Friday, August 21, 2015

The Sender: Psycho Psychic

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Director: Roger Christian

Cast: Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Shirley Knight

Olive Films / Region A / Rated R / 1.78:1 widescreen (1080p) / English mono / 92 minutes

Extras: None

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You may not recognize the name Roger Christian but he has worked on one of, if not THE, biggest movie franchise ever; the Star Wars saga. He won an Academy Award for set decoration on A New Hope in 1977 (he was also nominated for his art direction on Ridley Scott's Alien in 1979) and was hand picked by Lucas to be the second unit director on both Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. Between The Empire Strikes Back and his work on Jedi, he would direct a couple of short films ("Black Angel" and "The Dollar Bottom", the latter won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film) and his first full-length feature, a psychological horror called The Sender, that was loved by critics and was nominated for Best Film by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

The story follows a young man (Zeljko Ivanek) who tries to commit suicide by slowly walking into the water with a coat full of rocks in full view of horrified beach-goers. He is rescued and taken to the local nut house for treatment and his beautiful case worker Dr. Gail Farmer (the sexy Kathryn Harrold) learns that he has amnesia so they name him "John Doe 83". That very night Dr. Farmer goes home only to be frightened by what she thinks is Mr. 83 breaking into her house, but it turns out to be a psychic manifestation of his dream. So now she must first convince her shock-treatment-crazy boss (Paul Freeman) not only that his psychic abilities are real, but to not zap the shit out of his noggin! But it doesn't take long for everyone in the hospital to know the truth because when John Doe is under stress, his powers manifest in horrific ways.

When I was in my 20s, I would scour the horror aisles of my two favorite video stores in my small hometown for the weirdest, most fucked up stuff I could find. The Sender was a tape that I would often see the creepy but simple cover for and pass on it because it sounded too science fiction-y and lame. What a stupid, know-nothing shit head I was then. In reality this movie is a creepy, atmospheric psychological horror that I will watch over and over again. The pacing is relatively slow compared to the slasher flicks that were so big during the early '80s, but that's not what makes The Sender so horrifying; it's the constant feeling of dread. Nothing may be what it seems. Terrible head games lurk around every corner.

While not being overtly gory, there are some chilling scenes like rats bursting from faces, blood spilling from broken mirrors and heads being knocked off. My favorite scene is one where John Doe is being given shock therapy and the second they jolt him everything retards to slow-motion and everyone in the room is thrown around, through windows and jagged glass. The effect is so fucking surreal and disorienting that it crawls up your spine and into your brain where it will live forever. The two leads, Ivanek and Harrold, are outstanding and really carry the action. In a smaller but very intense role is award-winning actress Shirley Knight (As Good as It Gets) who plays 83's mother who is the center of a mystery that leads to a surprising and thrilling ending to an already superb horror movie.

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