From a director you've never heard of comes a totally derivative horror film starring a cast of mostly unknowns with a few prominent faces tossed out in cameos. Yep, it's time to review Carl Schenkel's (who?) 1995 film "The Surgeon." O.K., maybe I'm being a bit too harsh here. Schenkel apparently lensed the Christopher Lambert vehicle "Night Moves" and the early Denzel Washington picture "The Mighty Quinn," so he's not completely obscure. But, in the words of Janet Jackson, "What have you done for me lately?" The answer must inevitably be "not much" if "The Surgeon" is any indication. One great thing about exploring the highways and byways of the horror genre is the constant discovery of movies I have never heard about before. I spend a lot of time trying to follow the ins and outs of horror movies and I STILL come across stuff almost every day that has me scratching my head in bewilderment. Then it's time to track down copies to watch, a task made infinitely easier thanks to the advent of DVD. Before digital video discs arrived on the scene, scoping out the horror field was time consuming, expensive, and frustrating. Not anymore--even the most obscure stuff is available for rental as companies try to provide enough product for a hungry market.
Problem is, watching "The Surgeon" is likely to give the viewer a case of indigestion. Set in a hospital (duh), the movie introduces us to Dr. Theresa McCann (Isabel Glasser), Dr. Stein (Malcolm McDowell), Dr. Benjamin Hendricks (James Remar), Dr. Julian Matar (Sean Haberle), Dr. Ed Mittlesbay (Charles Dance), and a police lieutenant named McEllwaine (Peter Boyle). Who are all these people and what interest could they possibly hold for the dedicated horror viewer? Sorry, I haven't an answer to the last part of that question. I can tell you that Dr. Stein is an egomaniacal researcher working on some crackpot theory that would make kidney dialysis obsolete. Impressive, eh? Well, it is until a monkey he experiments on in front of a lecture hall full of physicians goes bonkers. The concerned McCann, obviously the heroine of this movie, confronts Stein about his questionable ethics and begins to interfere with his patients. One of these unfortunate wretches dies horribly, and McCann takes the rap when hospital administrator Mittlesbay steps into the picture. Now suspended from her duties as healer of the sick, McCann falls in with the brilliant but egotistical intern Hendricks to find out why Stein's abhorrent practices go unchecked.
The two return to the hospital in time to witness Stein's demise at the hands of Dr. Julian Matar, a crazed lunatic exiled from the hospital some time before for attempting to perform regeneration experiments on patients. Matar takes a whack at McCann at this point too, but the police show up and cart the loony off to jail. Whew! Nope, not yet. Matar escapes and returns to the hospital in order to dispatch McCann's patients with extreme prejudice. He's not doing it to be mean per se, but because he wants to collect their pituitary extract so he can keep his experiment running, an experiment that we soon discover comes straight out of some shady stuff going on in National Socialist Germany during World War II. I wonder if insurance covers the procedure? Anyway, the cops reenter the picture and work with McCann and Hendricks to capture the perverse Matar. Good luck! This guy is one clever customer who always stays one step ahead of the authorities. Too, whenever he gets hurt he just injects himself with some of his serum and rapidly returns to fighting speed. In the process of tormenting McCann and extracting his pituitary fluids, Matar finds time to torture a few people to death in extraordinarily nasty ways. Mittlesbay's demise alone is worth watching, but a few other people bite the bullet before the film grinds to a halt.
"The Surgeon" does have a few things going for it, namely some effective gore sequences involving a needle plunged through an eye, a mouth stitched shut, and a body hit with so many bullets that it makes the Sonny Corleone assassination in "The Godfather" look like a hangnail in comparison. A few of the performances aren't that bad--primarily those from McDowell, Boyle, and Remar--but only Remar hangs around long enough to elevate the film. Isabel Glasser is a pretty lady yet an odd choice to play the lead role. And the guy they found to fill the Matar role obviously went to the William Shatner School of Overacting. The biggest problems in "The Surgeon" are its lack of originality and its inability to stick with one theme. A mad scientist type going around using gland extract to make a regenerative drug? I must say that is hardly groundbreaking plot material for a medical thriller. Too, the movie veers wildly from mystery to romance to thriller to horror. Why so many divergent elements in a film clearly marketed as a straight horror flick? Pick a theme and run with it, already!
The DVD contains no extras, not even a trailer or an explanation from Boyle and McDowell describing why they took roles in the film. If you've ever spent time watching movies like "Coma," "Visiting Hours," and "Dr. Giggles," you'll probably want to spend an hour and a half with "The Surgeon." You know, on further reflection I think I will give the movie a solid three stars. It does throw around a lot of the red stuff, boasts a few prominent faces in cameo roles, and Glasser is quite attractive. The movie's lack of an original plot and failure to decide what it wants to be does hurt the effectiveness of the whole thing, however.