Everyone should know how great THE SENDER is by now and yet somehow they donâ€™t. All these years later and I still rarely see it mentioned. Obviously itâ€™s my duty to sing its praises yet again and so here we goâ€¦
1: The Tone
THE SENDER is one somber piece of work and itâ€™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. Thereâ€™s little if any levity and I think the only time we see the sun shining is during a suicide attempt. Itâ€™s like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET through the eyes of Ingmar Bergman. Itâ€™s probably not for everybody and its glum nature may explain its limited appeal but I LOVE it. Itâ€™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 â€œJohn Doe #83â€ 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 itâ€™s easy to root for their positive, nurturing relationship as it threatened by shock therapy enthusiast Dr. Denman (effortlessly unlikable Paul Freeman) and Johnâ€™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 â€œsendâ€ 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 youâ€™re trying to quell the issue. Weâ€™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 thereâ€™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 itâ€™ll never be an outright crowd-pleaser but it beats its own idiosyncratic drum in a way that has always impressed me. Itâ€™s a mature, thoughtful fright flick that stands on its own two feet and caters to no one and Iâ€™ll always be proud to champion it.
I watched this per your recommendation a few months ago (on Tubi…now it’s on HULU) and really enjoyed it. I didn’t find it especially horrifying, but did think it was intriguing. Reminded me a bit of The Dead Zone or maybe Scanners or The Fury. I think it might have missed its audience BECAUSE of its somber tone. During the 80’s, it seems the more popular horror movies were either slashers or flashy Night of the Demons-type movies. The 80’s isn’t exactly a decade known for understatedness…..
I recall not caring too much for this one on first watch, but after reading this I may have to give it a second try. It sounds like something that would be right up my alley, what with the somber tone and mind-games.
Maybe I was just too young for it the first time.
Hey all – I am watching this right now on Amazon – it is a Prime freebie BUT it is only on prime for the next seven days – so if that is your go-to streamer, watch it now!
So glad you checked it out and enjoyed it! Great comparisons! Really feel the DEAD ZONE connection which has a similar tone. I agree that it probably wasnâ€™t flashy enough to get attention in the early eighties. I guess its a little too somber for some horror fans and a little too horrific for some thriller fans so it kinda falls between and gets lost. The Imdb page says Tarantino is a fan for what thatâ€™s worth! Thereâ€™s something about it that I really relate to and while writing this I realized how similar it was to my other 5 favorite things picks PSYCHO 2 (the nurturing central relationship) and BAD DREAMS (w/ the surreal quality & mental hospital setting). All three involve terrible parents!
Oh yeah! Do check it out again! I think it does play better when youâ€™re older and once you realize that its more of a mind game than a body count movie. I can tell you there are so many movies that I love solely because I gave them a second chance! Hope it works for you this time but if not Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll find lots of interesting things going on in it that you might not have caught before!
Thanks for the heads up! I hope you are digging it!
What a great article! The Sender is such a strange and unique movie, and I completely agree with the assessment that seeing it as a grown up and not as a body-count film is the way to go. The performances are amazing, and Shirley Knight is an underrated gem. One of the reasons KT is so fun is because it doesnâ€™t just focus on the popular movies, but lots of obscure and interesting films that donâ€™t get lots of love. Itâ€™s like a mom-and-pop video store as a website!
“One of the reasons KT is so fun is because it doesnâ€™t just focus on the popular movies, but lots of obscure and interesting films that donâ€™t get lots of love. Itâ€™s like a mom-and-pop video store as a website!”
Yup! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about a movie here then immediately watched it on Tubi (with the occasional foray into YouTube or another platform). It’s the next best thing to browsing an old video store.
“Itâ€™s like a mom-and-pop video store as a website!â€
“Itâ€™s the next best thing to browsing an old video storeâ€
These are the two BEST compliments Iâ€™ve ever read! Thanks for making my day. I really miss working in a video store. That was my whole life before Kindertrauma so Iâ€™m so glad if I can keep some of that spirit alive. It’s so cool you guys are getting viewing ideas here. Itâ€™s all I could ever ask for! Thanks much!