“X-RAY/SCHIZOID” (Blu-ray/DVD Review)
A double feature that could well have been emblazoned across marquees back in the early ’80s, X-RAY and SCHIZOID are a pair of second-level slashers from the indefatigable Cannon Films, newly issued on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line as a sort of time machine back to the days when every other movie seemed to be a HALLOWEEN/FRIDAY THE 13TH knockoff.
The pairing also illustrates what a wide variety of tones could be found within the stalker subgenre back then—to wit, ridiculous in the case of X-RAY, which is a.k.a. HOSPITAL MASSACRE and originally titled BE MY VALENTINE…OR ELSE!, apparently intended as a holiday-horror tie-in until somebody realized MY BLOODY VALENTINE had beaten them to it. Our story begins on Valentine’s Day 1961, when a little girl named Susan chuckles with her brother over a love card sent by an unbalanced boy named Harold, who murders the bro in retribution. (Camp-fear fans take note: Susan is played by Elizabeth Hoy and her stalker by Billy Jacoby, who were two of the terror tykes in BLOODY BIRTHDAY around the same time.) Nineteen years later, wavy-blonde-haired Young Susan has grown up to be curly-dark-haired Barbi Benton, who stops by her local hospital to pick up some test results.
Unfortunately for her, the staff includes a sinister point-of-view camera that fiddles with her records to insure she can’t leave, and the psycho behind it starts murdering anyone who might stand in the way of his vengeance against Susan. We’re supposed to spend the time between slayings guessing who among the supporting characters is actually the villain, but his identity is absurdly easy to deduce for anyone who’s remotely paying attention, despite laughably overwrought red herrings that are just part of the comedy cocktail X-RAY serves up. From the killer’s bugging eyes and heavy breathing poofing out his surgical mask, to a score by Arlon Ober that alternates TV-style cues with OMEN-esque chanting that sounds like “Yuck! Yuck!” and “He sees her!” at varying points, to silly fake-outs (both ketchup and red paint mistaken for blood, little Susan using a butcher knife about half her size to cut a birthday cake), the movie practically screams parody of psycho cinema.
Certainly, the presence of Marc Behm (who co-wrote the wacky Beatles vehicle HELP! and the classic caper CHARADE) as scripter would suggest humorous intent, but the whole thing is pretty much played straight by director Boaz Davidson, who also had a comedy background (including the Israeli hit LEMON POPSICLE and its U.S. remake, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN). In the discs’ “Bad Medicine” interview featurette, Davidson admits horror “wasn’t my forte” when he stepped in to replace an unnamed original helmer who bowed out, and engagingly discourses on X-RAY. He speaks fondly of Playboy Playmate turned actress Benton—recalling that despite the tiring mostly-night shoot, everyone was wide awake for a scene in which Susan literally disrobes for an examination—and acts a bit surprised about an English distributor who told him following a screening, “You did it again—it’s so funny!” The 1.78:1 transfer is crisp enough to make the copious atmosphere smoke and frequent grain visible, and the reds really stand out in the color palette.
With Klaus Kinski leading the cast and an early-career Christopher Lloyd among the supporting players, you’d think SCHIZOID would be an equivalent riot, but it’s actually pretty sedate by comparison, with Kinski eschewing his usual ranting and raving. He’s Dr. Pieter Fales, a psychotherapist (wouldn’t you want Kinski as your shrink?) who conducts all-female group sessions in his expansive Hollywood home when not peeking at his teenaged daughter Alison (Donna Wilkes of JAWS 2 and ANGEL) while she undresses. He’s also boinking most of his patients, including a newspaper advice columnist named Julie (Marianna Hill), who receives scary letters from a mysterious someone as Dr. Fales’ women begin getting bumped off by a black-gloved killer (this flick’s initial moniker was MURDER BY MAIL, before adopting the alternate U.S. title of Lucio Fulci’s 1971 giallo LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN).
Despite the possibilities of the scenario, SCHIZOID is fairly uneventful as exploitation films go, with writer/director David Paulsen (who would go on to be a prime mover in network primetime soaps like DALLAS, DYNASTY and KNOTS LANDING) working up a modicum of atmosphere and maintaining interest as much in what might happen as in what does. The film is mostly of interest for its eclectic cast of B-stars and stars-to-be, also including Craig Wasson as Julie’s troublesome ex-husband (coincidentally, a similar character also bothers Benton’s X-RAY heroine).
Also presented on the discs in 1.78:1, SCHIZOID has a somewhat smoother picture, afflicted with registration bounce at the beginning but otherwise quite satisfying. Beyond a trailer, the only extra accompanying this one is a “Dear Alison…” interview with Wilkes, who confirms everything we’ve heard about Kinski’s tendencies toward naughty behavior on set, but notes she found him “very easy to work with” by simply taking his antics in stride. She also recalls a moment when things weren’t so pleasant between her and another SCHIZOID co-star, whom she accidentally stabbed when his protective pad shifted during an action scene.