Once again, Amazon has given me a movie from the horror section that is not a horror movie. At least in this one from 1972, I get a baby Christopher Walken.
Walken plays Private James Reese. A man who has gone AWOL back to his apartment only to find a party going on there. James is an absolute douche. He is the kind of guy that say something racist or offensive, even if he does not feel that way, just to get a reaction out of people. He is a dickhead with a superiority complex and as the protagonist, it is really hard to route for him. The MPs show up and of course James resist arrest. He gets banged up in the process and when he returns to the base, they make him sign a bunch of papers before treating his injuries. Without explanation he is put into a car. Oh, here comes my favorite line from Walken: “Can we stop the car? I have to go wee-wee. Whoops! Never mind.” It turns out James is taken to a hospital. Again, he is given no explanation and any question he asks goes unanswered. In this large hospital there is very little staff, three patients (one of which is James) and a room full of monkeys in cages with bandages on their heads. James is trapped and while he has no idea what is going on, we the audience learns that the Army has worked out a deal with a group of scientists that want to run experiments on willing patients that meet the criteria of aggressive and/or mentally ill. The Major has purposefully had James misdiagnosed as having Schizophrenia because he is a problem child. So what are they doing here? Wires are surgically implanted into the subject's head. He is then given a button, that only he can press. When the button is pressed, it sends a signal to the brain and that signal simulates pleasure. With pleasure literally at the patient's finger tips, their aggression and mental illness symptoms can be overridden. If it works, the subject can always remain calm and happy (and satisfied) but also always under the threat of “Do what I say or I take the button away”. Until now, all of the subjects have failed to balance normal life and the power of an electro-masturbation button. After much resistance, James goes under the knife!
OK, so I have left a lot of the plot out because this movie made me feel weird and icky. Then I find out that this experiment may have actually been done on people and I feel even more icky. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was not at all what I was expecting. I kept waiting for “horror” to happen. It never did. At best this could be called a thriller, but even that is a stretch. Sure the content is unsettling (patient mistreatment, a nurse getting raped then forced to play checkers with her assailant, etc.) but a horror movie it is not. This is the kind of move that you would watch in Psych 101 and have a discussion about it after. You would probably also watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and have to write a paper on both.
If you like Christopher Walken, check this movie out. It is one of his early roles and you see him honing his skills playing odd characters. He does it well in this one. While I did not recognize their names, I did recognize the faces of two other actors in this film. James’ crazy, rapey, room mate is a young Ronny Cox. Who I know as Captain Jellico from Star Trek: TNG. Dr. Frederick who runs the experiment, is the same actor who played De Nomolos in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Station!
While I can’t ever see myself watching this movie again, it still gets 3 “I can’t wait until I get to watch actual horror movies” out of 5.