A disturbed telepathic man is able to transmit his dreams and visions into the minds of the people around him.
Director – Roger Christian
Starring – Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Shirley Knight, Paul Freeman
To say that the horror genre exploded in the early eighties is a bit of an understatement. Many factors were involved, including the widespread purchasing of the VCR, but one of the main ones was money. You could make lots of it, and for the most part these films were cheap to produce. The major studios wasted no time jumping on board and Paramount was one of them. They will always be synonymous with the Friday the 13th series but they also gave us My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day and this little sleeper, The Sender.
The Sender is a horror film but one that takes on more of a psychological angle as, yes, it not only takes place in a mental hospital but also deals with nightmares and telepathy. Films like these are not everyone’s cup of tea. They are not always my personal favorite if only for the fact that sometimes they can be just downright strange. Thankfully that is not the case here.
The Sender is a well made film that boasts a strong cast and, at the time, fairly original story. It starts with a young man asleep by the side of the road. He wakes and promptly walks to a nearby lake where there are lots of families enjoying the beach and sun. But this guy is here for a much different reason.
In what is a great opening scene he nonchalantly picks up some heavy rocks, stuffs them into his jacket, and walks into the water, hoping to drown himself. In short it doesn’t work and he ends up being taken to a mental hospital where he is given the name of John Doe #83. He is assigned to Doctor Gail Farmer (played by the lovely Kathryn Harrold) who attempts to unravel his mystery.
John Doe says he has a mother but never had a father. Aside from that he doesn’t seem to remember much else. Gail’s colleague Doctor Joseph Denman wants to use electroshock therapy but she is staunchly opposed to it. All she wants is some time so she can help him with more traditional methods.
It doesn’t take long, though, for Gail to realize that John Doe #83 is not all that normal. She starts to see and hear things, most of them terrifying, and soon discovers that her patient has the ability to take his dreams, or more accurately nightmares, and force them into her mind. As she digs deeper the mystery of just who this young man is takes some unexpected turns.
Overall The Sender is a solid movie but it won’t be for everyone. Director Roger Christian does a very good job of not only getting into the minds of our characters but portraying their horrific visions as well. It is in these parts where the majority of the film’s gross out moments and blood and can be found. The acting is top notch but no surprise given the strength of the cast. You may not know the name Shirley Knight (who plays John Doe #83’s mother) but this woman owns a Tony, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and was nominated twice for the Oscar. Wow.
You’ll definitely recognize Paul Freeman as Doctor Joseph Denman. He was Doctor Rene Belloq, Indy’s nemesis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Zeljko Ivanek as John Doe #83 is no slouch either. He has an Emmy as well. Kathryn Harrold holds her own as Doctor Gail Farmer and her performance is the glue that holds all of this together.
In the end I would say try and catch this, especially if you love the mental hospital as horror setting subgenre. Wouldn’t rate it a purchase but good to see once. The end will disappoint some but I don’t think it’s enough to discredit the film. In an era when a lot of horror films were made cheaply to cater to the blood lust of many a young male, The Sender manages to offer something a little bit different.
The Sender (1982)