The Sender (1982)
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There's very little violence or blood and guts but it's very scary and suspenseful. The ending is (now) old hat but was pretty original when this film was released. Any movie that can scare you silly with a shot of a middle-aged mother walking to her son (see the movie to find out why it's scary) is one hell of a horror movie in my book! Add to that a beautiful music score and excellent performances by Knight and Ivanek (who has gone on to be a top character actor). The only debit is Harrold who's pretty terrible. Still it's well worth seeing.
Rated R; Violence.
Aside from the steady pace of lingering creepiness & mystery, I found that there were at least two real "WTF?" moments in this film. Two scenes that took me by surprise in a way I didn't know whether to cheer or be terrified. A very good (psychologically tinted) horror film, indeed! Yes, I'm rating it highly, but compared to some of the trash I watch on a regular basis, this film deserves some extra praises. And Paramount should really make an effort to release a worthy DVD edition of this film, adding a commentary track by director Roger Christian and maybe some other fine special features. Their 2008 release features only the film and nothing more.
One thing I stand amazed about in regards to the horror genre is the constant discovery of gems that you have never heard of until word of mouth leads you to them. THE SENDER is such an example. Through a few people on this site, I found out about the movie and I was pleasantly surprised to find it available on DVD. Everything about the movie is top-notch. The acting from a superb cast(..especially Harrold, a wonderful, underrated actress and the sterling Shirley Knight with the kind of character who's really spooky), the ever-developing plot always unleashing startling scenes of shock and unpredictable images(..rats, roaches, blood dribbling from shattered mirrors, not to mention the show-stopping electro-shock sequence where the staff are "affected" by their attempt to "help" their patient, sent hurling through the air, crashing into equipment and through windows), really creepy score which hits all the appropriately effective notes, and the stunning cinematography from Roger Pratt(..who's one of the best working today, notable for such films as TROY and a few of the HARRY POTTER movies).
I think THE SENDER is such a success because it handles such a subject as dream transference and telepathy in a matter-of-fact, clinical way, trouble and care provided in developing the characters. In other hands, this could've been incredibly hokey and an object of ridicule. The professional look and feel of the film really sets this apart from other films of it's type. Highly recommended to science fiction / horror fans, also of definite interest to the "asylum" genre crowd, I think. I'm a big fan of "telepath" horror themes, so THE SENDER did the trick nicely. One of character actor Zeljko Ivanek's first big roles and he's very effective in a haunting performance.
It's about a guy with ESP - he sends extremely real images to people when he's upset or asleep having nightmares. He tries to commit suicide and then is brought to a state mental hospital for observation and treatment. The doctors end up upsetting him and they start learning of special and terrifying gift when things start happening to them. His mother keeps showing up at the hospital only upsetting him more. The viewer never learns his real name, we only know this guy by the name of John Doe aka The Sender.
The film contains a ghost and other supernatural elements so if you are into those types of films then you might enjoy The Sender.
Images are sent to Harrold via Ivanek which allows her to piece together his past. When John Doe's mother (Knight) meets with Kathryn Harrold, more pieces fall into place, but mother might have ulterior motives. Mother, also, might be a figment of her imagination or another of Ivanek's projected false images. The film focuses on Kathryn Harrold trying to set things in order and thus place the troubled mind of Ivanek at ease.
STORY: $$$ (The story has its strengths and weaknesses. I was quite shocked at how readily Paul Freeman's character accepts Harrold's theory of telepathy before proof is given. If he had any reservations, he became a full believer after the great electro-shock scene. There are numerous biblical references which some viewers will find off-putting, but there isn't any open bashing of Christianity, just the typical subtle Hollywood questioning of faith. Shirley Knight is a religious freak who viewed her gifted child as a reincarnation of Christ and there is a mental patient at Harrold's hospital that calls himself The Messiah).
ACTING: $$$$ (The acting is quite strong. Zeljko Ivanek was cast because he has a natural woebegone appearance with his droopy-dog facial features and Edgar Allen Poe eyes. Appearances aside, the young man gives a very good performance. Kathryn Harrold is very strong in the female lead, giving us a convincing performance as a shrink dedicated to human understanding and not radical treatments. She excels with a rather demanding role that forces her to play a strong-minded woman who must question the integrity of her thoughts when Ivanek begins to bombard her with mental images. Shirley Knight does a fine job in her subdued role while Paul Freeman has little to do but assist Kathryn).
SEXUALITY: $$ (There is no nudity in this film--it has a strong story and doesn't need flesh to gather viewers. Be that as it may, Kathryn Harrold gives a quality come-hither performance, never once shedding her clothes though, proving that an actress can be sexy without going nude. The first images she receives are at night, at her home, as she believes a burglar has intruded into her house. Kathryn wears a thin v-neck shirt in bed with, quite obviously, nothing on underneath. Those with a caboose fetish will like the scene when she reaches to secure a window and her backside is fully exposed.
This film starts off extremely well and builds up a strong tale full of mystery, suspense and horror. A number of overdone shocks and the final ending however hurts the film. Kathyrn Harrold does provide a tremendous performance as Dr. Gail Farmer.