X-Ray Horror Film Review 1981

*This is a guest article from Weirdling Wolf for the Grimoire of Horror!

X-Ray has proven to be another welcome resurrection of a long-neglected slasher, helmed by genre polymath Boaz Davison; a sterling filmmaker who has been attached to many action/exploitation titles I have considerable fondness for. About ten years ago, I watched a poor VHS rip of ‘X-Ray’ (aka Hospital Massacre) and, truth be known, outside appreciating the awesomely voluptuous figure of Barbi Benton, the stormy haze of aggravated pixel and patent VHS murk greatly prejudiced my view of this, as yet, unheralded gem of 80s horror.


Finally, seeing X-Ray on a HD format was a genuinely revelatory experience; and while low budget horror films such as this are usually made as an expeditious way to make money, this, inevitably, is also why the so-called cinematic cognoscenti actively eschew giving them any shred of artistic credit; even those ubiquitous pundits that selectively praise certain splatter movies, do so cautiously; they never slaughter the sacred cow; as the very same titles get so frequently eulogised that it begins to sound a tad disingenuous; wholly safe: the very antithesis of objective critique.

I am a gorehound, a scurrilous horror movie apologist, and no matter how nefarious, debased or lurid be its contents, I always hope to extract some frisson of amusement from it. This accounts for being a life-long Joseph Zito, William Lustig, Bruno Mattei, Joe D’Amato fan; but I digress; an entertaining horror film should contain an excess of crass, politically incorrect imagery that stridently opposes all good taste; the gore should always be plentiful; the myriad victims must be scantily clad and egregiously dispatched; their cruel, gruesome demise must always be close quarters; the omnivorous camera lens must hungrily slake itself upon these operatic death throes as though a Vampiric character itself, and if one doesn’t feel a trifle abased after watching said film it, sadly, is not fit for purpose. (Lustig’s monolithically magnificent ‘Maniac’ is a towering exemplar of getting the job done right!)

X-ray 1981 horror film

A viable horror film’s hyperbolically exploitive visuals must immediately inspire an apoplexy of dismay in those reactionary conservatives that are erroneously installed as arbiters of public good taste; these ignoble moral guardians, those fearlessly hypocritically defenders of the more timorous hearted spectator are to be congratulated; since the more damning their censure, the greater merit the discerning degenerate may happily discover lurking therein. A case in point is Joseph Zito’s Grand Guignol manifesto, Rosemary’s Killer; an unrepentantly misogynistic affair whereby innumerable nubile female torsos are graphically penetrated by thrustingly murderous phalli; copious rills of glossy blood glisters luridly upon the gracile limbs of multitudinous slaughtered teens in a Technicolor miasma of garish Vermillion; but for all its vicarious thrills and sanguinary spills, it is unlikely that you will find a half-decent review of it outside the fervidly cloistered realm of fanzine-dom. (Aye! The fanzine reference dates me somewhat!)

Revealing an extraordinary depth of foresight 88 films has taken it upon themselves to expend great labours over the indelicate exhumation of Boaz Davison’s deeply penetrating X-Ray, and I have to say that their exacting travails have most certainly yielded worthy dividends. To put it entirely facetiously, X-Ray is twice as good as nobody ever said it was in the first place.

The unsavoury ingredients herein are no less generously proportioned than the star’s elephantine cleavage; her bountiful décolletage is a supremely fleshy edifice, upon which Joseph Von Sternberg Jr’s lascivious camera takes great pains to ensure that we covet her magnificent cleavage as much as he clearly does! Bodacious Barbi’s bowdlerising breasts aside, X-Ray’s appeal today is exponentially increased by his artful camera placement, which soon lifts it vertiginously above the prosaic lensing of his more lackadaisical brethren. This is tight, professional work, and I mean that as a great compliment, since many exploitation films from the same era are usually aesthetically flaccid exercises in untenable tedium. (But I say that fully cognisant of the face that one man’s meat is another man’s aesthetically flaccid tedium!)

Another noticeable aspect that benefits hugely from its newly pristine print is being able to draw a much clearer focus upon the director’s wit that abounds so morbidly through much of the film’s running time; there is one uniquely hilarious moment when the uncommonly burnished, implausibly named Barbi Benton attempts to exit the lift on the malevolent 9th floor, only to be confronted by three sardonically sinister men in gas masks: “You shouldn’t be up here, lady!” the eerily be-masked fellow intones with a grimly distorted voice. “We’re fumigating this floor!”
Stuttering pop tart Barbi haplessly burbles something about needing to be on the 8th floor; to which this laryngeal dude intones querulously “This is the 9th floor! You betta’ get outta here, Kiddo! Yer gonna’ get yerself deloused!”
Granted, this a ‘had to be there’ scenario, but this absurd scene really cracked me up, and later there are some equally Lynchian moments of oddball farce which celebrate Boaz Davison’s joyously idiosyncratic approach to 80s horror; taken as a knowing parody of the more absurd motifs of the Slasher oeuvre gives his sardonic film a real edge over its more formulaic rivals; a singular approach which appears to have ripened agreeably over time.

x-ray 1981 horror film

Fans of Visiting Hours, Dr. Giggles, or those beery, convivial chaps who simply enjoy ogling the demonstratively heaving chests of imperilled women will surely relish the eerie hospital milieu that forms the irradiated backbone of X-Ray. As with the other sterling titles from 88 films that I have had the pleasure to view thus far, the tech specs are exceptional; and the only lapse in visual integrity is in the smoky finale, where it becomes a little murksome, but that is to be expected due to the, er, generous proliferation of smoke therein! 

And the worthwhile extras on the disc are absorbing and informative. This specific edition of the film includes a new commentary track by Justin Kerswell, author of TEENAGE WASTELAND, and Callum Waddell, director of ‘SLICE AND DICE: THE SLASHER FILM FOREVER. (The latter was culled directly from the blurb, I thought I should mention that, lest some litigious nerk-lord wassail mightily me over any imagined acts of mercenary plagiarism on my part) And the winsomely slim line case that so snugly enswathed this spiffy motion picture is both visually pleasing and a welcome boon for those of us with an enervating dearth of available shelving! 


If you want to check out more writing from Weirdling, you can head over to his official blog for more musings on obscure cinema

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