Wednesday 15 May 2024

The Fifth Floor (1978)

The Fifth Floor is a 1978 thriller that is basically a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest rip-off.

Producer/director/co-writer Howard Avedis had made some interesting exploitation drive-in movies in the early 70s.

The Fifth Floor begins with Kelly McIntyre (Dianne Hull) working in a disco to pay her way through college. She’s just had a fight with her boyfriend Ronnie Denton (John David Carson).

Kelly has a drink to cheer herself up and ends up on the dance floor having convulsions. She is rushed to hospital. The diagnosis is strychnine poisoning. Kelly is convinced that someone has tried to kill her. The doctors are convinced she tried to commit suicide, so she’s locked up in the psycho ward on the fifth floor.

When she tries to explain that she isn’t crazy and that someone really tried to kill her. The psychiatrist Dr Coleman (Mel Ferrer) decides she must be deluded and paranoid. He’s going to keep her in the psycho ward.

The psycho ward is as nightmarish as you’d expect but the biggest problem is male psychiatric nurse Carl (Bo Hopkins). He’s obviously a sadist and a sleazeball but no-one on the staff has noticed because let’s face it, this is a psychiatric hospital and the staff (including the women) are all sleazebags and bullies.

Carl tries to rape Kelly. When Kelly complains it is seen as proof that she’s paranoid.

Kelly is starting to find out how psychiatric hospitals work. It doesn’t matter if you’re crazy or not. What matters is whether or not you have power. The staff have power. The patients have no power, and no rights. They are also not allowed any self-respect. The female patients have to shower while being watched by male nurses.

And Carl is not going to give up on Kelly.

Kelly isn’t the only patient being brutalised. They’re all being brutalised. And she isn’t the first female patient to have attracted Carl’s attention. She’s befriended a woman named Melanie (Sharon Farrell) who has had the same experience.

Melanie wasn’t crazy either, but she is now.

Kelly has no contact with the outside word. Patients are not allowed to make telephone calls.

She knows she isn’t crazy but she knows her sanity can only hold up for so long. She is determined not to break, but everybody breaks eventually. She contemplates escape. But what happens if she escapes? Nobody will believe that an escaped mental patient might be sane.

The acting is mostly what you expect in an exploitation movie, because this essentially is an exploitation movie. But that’s the kind of acting you need in a movie like this. You don’t want subtlety, you want scenery-chewing. And there are some fine scenery-chewers in this film.

Bo Hopkins as Carl is a study in sadistic malevolence. Anthony James and Robert Englund contribute delightfully excessive performances as patients. Julie Adams as the senior nurse is a nasty piece of work, a woman who never doubts that she is right and the patients are wrong. John David Carson is nicely ambiguous as Kelly’s boyfriend. Is he on her side or not?

Dianne Hull as Kelly is the exception. She does give a subtle performance and it works. She’s the sane centre around which all the craziness revolves.

There’s only a small amount of actual violence but this movies manages to be pretty harrowing. There’s not much nudity but there’s definitely a sleazy vibe to it.

The Fifth Floor
was obviously a low-budget effort and it’s rough around the edges but it’s effective and it gets its point across. It’s a reasonably good entry in the fascinating psychiatric terror sub-genre. Highly recommended.

The Code Red DVD offers an acceptable if hardly dazzling transfer with very little in the way of extras.

I’ve reviewed another of Howard Avedis’s movies, The Teacher (1974), which is flawed but interesting.

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