Be my Valentine….or else! A retrospective look at X-Ray
Isn’t Valentine’s day wonderful? It’s the time of year where romance is in the air and couples feel that little bit closer to each other. It’s not all hearts and roses though in the world of the slasher film. It’s the time of year that seems to push a seemingly normal person to commit horrible acts all in the name of love.
X-ray, also known as Hospital Massacre starts innocuously enough on Valentine’s day 1961 as two kids, a girl named Susan and her friend who we can only assume is her boyfriend. As they are playing innocently with their toy train set, they are surrounded by heart shaped candy boxes and the kids are being watched jealously by another kid who we find out to be named Harold. When Harold lays a love letter on the porch he watches as Susan and the other boy make fun of the letter from Harold. It would seem Harold is a loser and a wierdo which we find out to be the case in less than a minute afterwards. When Susan goes into the kitchen to fetch a piece of Valentine’s cake (what? Cake for valentine’s day and not candy?) she comes back only to find the other boy hanged by a necktie to the coatrack. As Susan turns around she sees Harold’s grinning face at the window.
It is now almost twenty years since this set up scene (and also Valentine’s Day to boot) and Susan has now grown up to be ex Playboy playmate Barbi Benton. She has a child and an ex-husband and also a new boyfriend. She also has had medical tests (minor tests due to health insurance for a new job but more on this later) which she needs to see her doctor about for the results. When Susan is driven to the hospital by her new beau he agrees to wait out in the car while Susan quickly goes in for her test results. It is here that we quickly realise that our suspension of disbelief will be tested. The lifts don’t work, the crazy patients walk around the hospital carrying sloppy Joe hamburgers and bottles of cheap hooch and the ninth floor is being fumigated. Not to mention a killer is now stalking the hallways and despatching doctors, fumigators and anyone else who he crosses paths with and no amount of screaming from these victims even generates a response.
As Susan is waiting for her medical test results the killer switches the x rays and the doctor starts to act strangely when seeing them. One of the doctors promptly advise her that she needs to have a medical examination (again more on this later). She is then put in a room to wait for the blood tests to come back and given no indication how long they will take. During this time the killer strikes multiple times to ensure that Susan is kept in the hospital for as long as possible. During all of this it would seem that the boyfriend has fallen asleep in the car waiting for Susan and now that he has woken up (over 2 hours since she went in no less. Is he suffering from narcolepsy?) the new boyfriend goes into the hospital to see what could be taking so long. Inside, the doctor refuses to let Susan leave with no explanation and through some unbelievably strange set of circumstances the new boyfriend ends up on the floor that is being fumigated where the killer dispatches him with a medical cranium saw. It is here that the finale is set up as Susan is then terrorised for the duration of the film by the surgeon masked killer.
If I sound so critical of the film it is only due to the fact that it is so unbelievable in its nature that you really need to take a medically prescribed chill pill and not take it too seriously. If you go in expecting a thrilling scary slasher film then these moments of implausibility will really frustrate the general audience but for the true slasher diehard fans there is enough to make this one, however off the wall, an enjoyable entry in the genre. One of the scenes that seem most memorable to its fans and critics alike is its sheer refusal to treat the medical process of the hospital seriously. The doctors give no explanation and they almost seem creepy in their “I know something you don’t” type of attitude which would never happen in a real hospital. This results in one of the funniest examination scenes ever put on film where the heroin is told to disrobe (behind a curtain lit from behind so that you can see her naked shadow no less) and she is given a completely generic check-up. The doctor plays with her hair, checks her blood pressure and takes a blood sample while she is sitting naked in full view of the glass window on the door where one of the patients is peeping. There really is no need to have her naked and it just seems like they needed the tiniest of excuses to have a scene where they show Barbi Benton’s assets.
All that said and done, I enjoy X-Ray a lot. There are some genuinely funny scenes (intentional or not? Who cares) including one where Susan runs into one of the rooms in the ward to look for help and she stumbles on a room with three people completely covered head to toe in bandages and harnessed to the ceiling.
So is it a seasonal slasher or not?
Filmed at the height of the slasher boom, it wasn’t enough to just have a mad stalker terrorising people for the duration of the film. All of the slasher films at this time had to have a seasonal slant with Halloween and Friday the 13th setting the trend for the many imitators to follow. This one was no different and the working title of “Be my Valentine…..or else!” would have played directly into that same marketing gimmick as all the rest. The Valentine theme really doesn’t have much effect though as the only references are throwaway lines about it being Valentine’s Day and the fact that a characters severed head is found in a heart shaped cake box are almost coincidental. The real hook for this one is the hospital setting so it benefits the movie to have the name change to exploit the medical setting. It also stands to reason that about the same time as this was being filmed, George Mihalka had just been putting the finishing touches to My Bloody Valentine which would be distributed by Paramount. This must have made the makers second guess the title they had chosen and they decided to go with the logical title to make this one stand out from the slasher pack.
Another unique selling point for me is the casting of Playboy’s Barbi Benton as the final girl. Most slasher heroines are socially awkward, sexually inexperienced and have been pushed to defend themselves whereas Barbi is a complete flip of the coin. She not only has a child but also an ex husband and a new boyfriend. She comes across as a successful business woman (we find out she has gotten a job promotion which is why the tests are needed for insurance purposes) and she also seems to be able to fight her own corner. Barbi never seems to be in the same vulnerable place as the likes of Laurie Strode in Halloween and she is quick to pick up a steel pipe to hit her assailant over the head or douse the killer in kerosene for the flaming finale so it’s worth seeing for the complete disregard for the traditional rules set up in other slashers.
This film has been released by Shout! Factory in the US on BluRay as part of a double bill with Schizo and in the UK by 88 films as part of their slasher collection so if you can find it cheap enough I would recommend giving it a whirl if you’re willing to put logic to the side. It would appear that there are two different versions that were released on VHS. The original video under the title of X-Ray is a heavily truncated version missing almost 10 mins whereas the other under the Hospital massacre title was fully uncut. The cuts however were more to do with dialogue scenes and nothing was touched in the gore department. One particularly confusing cut is the scene where Susan calls her daughter and Ex husband only to find out that he has left the poor girl alone. Later when Susan is restrained from leaving the hospital she pleads with the doctor that the girl has been left home alone. What was probably intended as an attempt to give a red herring of the possible identity of the killer just ends up coming across like a selfish act of child neglect. How Susan knew this in the cut down version is anybody’s guess, perhaps she was psychic and if so could this be classed as the first Psychic killer vs slasher movie a whole seven years before Jason met his match in Friday 13th Part 7?
With all joking aside this is a relatively minor entry in the slasher cycle but none the less an entertaining one so why not turn off the lights, crack open the champers and get cosy with your other half to enjoy one of the least romantic valentine’s day themed slashers of all time.