The Sender Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Olive Films
Directed by Roger Christian
Written by Thomas Baum
1982, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 25th, 2015
Kathryn Harrold as Gail Farmer
Zeljiko Ivanek as John Doe #83
Shirley Knight as Jerolyn
Paul Freeman as Dr. Denman
Sean Hewitt as The Messiah
Al Matthews as Vietnam Vet
Dr. Gail Farmer cannot stop thinking about her new patient, a suicidal amnesiac known only as John Doe #83. She is having unexplainable dreams or possibly even visions of the man outside of the confines of the psychiatric hospital ward, despite reports that he has never left the building. Her supervisor, Dr. Denman, is convinced that electro-shock therapy is the solution to every patient’s problems, but she begs him to give her more time to try conventional methods to help Doe #83. Her determination to figure out what has caused his emotional breakdown finds her pursuing a mystery that grows more ominous by the hour. A woman claiming to be Doe’s mother arrives at the hospital and asks Farmer to release her son, but disappears before anyone can confirm her identity. As doctor and patient continue to build a psychological bond, the rest of the patients and staff begin suffering similar hallucinations and it is believed that Doe is telepathically “sending” his dreams into the outside world.
The Sender is a disappointing movie that overextends the plot by reaching for an abundance of popular “spooky” tropes to garner success. There is simply too much going on and yet despite a few brief moments of excitement, the film remains a tedious viewing experience. Blame can be squarely placed on Thomas Baum (The Manhattan Project), whose ponderous screenplay tries way too hard to claim a spot at the early ‘80s telepathic horror table occupied by stronger titles including Patrick, Scanners and The Fury. While none of this trio is known for their lightning pace, each is more successful at delivering some genuine chills. Logic is the first casualty in The Sender, as the characters behave in ways only to advance the story. There are no doubts from patients, police or medical staff when it is suggested that everyone is reacting to a stranger’s dreams. Another stumbling block comes with the forcing of a ghost story angle into an already supernaturally stuffed tale. The ideas likely work better in novel form, but quickly fall apart when presented on the big screen.
Director Roger Christian (Battlefield Earth) has no problem creating a world filled with a sense of dread, thanks in part to his skills as an award-winning production designer on films like Star Wars and Alien. The look of The Sender is further boosted by the talent of cinematographer Roger Pratt (Brazil), particularly in the sequences involving the visions Doe sends whenever he is placed in a stressful situation. The highlight of these scenarios arrives in a beautifully staged reaction to an electro-shock therapy session. The interior sets ranging from the hospital ward to the houses of Dr. Farmer and Doe’s mother carry an authenticity that keeps viewers firmly grounded in reality before introducing the more fantastic elements of the story. The film also features a nice variety of natural environments ranging from the heavily populated public beach location at the beginning, to the isolated urban street setting for a haunting car chase later in the story.
Kathryn Harrold (Nightwing) does all the work here as Dr. Farmer, a dedicated physician who, under normal circumstances, is probably quite intelligent, but is required here to do some really dumb things for the sake of story. Harrold takes the material seriously, but it feels like a few pieces may be missing, as her character makes some tremendous leaps in solving this supernatural riddle. Zeljiko Ivanek (Hannibal) is suitably creepy as John Doe #83, but doesn’t have a lot to do here beyond sleepwalk his way from one surreal set piece to the next. Shirley Knight (Color of Night) plays Doe’s mother as a “sweet old lady” in her mid-forties (!), and despite the character being built up as some sort of monster, we never see her do anything menacing. Paul Freeman (The Dogs of War) runs the facility as Dr. Denman, not a traditional antagonist, but his methods stand in the way of Farmer’s mystery-solving adventure. Genre fans will be treated to supporting turns from Sean Hewitt (Thinner) and Al Matthews (Aliens) as fellow patients The Messiah and Vietnam Vet, respectively.
Having not watched The Sender in many years, I approached it this time with lowered expectations and found the film to be serviceable at best. The few standout moments are truly hobbled by the rest of the story, such that the spectacular visions are ultimately robbed of any lasting impression. The picture ultimately falls apart in the final act when the script runs out of steam and the filmmakers appear to be out of ideas and rely on the cliché of having characters long absent arrive in the nick of time to save the day without any possible way of knowing the situation at hand. One particularly silly attempt at suspense involves the amount of time it takes natural gas to react to a nearby open flame when main characters are in peril. There are more than enough 1980s horror films with people fending off dream demons for audiences to choose over being stuck in limbo with John Doe #83.
Video and Audio:
The Sender is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks better than the previous DVD release. Colors are stronger and there is plenty of small-object detail to recommend this release.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is neither aggressive nor overpowering, but it is relatively straightforward with a decent balance of music and effects. The audio comes to life during the insane visions provided by “the sender” without overpowering dialogue levels.
There are no special features on this disc.
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