Dutch cult filmmaker Rene Daalder (MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, HABITAT) directed this surreal tale of thought-control experiments on the inmates of an insane asylum. Like his other films, HYSTERIA is a rich and thematically dense sociopolitical allegory, but this time around the concept is overwhelmed by a particularly risible execution. Patrick McGoohan stars as Dr. Harvey Langston, a mad genius who spouts twisted philosophical nonsense while conducting experiments in universal consciousness and group thought. His latest guinea pig is Veronica (Emmanuelle Vaugier), who hallucinates ants all over her body and attempts to stab her doctor (Michael Maloney) in the eye with a corkscrew. Langston implants a computer chip in Veronica's head, and she enters the group consciousness of a contrived assembly of patients including a mannish Tourette's sufferer who speaks in rhyme, a musician who has separate identities in each of his arms, and Amanda Plummer as a wheelchair-bound dancer. Plummer has the film's most memorable scene, spinning about in her chair as the asylum's inmates copulate in every possible combination for the orgiastic finale. Whether the entire escapade is a dangerous cult or a radical new model for a communal civilization (as in the similarly offbeat PHASE IV) is open to interpretation, but most of the time the events onscreen are too laughable for it to really matter. Daalder's unique vision walks a very thin line, and he is capable of taking outrageous concepts and making them believable (as in HABITAT), but this time he misses the mark by a mile. Nevertheless, McGoohan does his best and the film is still worth watching, for even if it is a failure (and it is), it's at least an interesting one.
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