Color, 1980, 89 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by David Paulsen
Starring Klaus Kinski, Donna Wilkes, Craig Wasson, Marianna Hill, Richard Herd, Joe Regalbuto, Christopher Lloyd, Flo Lawrence
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1982, 89 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by Boaz Davidson,
Starring Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, John Warner Williams, Dan Surles, Jimmy Stathis
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
In the age of UHD heaven for movie fans, we may not be able to get major milestones of world cinema in 4K like North by Northwest, Jules and Jim, Gone with the Wind, or Seven Samurai. However, we can all take comfort that we can now enjoy immaculate 4K presentations of Schizoid and X-Ray, two of the very few forays into slasher cinema from the lovable maniacs at Cannon Films (who also gave us New Year's Evil, Savage Weekend, and stretching the subgenre a bit, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and 10 to Midnight). Horror wasn't really Cannon's thing in the long run, and after seeing this double feature it's abundantly clear that they had a very... well... eccentric idea of how to approach the genre.
One of the earlier films put into production by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus after their acquisition of the formerly British-based Cannon was Schizoid, the second (and last) feature written and directed by Savage Weekend's David Paulsen before his move to nighttime TV soaps. Mostly shot around the Silverlake area in L.A., it's a very California slasher film laced with elements of a TV procedural and giallo as a black-gloved killer is sending menacing letters to members of a therapy group and occasionally killing folks with a sharp pair of scissors. The chief recipient of the letters is Julie (The Baby's Hill), a recently divorced advice columnist, who wonders if it's someone in the group run by Dr. Pieter Fales (Kinski) in his home. Meanwhile Pieter's clearly troubled daughter, Alison (Angel's Wilkes), listens in on the sessions and has a very odd relationship with her father. As the body count mounts, Julie contemplates engaging with the killer via her column and seeks advice from her ex-husband, Doug (Body Double's Wasson). As the killer gets closer and Julie starts to build a decidedly nonprofessional relationship with her therapist, it's only a matter of time before the maniac will go after her in person.
Released during the early glut of slasher films including the original Friday the 13th, Maniac, and Prom Night, Schizoid feels very different with its focus on self-help groups, hot tubbing, and convoluted murder mystery mechanics with plenty of red herrings (including Christopher Lloyd during his run on Taxi, no less). The normally volcanic Kinski is actually fairly subdued here, apparently getting on well with his American director for once and letting the ensemble cast have plenty of breathing room. Apart from a really uncomfortable nude scene, Wilkes (not long after Jaws 2) is probably the most effective cast member here since she gets the juiciest dramatic material and really cuts loose in a few scenes. The pounding electronic score is amusing as well, giving it that old school slasher vibe even if the bloodshed is fairly discreet by the standards of what Tom Savini and company were unleashing at the time.
Featured in a very entertaining episode of Elvira's Movie Macabre and widely circulated on VHS by MCA in the early '80s (with a 1989 reissue from Cannon Video), Schizoid skipped past the height of the DVD era and made its digital debut as a Blu-ray / DVD combo from Scream Factory in 2013 paired up with X-Ray. The transfer was obviously better than anything we'd had before by a long shot, though it was plagued by some of the worst telecine wobbling in any studio-supplied master. Extras on that disc include the trailer and "Dear Alison..." (10m41s), an interview with Wilkes about her early career and memories from the shoot. The U.K. got a standalone Blu-ray after that from 88 Films, featuring the same master, an audio commentary by this author and Troy Howarth, the trailer, and a 33m51s interview with Paulsen about his experiences with Cannon (culled from Mark Hartley's documentary about the company).
Two years later Cannon delivered a very different kind of slasher film with X-Ray, better known to VHS hounds as Hospital Massacre thanks to its MGM/UA big box release. This was the only attempt at horror for longtime Golan and Globus compatriot Boaz Davidson, who had scored a hit with the Israeli Lemon Popsicle series and later reinterpreted it for American audiences with the unforgettable The Last American Virgin. Barely given a regional theatrical release at the time, it's since gone on to ride the slasher renaissance wave among current fans who can appreciate its many, many daffy charms despite a very obvious lack of scares.
At "Susan's House 1961," young Susan Jeremy gets a Valentine dropped off by a pint-sized stalker named Harold who isn't too thrilled when she makes fun of him out loud. In fact, creepy Harold even leaves her brother David skewered to death on the family coat rack as a very nasty prank. Nineteen years later (on Valentine's Day, of course), Susan's all grown up and turned into Playboy model, singer, and TV personality Barbi Benton, who's sharing custody with her daughter with her cantankerous ex-husband (Stathis). Now she has to head off to the nearby L.A. hospital for some test results with her patient boyfriend (Van Ness) waiting outside, but of course it's "that hospital where they had all that trouble last year when that patient ran amuck." From that point it's a riot of paranoia, misunderstandings, suspicious ketchup spilling, gratuitous breast exams, POV hallway stalking, sinister chanting, faulty elevators, and other insanity as the grown-up Harold plans on making it another V-Day to remember.
Completely devoid of anything resembling normal human behavior or logic, X-Ray is gloriously entertaining as Benton navigates the biggest maze of red herrings you've ever seen inside the world's weirdest hospital. There's a lot of stage blood flying around but little explicit violence; fortunately a lot of it is incredibly funny -- especially a surprise scene involving patients in traction that'll bring down the house if you watch this with a group of friends. Benton is actually okay given the extreme silliness of her role, which never really addresses why she doesn't just go running out the exit door at any point. One has to wonder whether the premise was inspired by the previous year's hospital-themed Halloween II, not to mention a competing 1982 film with a similar basic concept, the Canadian slasher Visiting Hours. This is easily the weirdest and most ludicrous of the bunch though, so just be sure to approach it in the right frame of mind.
Though less readily available than Schizoid (and definitely not broadcast as often), X-Ray fared very well on Blu-ray in that Scream Factory twofer with a really solid transfer. The one relevant extra on that release was "Bad Medicine" (13m1s), an interview with Davidson about his background growing up in Israel, his lack of experience with horror, and his working experiences with Cannon. 88 Films also took a stab at this one porting over the same scan while adding a commentary by Justin Kerswell and Calum Waddell, a different "Slasher Surgery" featurette with Davidson, and "An Intricate Operation" with cinematographer Nicholas Von Sternberg. That brings us to the Vinegar Syndrome release, which features the two features as separate UHD discs (featuring new 4K scans from the 35mm camera negatives) with no bonus features; the addition of HDR here makes a difference as the colors look nice and robust here while film grain appears to be natural (especially important given X-Ray's dependence on atmospheric lighting and fog). The main difference here of course is Schizoid, which finally looks completely stable here and boasts much finer detail. The DTS-HD 2.0 English mono tracks for both sound immaculate and features optional English SDH subtitles.
The third disc is a Blu-ray featuring both titles (which means you're better off with the far more generous compression of the UHDs in addition to the obvious resolution bump). In addition to the "Bad Medicine" featurette and Schizoid trailer from the Scream Factory release, a hefty batch of new featurettes begins with "Shooting by March" (6m43s) as Paulsen talks about writing the film in two weeks, directing it for "pennies," his past experiences with Menahem Golan, the forced inclusion of Klaus Kinski, and the rationale for who turns out to be the killer. "Hide the Scissors" (5m21s) is a new interview with Wilkes about the precarious state of her career at the time, the rapport Kinski and Paulsen had speaking French together on the set, and her memories of her cast members like the "cool" Christopher Lloyd (whom she mistakes for the creator of Modern Family). She also goes into the oft-repeated scissors mishap from the climax, which thankfully didn't go as badly as it could have. In "Blood in the Jacuzzi" (7m2s), makeup artist Erica Ueland chats about her frequent horror work in L.A., her work on the scissor wounds on all the victims, and the other sundry "bloody pieces" she had to come up with. "A Wellesley Graduate” (5m58s) features Schizoid actress Flo Lawrence (a.k.a. Flo Gerrish) talking about the casting process, the evolution of the script entitled Murder by Mail ("I was dead by page 37"), and the Christmas party Paulsen threw when shooting wrapped. Finally "Ultra Violet Vengeance: The Talent & Technicians of X-Ray" (26m47s) is a new featurette with actors Jon Van Ness and Jimmy Stathis, cinematographer Nicholas Von Sternberg, wardrobe assistant Carin Berger, gaffer Alan Caso, first assistant camera David Boyd, and makeup master Allan Apone, who talk a great deal about working with Davidson, the attempted noir look of the production, the original psychological suspense approach of the script that obviously fell by the wayside, and very positive memories of working with Benton who had a very badly timed sneezing attack on set.
SCHIZOID: Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)
SCHIZOID: Scream Factory (Blu-ray)
X-RAY: Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)
X-RAY: Scream Factory (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on April 19, 2022