Mike Hodges has directed only 10 feature films in a career that began for him in 1971 with Get Carter. This includes being uncredited for his scenes in Damien: Omen II (1978) that remain in the movie after he was fired over “creative differences.” Stanley Kubrick admired him, and Terrence Malick wrote to him to tell him how much he loved watching today’s film, The Terminal Man (1974.)
After watching it myself, I understand why these two directors in particular were fond of Hodges and his film. For Kubrick, it’s long. For Malick, it’s slow-moving. Those aren’t criticisms of The Terminal Man; I liked it a lot. As for its 107-minute running time and deliberate pace, sure, it could have been trimmed. But its lengthy explanations of what’s happening as well as the seemingly real-time depictions of surgery put the “science” in the science-fiction.
George Segal, usually a comedian, plays Harry Benson, a very bad man. He has brain seizures that send him into blackouts during which he is extremely violent. This has led to incarceration. Not being witness to his attacks before the story begins, we’re meant to sympathize with him. When a team of doctors, led by John Ellis (Richard Dysart), believes they can cure him with an electronic implant, we’d like to see them succeed.
However, we know that they won’t. Not only is The Terminal Man categorized as horror/sci-fi, it also wouldn’t be much of a movie if everything went well after the surgery. Sure enough, “computer says no" and his seizures not only return, but also increase in frequency. Since he has escaped the hospital, he’s out in the real world where he can do real damage, like attack his girlfriend, Angela Black (Jill Clayburgh)…
…and the psychiatrist, Dr. Janet Ross (Joan Hackett) who knew from the beginning that the operation was a mistake. Segal and Hackett are particularly good in their roles. Segal plays it so cool that you wonder what’s going on in his mind; maybe he packed a wig in his bag for a reason. They’re both terrific in a scene they share as the doctors test each of the 40 electrodes they’ve placed in his brain. She tries to suppress her “get me out of this room” instincts.
There’s irony to the character of Harry Benson. He’s a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, yet is terrified of computers and believes they’re going to take over the world. However, the plot point that he’s now going to have a computer inserted into his head doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, when he’s having his seizures, he moves like a computer with movements repeated over and over again.
Music is used sparingly, which contributes to the slow, but eerie feel of the film. In fact, only parts of Goldberg Variation No. 25 by Bach (played by Glenn Gould) are occasionally used. I found the long, quiet moments incredibly suspenseful. Not only with Segal’s performance, but also with the entire production, I felt like anything could happen at any moment. I kept squirming uncomfortably, waiting for things to go wrong.
Written by Mike Hodges
From the novel by Michael Crichton
Directed by Mike Hodges
Starring George Segal, Joan Hackett, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, Michael C. Gwynne, William Hansen, Jill Clayburgh
RT 107 min.
Released June 19, 1964
Recorded on May 18, 2020 on TCM
Rating 7 Possessed Children (out of 10)
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