English directer Roger Christian (Nostradamus) created his hypnotic, subtly powerful telepathic horror drama The Sender in 1982 to depressingly little fanfare. While critically well-received and championed by a variety of critics including Leonard Maltin and Mick Martin and Marsha Porter, the film was a box office failure in its day due to its slow-building nature and low-key style, but there are nonetheless a few jarring shock scenes (including the gruesome decapitation of a character by the “sender” of the title with the palm of his hand!) that are still quite effective today. Indeed, The Sender has aged beautifully thanks to the timelessly crisp and aesthetically gorgeous cinematography by Roger Pratt (Brazil, Mona Lisa, 12 Monkeys) and an inventive concept and screenplay by Thomas Baum (Simon, Carny). Esteemed filmmaker and horror movie buff Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) has even cited The Sender as his favorite horror film of 1982, so the film has a prestigious and important fan base.
The Sender concerns a suicidal young man (Zeljko Ivanek) who is committed to a psychiatric hospital after stuffing rocks in his jacket and attempting to drown himself one sunny day at a crowded beach full of horrified onlookers. Suffering from temporary amnesia, he can provide the doctors with no identity and is dubbed “John Doe #83” by the hospital staff, a name which doesn’t satisfy concerned staff psychiatrist Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold), who becomes obsessed with the new patient when she starts receiving bizarre telepathic images from him involving hordes of roaches and rats. Soon the other patients in the hospital begin “receiving” his frightening telepathic visions, and the institution becomes engrossed in a mysterious panic.
The enigmatic young man’s mother Jerolyn (Shirley Knight) begins paying impromptu office visits to Dr. Farmer, warning the psychiatrist that her fascination with her son’s bizarre abilities will destroy her in the end before mysteriously vanishing into thin air after each visit. Eventually the police inform Dr. Farmer and the other hospital staff that John Doe #83 is suspected of escaping from a woodsy cottage home where he lived with his mother… whose asphyxiated corpse has been found in the home, her death caused days before John Doe’s arrival at the hospital by a toxic buildup of carbon monoxide from the kitchen’s gas oven. As Gail soon discovers, Jerolyn’s ghost has been reaching out to her telepathically from beyond the grave, and she wants her troubled son to join her in death. Can Dr. Farmer separate John Doe from Jerolyn’s powerful clutches and send his mother’s disturbed spirit to rest without taking her son’s soul with her?
The Sender is well-acted by a very professional cast, stylishly directed and extremely gripping. Kathryn Harrold (The Hunter, Raw Deal) makes an extremely attractive and charming heroine as Dr. Gail Farmer, an impassioned psychiatrist who is determined to unravel the mystery surrounding John Doe #83 and the twisted images he seems to be sending her and the other hospital residents. Popular television character actor Zeljko Ivanek (Emmy winner for “Damages”) makes a very auspicious debut as the identityless John Doe #83, and distinguished English thespian Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) doesn’t fail to provide solid support as Dr. Denman. Veteran character actress Shirley Knight — who has lent her amazing talents to an impressively diverse array of films like Endless Love, As Good As It Gets and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood — is an absolute standout as the quietly menacing Jerolyn, a who it’s safe to say would never be a contender for Mother of the Year. The haunting woodwind score by popular composer Trevor Jones (Labryinth, Arachnophobia, From Hell) fits the film like a glove and is another of the film’s little rewards.
The Sender is the perfect example of a “slow burner”, that is to say an intricately plotted film for thinking viewers that takes its time and builds gradually to a potent climax. There is some effective gore in small increments, but if blood and guts is all you’re after, The Sender will probably disappoint. For those looking for a well-crafted and unsettling psychic horror film, I highly recommend The Sender and rate it an 8.5 of 10.
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Introductory video for the ChristianFilmmakers.org 24-Hour Contest, explaining the guidelines and rules.
Question by Dimitri: Have you ever heard of the Christian Filmmakers Academy?
And their San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festivals films?
SAICFF can make nice (too nice actually) films but are too biblically centered and Calvinistic and stereotypical of atheists, Pagans, Buddhists, Women and ethnic groups. Not to mention they are owned by Vision Forum Ministries; a very conservative and frighteningly extra-biblical cult that preaches misogyny and lead by a very effeminate and grossly male-centered pastor Doug Phillips. If you ever heard of this lot, be careful of them. They’ll lure you in with their alluring pictures and sermons of family and traditional gender roles and Classism (prejudice against Class).
Answer by Chanel Mademoiselle
No, I haven’t heard of them. Seems like they’re a bit fanatical from what you’re telling me.
Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments!
Clips from the last day of the 2007 Christian Filmmakers Academy in San Antonio.
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