Our fright flick feature begins with a flashback, where two children, a brother and sister, receive a Valentine for the latter from the local weirdo. When they laugh this off and call him a freak, this has dire consequences for the brother who is impaled by the head onto one of those super-sharp coat-racks you only find in the movies. Cut ahead some twenty years and we find Susan Jeremy (Benton) all grown-up, divorced, with a daughter of her own, and currently being dropped off by her new boyfriend at the hospital to get the results of her last check-up. But unknown to her, she is constantly observed by some maniac in hospital scrubs and surgical mask.
How do we know he's a maniac? Well, mostly because he immediately proceeds to Susan's doctor's office, kills her, and swaps out the test results. Seems this is all part of his grand plan to torment Susan before he kills her, too, up on the ninth floor, currently closed off for fumigation with plenty of victims dispatched in-between. And with those doctored results and disappearing bodies, a hysterical Susan is forcibly admitted into the hospital for further tests and a psych-evaluation, making her easy prey for the killer, whose identity, despite some clumsy red herring bait, couldn't be any more obvious.
As was their usual modus-operandi, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were looking to cash-in on the latest cinematic trends for the newly purchased Cannon Films. And there was nothing trending hotter in the early 1980s than the slasher movie, which is why they immediately put New Year's Evil (1980), Schizoid (1980) and X-Ray (1981) into production -- and they were all executed in the usual Go-Go Boys' blundering, gung-ho manner. Irwin Yablans might’ve felt a murdering doctor to be tasteless but not the Go-Gos. Originally scripted by Marc Behm [Charade (1963), Help (1965)] under the title Be My Valentine ... Or Else the film was then pitched as X-Ray but was released theatrically as Hospital Massacre and then re-titled back to X-Ray upon its digital home video release.
The script itself is fairly nonsensical and holds no surprises. You easily get the sense that Behm started off with a list of hospital themed kills and then stitched them together as lazily as possible. Trying to get this script off life-support, director Boaz Davidson, who was brought in at the last minute when the original director failed to bring in some foreign funding as promised, does the best he can but kind of squanders the creepy setting of an actual abandoned hospital. Davidson had helmed several pictures for the Go-Goy Boys already, most notably The Lemon Popsicle teen sex-romp series, but he would go on to greater fame as a producer. And if you've seen X-Ray, it's easy to see why but not necessarily how.
Plugged into all this fodder is a mesmerizing, tour de force performance by Playboy Playmate, Barbi Benton, as our victim, who's about as believable as her faux boobs. (Early press materials touted Jill St. John for the lead but she apparently backed out.) I do believe Susan is the least likable Final Girl in slasher history, and the plot she navigates through is absolutely magnificent in its blown opportunities and sheer stupidity. How no one else can hear the killer's ranting or the victim's screaming is beyond me.
In its defense, I will say X-Ray is better than the like-mined and big studio produced Visiting Hours (1982), but Visiting Hours kinda sucked. However, it should be noted I've only seen a crappy, washed-out pan 'n' scan version of X-Ray culled from the MGM VHS release that, to me, seems oddly edited around the murder set-pieces (provided by Friday the 13th Part III alum Allan Apone), making me think a lot of the grue was excised out, making a plodding movie even more pointless. But, from what I have seen already, the expense to investigate any further is simply not worth it. And if X-Ray did nothing else, it proved that even I can lose patience with one of these things.
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X-Ray (1981) Golan-Globus Productions :: Cannon Film Distributors / EP: Geoffrey Rose / P: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus / AP: John Thompson, Christopher Pearce / D: Boaz Davidson / W: Marc Behm, Boaz Davidson / C: Nicholas Von Sternberg / E: Jon Koslowsky / M: Arlon Ober / S: Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, Gloria Jean Morrison, Karen Smith