Edith Repeats Herself

Concepts are often repeated in movies to clarify an idea, stress the significance of something, or because it’s cool or dramatic. A staple of the Hellraiser series is that Pinhead and his gang of Cenobites are almost always preceded by the sight of a brilliant, blue haze spilling through slatted wood. In Blood Feast 2, a snippet of a Butthole Surfers song (“Sweat Loaf”) that goes “Satan! Satan! Satan!” plays every time the hoity-toity mom walks on screen.

For me, repetition is most effective when used as a plot device to bring everything full circle by connecting the beginning and end of a story somehow. Dario Argento is a bona fide master of this.

There are moments, though, when an instance of repetition serves no purpose at all. And that’s the case in Nick Millard’s Death Nurse. Edith the Death Nurse repeats not one, but two lines of dialogue back to back for what seems like no reason.

She does this for the first time at around the forty-five minute mark.

Septuagenarian social worker and patient Faith Chandler sneaks down the stairs of the Shady Palms Clinic in search of her two missing clients, who are also patients (oh, and unbeknownst to her, long-deceased).

Edith heads her off with an icy look. “Get back in bed, you nosy old bitch.”

“If you don’t take me to Mr. Davis and Mr. Bedowski, I’ll call social services.”

Edith repeats herself. “Get back in bed, you nosy old bitch.”

“All right, I’m going to phone.”

Usually, when people repeat themselves, they preface it with an “I said…” or “Didn’t you hear me?” Not Edith. She doesn’t roll that way. Below is an oscillating comparison of the first frames of each utterance, proving they were in fact from two different takes.

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Why does it matter? Well, if auteur Nick Millard had used one take twice, I would have thought, ok, maybe this guy forgot to film some other line of dialogue and was forced to reuse it. Knowing he had the foresight, however, to shoot the same sentence two different times leads me to believe he intended the conversation to play out as awkwardly and nonsensically as it did from the get-go.

The worst part is that Edith’s approach doesn’t work. It was all for naught. Faith Chandler ignores her and has to be stabbed to be silenced. I can’t help but wonder, would Edith’s tactics have been more successful in other movie situations?

Credit: Death Nurse, Slasher // Video DVD The Exorcist, Warner Bros. DVD

Credit: Death Nurse, Slasher // Video DVD
The Exorcist, Warner Bros. DVD

Edith repeats herself for a second time at around the fifty-six minute mark.

At that point, she peeks through her living room blinds to see a policeman snooping outside her garage. “Son of a bitch.” she remarks, tiptoeing the “son of a”, punching the “bitch”. The policeman walks up her drive to the front door. “Son of a bitch.” she repeats in the same exact tone of voice.

This wasn't Ms. Alden's most flattering angle. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

This wasn’t Ms. Alden’s most flattering angle.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

As hilarious as it is, what’s the significance? Why were these lines so important that Mr. Millard felt the need to repeat them? Is there even a rhyme or reason to his mad genius? All I know is that I could revisit these scenes a thousand times each and they’d still crack me up. Maybe that’s what Millard was going for.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Death Nurse, and it probably won’t be the last. The deeper I dig, the more I find, and the farther I stray from reality. Investigating one of this movie’s mysteries leads to another. Questions are only answered with more questions. Nothing adds up.

Has anyone out there seen this? What are your favorite moments from Death Nurse or its equally madcap sequel?

As if Healthcare Costs Weren’t Horrific Enough, it’s “Death Nurse” (1987)

Death Nurse DVD Scan [black border]

Directed By
Nick Millard as Nick Philips

Version Reviewed
25th Anniversary Slasher // Video DVD © 2012, Region: 1, Format: NTSC

Total Runtime
~57 minutes, 18 seconds

Synopsis
With steadfast resolve, Nurse Edith Mortley (Priscilla Alden, the Criminally Insane series) dabs at the brow of a hard working surgeon whilst handing him the supplies he requests. “Scalpel. Sponge. Scalpel. Sponge.” The surgeon is wearing a washcloth with strands of twine fed through it in place of a surgical mask. Honest to goodness, a washcloth. Reaction shots of the pair’s patient (read: victim) reveal that he’s not only fully conscious, but gagged with masking tape and restrained to the operating table. And instead of being operated on, he’s being stabbed in the chest. Come to think of it, they look to be in a bedroom instead of an OR. A few muffled cries, a loll of the head, that far away stare.

“He’s gone.” states the doctor. “…It was a very difficult surgery.”

Why is this framed so poorly? What are those objects to the left? Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Why is this framed so poorly? What are those objects to the left?
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

This cracked intro is topped off with a stupidly humorous shot of five or six kitchen knives sticking straight out of the dead patient’s body.

Cut to the quote unquote “surgeon”, Dr. Gordon Mortley (Albert Eskinazi) digging a hole on a grassy hillside, presumably for the corpse of the man he just killed. He’s then shown scooping himself a bowl of ice cream in what looks to be his home kitchen. He walks upstairs to a bedroom retrofitted into an office where Edith is typewriting and answering phone calls. It’s here we deduce the two healthscare “professionals” practice out of a house they apparently share together (which was, in actuality, director Millard’s then home, the set of at least six of his movies and probably more that I haven’t seen yet). It’s also revealed around this same time that Edith and Gordon are siblings.

Suddenly, conversation:

“What about my surgical fee?” Gordon asks with a mouthful of ice cream.

“I billed Medicare for $2,750.”

The answer offends him. He looks like he’s watching a sex tape his mother made. “You what?! Twenty-seven-fifty? That surgery is performed every day for no less than four-thousand dollars.”

“Gordon, we have to be careful.” Edith implores. “We mustn’t be greedy.”

“It isn’t right. It was a difficult surgery.” the doctor insists, what with all that stabbing and lack of actual surgery.

Meanwhile, inpatient alky Louise (Nick Millard’s wife, Irmgard Millard in a low-cut top) raids the sherry from Nurse Edith’s liquor cabinet. Gordon gives her a lecturing, then hypocritically trades her a bottle of booze for perhaps the most passionless make-out session in horror history.

The next day, a Faith Chandler (Nick Millard’s septuagenarian mother, Frances Millard) of County Social Services calls ahead to inform the brother and sister she’ll be sending a patient their way. She later escorts a mister John Davis (writer/director/and actor Nick Millard coughing nonstop into a handkerchief— scratch that, the washcloth from earlier) to the clinic on foot. Wait, how long was this trek? Why weren’t there county-owned vehicles available? I have so many questions. Anyway, Chandler explains to Edith in person that Davis is suffering something fierce from a terrible case of tuberculosis. Edith smiles and assures them both that he’s come to the right place and is in good hands.

“[Davis] might not last through the week.” Gordon remarks to his sister.

“He might not last through the day…” Edith jokes. The two share a chuckle.

At this, Edith stalks upstairs to the sound of ambient music taken from Criminally Insane and covers the coughing man’s face with a pillow, then lays her large frame across it ’til he suffocates, which takes a full minute and a half, mind you.

Director Millard continues to suffer for his art. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Director Millard continues to suffer for his art.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

The Mortleys’ grand scheme? To keep on billing the county for John Davis’ care for as long as they can without getting caught. You know, it might just be crazy enough to work.

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
Sans interference, of course, but the next morning, that meddlesome Ms. Chandler phones again to announce she’ll be sending another one of her clients, a Charles Bedowski, to Shady Palms Clinic for help with a heart condition. Bedowski exhibits an inconsistent limp on his way to the clinic (by foot) for some unaddressed reason I’ll simply ascribe to poor acting. He too is killed off when Gordon attempts and fails to replace the man’s heart with that of a dead dog’s (I’d love to know what the doctor’s intended outcome was for this psycho science experiment).

As one would hope and expect of a halfway competent social worker, Chandler begins to inquire as to the well-being of her clients (actually, she only ever asks about Davis — fuck Bedowski, I guess). The Mortleys are forced to think quick. Their first thought is to have Gordon hack loudly into a rag (that damn washcloth, now pulling triple duty) at the top of the stairs to simulate Davis’ signature cough, but this only works once. The two are eventually forced to unearth Davis’ body, hose it down, and pass it off as alive in Weekend at Bernie’s fashion by flailing one of the arms back and forth as if to wave hi (Death Nurse actually predates Weekend at Bernie’s by two years!).

Unbelievably, Chandler is so impressed with the postmortem puppetry that she pulls a fast one and checks herself in for an unspecified and outwardly inconspicuous illness, spending the rest of her thankfully short time alive in a grossly revealing negligee. Things get weirder from there as Edith proceeds to feed people to the rats in her basement and vice versa. These rats are recycled from Satan’s Black Wedding, but here’s the kicker — it’s not even Nick Millard’s footage! He licensed it from Willard all those years back. That’s right, instead of putting forth the effort to buy a few rats from the pet store and film them doing rat stuff, director Millard chose to license, like, five seconds of footage from another production. Why am I not surprised?

Needs caption. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Check out those armpit handles.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a Nick Millard movie if kills from his most well-known effort, Criminally Insane, weren’t shoehorned in for no reason ad nauseum. Here, they’re passed off as Edith’s nightmares. Yep, Edith dreams of a younger, heavier, but otherwise identical looking woman who’s not her chopping at people with cleavers.

Makes sense to me.

But the question remains: Who, if any, will survive their stay and put an end to the Mortleys’ insane way of business?

_________________________

Death Nurse is one of five SOV (meaning shot-on-video, recorded directly to VHS tape with a camcorder) horror movies Nick Millard pumped out in the span of two years from 1987-1988 — the other four being its sequel Death Nurse 2, Criminally Insane II, The Cemetery Sisters, and Butcher Knife.

Firstly, some clarification. Several sites and reviewers (including IMDb) list Death Nurse 1 and 2 as sequels to and/or spin-offs of the Criminally Insane movies when in fact they are not. I consider this an honest mistake. While it’s true the two series were made by the same guy, and that Criminally Insane II, Death Nurse and Death Nurse 2 were shot practically back to back in the same house with the same actors and all feature excessive amounts of footage from the first Criminally Insane (as well as the rats from Satan’s Black Wedding for good measure), they’re in no way directly related as far as their stories and characters are concerned. Having said that, I will admit it’s fun to pretend they are, that perhaps Albert Eskinazi’s character from Criminally Insane II never died, and that he and Ethel renamed and re-purposed Bartholomew House as Shady Palms Clinic, then assumed new identities.

Bartholomew House/Shady Palms Clinic Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Bartholomew House/Shady Palms Clinic
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

When Mr. Millard made Criminally Insane II, he wrung every last drop that he could have and then some from the first Criminally Insane, recycling upwards of sixteen minutes of footage. The same year for Death Nurse, he recycled that footage a second time time for a total of eight minutes, thirteen seconds (and that’s not counting the time wasted setting up the inclusion of said footage, zoomed in on Edith sleeping), regardless of it making no sense whatsoever within the context of the movie. As mentioned already, the two series are technically unrelated.

Still, with more similarities than differences — I’m talking look, feel, content, production, cast members, you name it — the case can be made that Death Nurse is, for all intents and purposes, the same movie as Criminally Insane II, meaning, at best, it’s a repeat of a ninth-rate sequel to an already cheaply made slasher movie. However, I feel it transcends this perception and surpasses those other two movies by leaps and bounds in terms of enjoyability for one distinct reason.

And that reason is this: Death Nurse is simply a good bit more blatantly, blackly humorous and outright absurd than its spiritual predecessors. It comes off as more of a conscious attempt on Millard’s part to produce a campy, comedic B-movie, unlike Criminally Insane II, which he cobbled together by doing the absolute bare minimum possible. Don’t get me wrong, Death Nurse is still just as tortuously tedious, lingering on such mundanity as its characters shoveling dirt, scooping ice cream, pacing holes in the living room carpet, and holding position like mannequins as the camera zooms in for what feels like eternity. It’s poorly made, cuts every corner, drastically overreaches its budget of what I presume to have been $0 US (as evidenced by the makeshift surgical mask), and, let’s face it, is boring as Hell — but somehow, someway, despite all this, and against insurmountable odds, comes out a winner. It’s not logical, don’t ask me why, it just does.

And not many movies can manage that. Bravo.

Act a little happier, that was a compliment. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Cheer up, that was a compliment.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

My favorite part of this flick is far and away the botched heart transplant I glossed over earlier. Gordon’s replacement ticker winds up on the floor and the family cat makes off with it (well, it doesn’t so much make off with it as it meows next to it). Edith and Gordon then half-assedly scamper after the heart, circling the dining room table while calling out to the cat monotonically, “Here, kitty. Come on, kitty.”

Trust me, it has to be seen to be believed!

If you consider yourself a lover of movies that are so bad they’re good, or even ones that are so bad they’re bad, I suggest you follow doctor’s orders and check yourself into the Shady Palms Clinic, ASAP.

Slasher // Video’s initial release of Death Nurse featuring the original artwork and red DVD case (pictured top right) was apparently limited to a thousand copies, thirty-five of which were numbered and signed. It’s possible you can find a copy on Ebay like I did, but you’ll probably end up spending less on the currently-still-available re-release with the alternate artwork, also from Slasher // Video, which, as far as I’ve read and can ascertain, is the same disc. Extra features include a commentary track with Nick and Irmgard Millard moderated by Jesus Teran of Slasher // Video, a skit featuring Nick and Irmgard Millard, an interview with Nick Millard, a tribute to Priscilla Alden (featuring clips of a movie and TV show pilot that were never released), a photo gallery, and more!

Happy collecting!

Body Count
6.

Bod Count
1. Louise’s cleavage (I thought I saw part of an areola).

Overall Enjoyability
5 botched heart transplants out of 5.

Where I Got It
Ebay.com.

Recommendations
these other healthcare and hospital horrors:

Coma (1978)
Nurse Sherri (1978)
Hospital Massacre (1981)
Halloween II (1981)
Visiting Hours (1982)
Re-Animator (1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Butcher Knife (1987)
Death Nurse 2 (1988)
Bad Dreams (1988)
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Surgikill (1989)
Dr. Giggles (1992)
Sawbones (1995)
The Dentist (1996)
The Nurse (1997)
Infection (2004)
Unrest (2006)
Sick Nurses (2007)
Dark Floors (2008)
Autopsy (2008)
Nurse 3D (2013)