Schizo (1976)
By: K.M. Hazel  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Image (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0. 109 Minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Pete Walker
Starring: Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham, John Fraser,
Screenplay: David McGillivray
Music: Stanley Myers
Tagline: Schizophrenia ...When the left hand doesn't know who the right hand is killing!
AKA: Amok; Blood of the Undead; Blade of the Ripper
Schizophrenia ... a mental disorder, sometimes known as multiple or split-personality, characterized by loss of touch with environment and alternation between violent and contrasting behavior patterns ... (voice-over introduction to Schizo)

Schizo tells the story of Samantha Gray, a professional ice-skater whose impending marriage to businessman Alan Falconer is reported in the national press. The newspaper article is seen by William Haskin, the former lover of Samantha's mother and Mrs. Gray's convicted murderer. As a child, Samantha had witnessed the murder of her mother, a disturbing primal scene that had left deep scars on her psyche. Haskin, on parole but still clearly disturbed, leaves his seedy bed-sit in England's industrial North-East and travels to London, where he begins to stalk Samantha. Haskin is dismissed as a figment of Samantha's imagination, but soon the bodies begin to pile up as Samantha's sanity hangs in the balance...

Made on a larger than average budget of £80,000, Schizo was independent English Director and Producer Pete Walker's thirteenth feature film, and his sixth in the horror/thriller genre, an area in which he had quickly risen to become one of England's foremost practitioners of the form by the summer of 1976 when Schizo went into production. All the familiar Walker themes are present in the film, the persecution of the young by their elders, the spectre of past crimes haunting the present, all laced with Walker's profound pessimism.

Schizo began life as a draft screenplay by Murray Smith, writer of Walker's earlier features Cool it Carol (1970) and Die Screaming, Marrianne (1971), but was reworked and finished by Walker's most celebrated collaborator, the screenwriter David McGillivray. Schizo proved to be McGillivray's last collaboration with Walker, perhaps understandably given that McGillivray's waning interest in the genre is clearly evident in this, his least successful work for the director. Sadly, Walker would never again find a writer with McGillivray's flair for dialogue or a collaborator so in tune with his exploitation needs and thematic obsessions. The story of Schizo was extrapolated from Murray Smith's twist ending (a novel concept at the time but something of a cliché today). The entire story was built around the climactic revelation of the killer's identity. McGillivray never believed that Smith's ending could be made to work on screen, but did his usual workmanlike job in fleshing out Walker's vision of the story. The ending of Schizo is the one aspect of the movie that invariably draws flak from critics, but in fact Walker does a good job of concealing the killer's identity, despite the clues offered by the film's title and in the scientifically dubious voice-over introduction that begins Schizo, which is quoted at the beginning of this review.

By the time of Schizo, Walker had refined his terror film techniques into a potent tool and proves more than adept at building suspense and executing some powerfully violent set-pieces. This, more than any other film in Walker's canon, owes a debt to his film-making hero Alfred Hitchcock, the great director's influence most evident in the film's title, which recalls Psycho (1960), and in a shower scene in which the heroine, Lynne Frederick is menaced by a knife-wielding assailant. Walker has Hitchcock's talent for finding the menace inherent in even the most mundane settings and situations, best typified in Schizo by the scene set in a brightly lit suburban supermarket in which Samantha begins to fear that she is losing her mind. There's a distinctly Hitchcockian touch in the cut-away shots of a butcher hacking meat with a cleaver that counterpoints Samantha's increasing disorientation, each rise and fall of the blade like another nick sliced out of her sense of reality.

It's interesting to speculate with regard to Schizo on the influence the violent murder mysteries that poured out of Italy in the 1970's, generically known as giallos, might have played in its development. Schizo closely resembles the average giallo, and David McGillivray in particular would certainly have been familiar with this type of film given his reviewing duties for various British film magazines of the time. The murders in Schizo are all executed with considerable flair and a marked lack of reticence that is typical of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, whose films helped raise the bar for the level of violence permissible on-screen. One scene in particular in Schizo recalls Argento's masterful Deep Red (1974). Samantha attends a meeting of "The Psychic Brotherhood" and hears the voice of her mother channeled through a possessed medium. The psychic informs Samantha that her mother's killer is present in the room, a scene reminiscent of the opening sequence set at a parapsychology conference in Deep Red.

Despite these influences though, Walker's grim and sordid visual explorations of the dark side of English life are unmistakable and have a unity of style and theme that is unusual for a practitioner in the exploitation field, especially one whose avowed intent has always been to make money first and good movies second.

Schizo is punctuated by a series of grisly murders that brought the film into conflict with the British censor, who cut more than forty-five seconds from the flashback scenes dealing with the murder of Samantha's mother, including, for some inexplicable reason, Haskin's verbal references to Samantha's mother as a "lovely whore", and a "tight butt bitch". Also trimmed was the hammer murder of a medium, which lost a number of shots of blows to the victim's face. I'm pleased to report that all of the excised footage is present in this Image DVD.

Always a director able to coax good performances from the most undistinguished actors, Walker is very well served by his cast in Schizo, which strangely included no part for Walker regular Sheila Keith, who would seem to have been tailor made for the part of the Falconer's housekeeper, a role played by British character actress Queenie Watts. Lynne Frederick as Samantha Gray interprets the part of distressed heroine with surprising conviction and earns exploitation kudos for disrobing for the shower scene, revealing the ripe body that would captivate her future husband Peter Sellers a few years later. Just twenty-two when she appeared in Schizo, Frederick already had a number of genre credits under her belt, most notably Phase IV (1972) and Vampire Circus (1971). Sadly, Frederick was never able to capitalize on her early success and died at the premature age of forty of complications relating to alcoholism. John Leyton as Samantha's husband Alan Falconer is another in Walker's long line of rather inadequate leading men (there are no conventional heroes in Pete Walker's films, perhaps reflecting his passion for film-noirs). Leyton was best known in the UK as a pop singer and acquits himself well here in a fairly insubstantial red-herring role. The craggy faced Jack Watson plays the part of convicted killer William Haskin, and with his menacing physical presence proved to be perfectly cast. Watson was a familiar face in British movies of the period, and his best known genre credit is that of the fisherman Hamp in Tower of Evil (1971). Unusually for a Walker film, Watson plays a distinctly working class heavy, adrift in an affluent London in which the only role open to him is bogeyman to the upwardly mobile Samantha Gray, whom he blames for his alienation from society. Capable support comes from Stephanie Beacham, making her second appearance in a Walker film after her turn in The House of Mortal Sin (1975) the year before, and from John Fraser as philandering psychiatrist Leonard Hawthorne, who foolishly disregards Samantha's fears about Haskin. Hawthorne is a typical Walker character, and the person in the film who comes closest to representing the "establishment", a familiar Walker target. The role of Hawthorne is further evidence after the ineffectual psychiatrist in Frightmare (1974) of just how much disdain Walker seems to hold for the practice of psychiatry. In fact, the film's somewhat insensitive attitude to mental illness in general drew a lot of criticism upon its release. Schizo's tagline was "Schizophrenia ...When the left hand doesn't know who the right hand is killing!", modified to "Schizophrenia ...When the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing!" for its British release. Needless to say, various mental health groups and in particular the tabloid press picked up on the film's controversial theme and its politically incorrect advertising and stirred up the heated arguments which Walker always seemed to court with his films, a state of affairs best illustrated by the outraged tabloid headlines which greeted the release of The House of Mortal Sin, when it was revealed (probably by Walker) that real human blood had been used in some of its murder scenes.

In the case of Schizo, the controversy in the press and the uniformly bad reviews the film received (utilised in the film's advertising campaign), did little to convince British audiences that Schizo was a movie they simply had to see. The fact that the film opened in the same week in London as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) did little to help Walker's latest feature at the box-office. Schizo was unfairly regarded as a rather dated production compared to that week's competing horror offerings, despite its levels of violence, though some critics were grudgingly willing to admit that Walker had a genuine flair for this type of grisly entertainment. Even Walker himself must have wondered in the wake of Tobe Hooper's seminal masterpiece if he still had his finger on the pulse of what a young (and predominantly male) audience demanded from a horror film. It is ironic that just as Walker was beginning to look towards the creation of a more international, less extreme style of thriller, the tide for horror movies had irrevocably turned, as Hammer films had already found to their cost, and the ultra-violent and downbeat films he had himself helped pioneer with the likes of Frightmare would soon become the dominant trend in horror cinema.

Schizo is not the most successful of Pete Walker's terror pictures, a fact perhaps attributable to the problems inherent in a script shaped by many hands and finished by a man who never really believed that Walker's "high concept" and gimmicky ending could ever work, but it is certainly a competently made and effective thriller that points the way to the slasher boom of the 80's that would be kick-started by John Carpenter's Halloween (1977). Schizo's twist-in-the-tale ending is certainly not the fatal flaw that many critics would have you believe and works well within the context of the twisted universe the film sets up, a world in which the usual rules of narrative logic, as in the Italian giallo, do not apply. Though less viscerally shocking than Frightmare, the power of the murder set-pieces in Schizo show that Walker's exploitation touch had not deserted him in his quest for bigger and better things, nor had his taste for sleaze and skin, most evident in the genuinely shocking murder of Samantha's mother. Though hardly representative of Walker at the peak of his powers, Schizo is still worthy of your attention as an interesting British take on the slasher genre that would come to dominate the genre a few years down the line, and a reminder of the Golden Age of British exploitation cinema that once flourished thanks to entrepreneurs like Walker.
Video
Schizo has emerged into the digital domain courtesy of Image Entertainment's Euroshock Collection. The good news is that the disk is fully uncut, with all the tasty gore trimmed from the British release reinstated for this version. Image have presented Schizo in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. All previous releases of Walker's films on DVD have been fullscreen (though open-matte), so the anamorphic enhancement on Schizo is very welcome. The transfer has been taken from a rather battered positive print that displays a fair amount of speckling, mostly in the first half of the film. There is some grain evident in the darker scenes, but colours are strong and accurate and the image sharp and on the whole the DVD looks pretty good for a low-budget film of this vintage.
Audio
Sound is a distinctly lacklustre Dolby Digital mono track, which is thankfully free from distortion but fails to make the most of Schizo's effective music cues.
Extra Features
The disk contains no extras at all, not even a menu screen, and comes with fourteen chapter stops.
The Verdict
Please don't let the bare-bones nature of the DVD put you off acquiring this film. For me this was an essential purchase, and on the whole Image have done a better than average job with this disk. Schizo is unlikely to see a better release and makes fascinating viewing for fans of this underrated director in particular and aficionados of 70's British exploitation films in general.
Movie Score
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