breasted (as much as I can tell…not good at judging such things), but she’s not irrationally changing bras in from of the mirror or anything. That might turn some off, but for me it’s a welcome respite.

I probably shouldn’t dwell on the lack of stereotypically gendered female characters (though that’s awesome) because X-RAY has so much more to recommend. The cinematography (lighting, camera movements) and pacing (editing) is creative and effective. It’s one of the few straight-out slashers that competently builds suspense during its murder set-pieces, never feeling contrived or entirely cliched, while also not skimping on the gore (kind of). It also has something extra: deliberate, well executed weirdness. There are so many strange walk-on parts, random characters doing strange things, that I’m tempted to call it Lynchian. I hate doing that. A lot of movies have striking, eccentric characters for small parts (that’s what pays for the character actor’s bread and butter), but there is something absurdly unnerving about the extraneous characters in X-RAY that definitely make me think of Lynch. Of course this came out before BLUE VELVET, and it certainly doesn’t reference ERASERHEAD. I’d guess, rather, that the strange people walking around this movie, generally mucking up the works or getting in the way in what seems like a poorly run hospital, are inspired by Kafka. Yes…this is a Kafkaesque slasher movie. I should explain what that means for you young illiterate folk: “Kafkaesque” is what people said instead of “Lynchian” before 1992…

Postscript: I love the slasher in this one: truly a creepy performance without saying a word. He’s a different sort of character, but has quite a few subtle moments of body language reminiscent of Michael Meyer’s slight, curious, dog-like head tilt after murdering the baby sitter in HALLOWEEN. The killer in X-RAY, like everyone else in the film (as well as the film itself,) has an abundance of personality…


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One Response to 17 Days ’til Halloween: X-Ray aka Hospital Massacre (1981)

  1. There is some irony in this article, but I will leave it to you, after watching the film, to determine where…


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