Terminal Choice 1985 Review
Terminal Choice 1985
aka DeathBed aka Critical List
Directed by: Sheldon Larry
Starring: Joe Spano, Diane Venora, Ellen Barkin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During my life long mission to track down all the obscure slasher movies ever released I came across this little known mid-eighties entry, which threw a real curve-ball into the mix. Terminal Choice is NOT a typical genre piece in the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould. But it does include enough of the trappings (mystery killer/bloody deaths) to allow it to carve a way into the category. Unlike fellow medicinal additions such as Hospital Massacre and Visiting Hours, Sheldon Larry’s mystery thriller uses futuristic computer technology as the main method of slaughter. This makes a refreshing change from the traditional surgical masked psycho with a scalpel, and its always nice to see a slice of originality in a sub-genre that is renowned for its repetitive nature.
Terminal Choice is set in a high tech clinic in the near future, where operations are controlled by a huge computer terminal and monitored by numerous doctors. This is certainly not the kind of hospital that you or I would want to have your tonsils removed at, because the medics gamble on patient’s recovery and survival. Lylah Crane (Teri Austin) is in for a minor complaint, which Dr. Frank Holt (Joe Spano) believes he has handled with ease. Things turn nasty when an unseen someone enters the head computer terminal and poisons the youngster’s drip with an unknown substance. The female chokes on her own blood and leaves Dr. Holt under extreme pressure as the top suspect in an in-house investigation. When more patients fall victim to fatal computerised glitches, Frank unravels a sadistic conspiracy of murder, deceit and treachery. But who is responsible for these unexplained killings…?
It’s strange that Terminal Choice has been overlooked, because it does hold its corner remarkably well as an appealing mystery thriller. The first gooey murder had me flinching away from the screen and director Sheldon Larry does well to focus on exploiting people’s underlying fear of untrustworthy medical centres. It’s something all of us briefly consider if we have to trust our lives in the hands of a stranger with a white coat and s stephoscope. That’s why Choice flourishes as an enjoyable and fascinating cinematic journey. Boasting equal moments of suspense and intrigue, the story never outstays its welcome and despite a fairly predictable false-scare climax, the majority of the runtime is eminently triumphant.
So many eighties slasher movies famously launched the careers of actors that would become home-names in later years. Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Sally Kirkland…you can find so many soon to be superstars if you search hard enough. Well this time around it’s Ellen Barkin looking amusingly fresh-faced and youthful. Some time later she would embark on a lengthy career that would peak with starring roles alongside method titans Al Pacino (Sea of Love) and Mickey Rourke (Johnny Handsome). Here she plays a young nurse by the name of Mary O’ Conner, and does a good enough job with a small part. The rest of the cast manage to keep things running smoothly enough without a hiccup and I especially thought that Diane Venora added flamboyance to her character.
Some people may argue that this really isn’t much of a slasher movie and to be honest, they may have a point. But as I said earlier, Sheldon Larry was well aware of the clichés, especially with the Tenebrae-like stalking of Ellen Barkin in the shower. Many features of the time were still cashing in on the mystery-killer craze, and it looks as if Peter Lawson was keeping that in mind when he put pen to paper. When you consider the fact that movies like Candyman, Final Destination and Demon Possessed are often falsely accused of fitting in the cycle, Terminal Choice slots among the guidelines with relevant ease. I picked this up in Krakow many years ago and the reason that I did so was because it was marketed in that particular country as an out and out slasher flick. I have posted the cover of the VHS that I own above. They even put a kitchen knife along the title just to make sure…
Making good use of a common trepidation and chucking in a few better than average performances, Terminal Choice succeeds as a solid mid-week night’s diversion. As one writer on the IMDB said previously, you may never trust a hospital again. That’s an atmosphere that titles like the rancid Hospital Massacre could only ever dream of creating…
Final Girl: √√