The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE SENDER (1982) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - THE SENDER (1982)

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Admitted to a psychiatric ward following a suicide attempt, a mysterious young man displays disturbing psychic powers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Roger Christian

Starring: Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Shirley Knight, Paul Freeman

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The late '70s and early '80s saw a wave of horror movies based around the premise of villains and anti-heroes with psychic abilities. Brian De Palma gave us the double whammy of Carrie and The Fury; David Cronenberg offered us Scanners and The Dead Zone; Aussie auteur Richard Franklin burst onto the scene with Patrick; and a young Drew Barrymore was the titular Firestarter (yes, Stephen King was really obsessed with this theme back then). Lost in the shuffle was 1982's The Sender, directed by Roger Christian, then best known for his award-winning FX work on Star Wars and Alien.

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Christian's film opens with an arresting intro in which a young man (an unrecognisably fresh ลฝeljko Ivanek with a full head of hair) fills his pockets with rocks and wades into the sea. His suicide attempt foiled, the troubled young man is brought to a psychiatric hospital where he is assigned the designation 'John Doe Number 83' and placed in the care of Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold, an actress who deserved a bigger career).

Soon after meeting her patient, Farmer begins to experience disturbing hallucinations, including a visit to her apartment from John Doe, who was in his hospital bed at the time. The boy's mother (Shirley Knight), pays her a visit at the hospital, but the rest of the staff deny ever seeing the woman. It seems John Doe is projecting his own deranged nightmares into the consciousness of those around him.

the sender review

As a set-up for a suspense thriller, this premise has one major drawback. While Farmer and the audience are treated to horrific visions, none worse than her apartment filled with rats, we're aware that they're simply just that - visions - and that Farmer isn't actually in any real physical danger. Ostensibly, The Sender's pitch sounds similar to Franklin's Patrick, but the latter works as a horror movie because its eponymous psychic is a straightforward villain, a slasher in a coma who uses his powers to subject anyone who crosses him to Final Destination style deaths. The Sender's John Doe is merely a moody teen who occasionally causes harm when he gets frustrated, but he's by no means a figure to be scared of.

What this premise does offer is the chance for Christian to create surreal, nightmarish visions, but it's an opportunity that's squandered, as the best the director can come up with is a room full of rats and a couple of unintentionally laughable sequences where doctors and nurses are flung in slow motion around surgery rooms, and a decapitation of a particularly unconvincing rubber head.

the sender review

The Sender is a movie that takes itself far too seriously, given how ludicrous its concept is. Perhaps Wes Craven saw Christian's movie and similarly frowned at how he dropped the ball when it came to the film's lack of outlandish dream sequences, as A Nightmare on Elm Street would later explore this idea to its full potential.

The Sender isn't Christian's worst movie, as in 2000 he would direct a film that would become a byword for awful cinema - the Scientology funded L. Ron Hubbard adaptation Battlefield Earth!
Extras:

Audio commentary by director Roger Christian; interview with screenwriter Tom Baum; an appreciation of psychic cinema by Kim Newman; deleted scenes from the screenplay, including the original ending; original trailer; image gallery; collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alan Jones and an excerpt from the novelisation by Tom Baum.

The Sender is on blu-ray June 17th from Arrow Video.




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