Everyone should know how great THE SENDER is by now and yet somehow they don't. All these years later and I still rarely see it mentioned. Obviously it's my duty to sing its praises yet again and so here we go…
1: The Tone
THE SENDER is one somber piece of work and it's magnificently consistent. The colors are uniformly grey, bland or beige and its subdued rainy day mood refreshingly goes against the grain of most early eighties fare. There's little if any levity and I think the only time we see the sun shining is during a suicide attempt. It's like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET through the eyes of Ingmar Bergman. It's probably not for everybody and its glum nature may explain its limited appeal but I LOVE it. It's not too surprising that director Roger Christian was the art director for ALIEN and cinematographer Roger Pratt would go on to gift his talents to BRAZIL and 12 MONKEYS.
2:The Central Relationship/Actors
Intense Zeljko Ivanek portrays the wounded and confused "John Doe #83" who is sent to a mental clinic after trying to take his own life. The insanely underrated Kathryn Harrold is Gail Farmer, his concerned and intuitive therapist who takes him under her wing. The two are great together and it's easy to root for their positive, nurturing relationship as it threatened by shock therapy enthusiast Dr. Denman (effortlessly unlikable Paul Freeman) and John's unnerving and overtly religious mother (a quietly spooky Shirley Knight).
3: The Shock Therapy Scene
As it turns out John Doe#83 has quite a special talent and can "send" horrific nightmarish images and hallucinations into the minds of those around him- in some cases, triggering their deepest fears. It also turns out that when dealing with somebody with such ability that shock therapy is definitely not the way to go if you're trying to quell the issue. We're talking doctors and nurses flying about in slow motion through glass windows and fellow patients literally losing their heads. This scene is so beautifully done and continues to be a jaw-dropping sight no matter how many times I revisit the movie.
The great Trevor Jones (LABYRINTH, ANGEL HEART, DARK CITY) really gets behind the material and pushes everything to a higher level. Some of what he delivers is the saddest thing to ever hit your ears and then when needed, he brings on the bombast and creeping dread expertly.
5: The Visions
Rats crawling out of mouths, cockroaches swarming the fridge, decapitated heads flying about; what THE SENDER does not deliver in the body count department it certainly makes up for in the horrifying visual imagery arena. The line between reality and nightmare is cleverly blurred (and it should be noted, years before such a scenario was presented in the NOES series) and there's a grounded, realistic quality to the happenings that make them that much more disturbing.
THE SENDER was way ahead of its time and it may still be. I guess it'll never be an outright crowd-pleaser but it beats its own idiosyncratic drum in a way that has always impressed me. It's a mature, thoughtful fright flick that stands on its own two feet and caters to no one and I'll always be proud to champion it.