Hospital Massacre

(Boaz Davidson, USA, 1981)

BY LAURA KERN | February 14, 2022

While 1981’s My Bloody Valentine may rightfully be the go-to Valentine’s Day slasher for anti-romantics who prefer their gooeyness blood-soaked and sugar-free, Cannon Films attempted to give it some competition later that year (though it didn’t hit U.S. theaters until April 1982). Just before writer-director Boaz Davidson Americanized his 1978 teenage sex romp Lemon Popsicle—a box-office smash in Israel—as The Last American Virgin, he switched his longtime comedy focus to horror for Hospital Massacre (aka X-Ray). With a story by Davidson and a script by novelist Marc Behm, whose screen credits include Help! and the story for Charade, the film begins on Valentine’s Day 1961, as lovestruck little Harold (Billy Jacoby) leaves a handmade valentine at the doorstep of a cute blonde, Susan (Elizabeth Hoy), while she plays in the living room with her friend David (Michael Romano). (Jacoby and Hoy also turned up as creepy murdering kids in the fabulous Bloody Birthday earlier in ’81!) Through the window, Harold watches as they cruelly ridicule his sweet gesture, and the next thing we know, David is dead. (You know you’re in for a nasty treat when a child is unflinchingly offed in a film’s opening.)

After this introductory scene, the action jumps ahead 19 years. Susan is divorced with a young daughter and a new beau. She’s also now a brunette, and appears in the form of Barbi Benton, a television star and Playboy model taking on a rare lead film role. Susan goes to the hospital for what should be a quick pop-in visit to get some routine test results. But we all know how that can go in reality, so in a horror movie it naturally plays out as a crueler, even more extreme waiting game. Unable to escape the hospital, Susan finds dead bodies popping up all around her. And it seems like the rejection from so many years ago just might be coming back to haunt her.

While Hospital Massacre offers few surprises—and the image of a villain accessorized in a medical mask is certainly not the intimidating sight it once may have been—the film makes up for it in atmosphere, which grows more surreal as it unfolds; fun kill scenes; and the foolproof setting of a hospital (with an abandoned Los Angeles medical center filling in here). Psychiatric wards are more commonly used as movie settings, but there’s something considerably eerier about the more expansive space and hallway mazes of a regular old hospital, like those seen in Jean-Claude Lord’s Visiting Hours (1982) and Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom (1994).

The holiday horror tradition is going strong, but Valentine’s Day remains relatively unexplored territory, despite being the most perfect target, for what can be more painful than matters of the heart? In romantic comedies, true love never dies, but in horror, you may die—brutally—in the name of love. Hospital Massacre is one of the more notable slasher films to take place on that magical or totally dreaded date of February 14, even if not enough people have seen it to know it yet. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

How to see Hospital Massacre

The Blu-ray/DVD double-feature pairing (under the title X-Ray) with Schizoid from Shout! Factory went out of print in 2020, but the film is available (also as X-Ray) on PAL Blu-ray via 88 Films’s wonderful “Slasher Classics Collection.”
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