Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) has found life tough since the break up of her marriage, and is looking for a new job to support herself. She settles upon a nursing post, but in the interview the Matron (Julia Blake) warns her it is not the most secure position as working with these long term patients does tend to attract some very strange people. Kathy assures her that she is not one of those types, and gets the job, but the most intriguing patient turns out to be Patrick (Robert Thompson), a young man who has been in a coma for three years. Not only does he have a dark past, but he might not be quite as dead to the world as he appears...
Patrick was the film that got director Richard Franklin noticed internationally; he had previously helmed the hit sex anthology Fantasm, but that was under a pseudonym, so it was this film which took him to Hollywood to direct Psycho II, albeit five years after he had made it. However, if you're expecting an Australian Hitchcock from watching this - Franklin had in fact been a protégé of the Master of Suspense in his earlier days - you may be let down by how flat much of it feels, this in spite of a script by top Aussie fright film writer Everett De Roche that appears to have a decent notion in its head about how to set up creepy scenes.
Penhaligon is our imported star, and fairly capable as the menaced nurse, but it's the bloke in the bed who really steals the show in spite of the fact he does very little but lie down and stare straight ahead. His one line is "argh", and that comes late on in proceedings, unless you count his occasional spitting that Kathy manages to work out is some kind of code, but only one he shares with her. Their relationship is the weakest part of the film as Patrick takes a shine to her and begins to act jealously towards her, all to keep the plot moving in a forward direction.
But not to build up a convincing reason for Patrick's behaviour. In the opening sequence we see he has murdered his mother and her lover before he was sent into his trance, just so we're well aware that he is a bad chap, but every character seems to have their quirks here, conjuring up an eccentric atmosphere that you wish Franklin had done more to cultivate. Every so often something you wouldn't see in a Hollywood thriller happens, as when Kathy's husband Ed (Rod Mullinar) breaks into her apartment apparently to rape her, but actually to rekindle their romance.
You wouldn't have thought that would make her want him around, and it doesn't for a while until she goes off her new boyfriend Brian (Bruce Barry) who previously Patrick has tried to drown in a swimming pool. But how does he do this if he's immobile? By the power of his mind, of course, and the film increasingly wraps itself in knots to find ways of having the title character get up to weird things, such as making his doctor (Robert Helpmann, giving the best performance) eat a frog, while holding off the inevitable showdown for the climax. De Roche does come up with some interesting ideas, but there is a predictability about the plot that undercuts the suspense. It's a curiosity for having its villain almost entirely still throughout, commendable for seeing its determinedly offbeat premise through and worth watching for its idiosyncrasies, but you rarely feel tense or excited or even all that involved. Remade with plentiful CGI and Brian De Palma pretensions in 2013. Music by Brian May.