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X-Ray / Schizoid

Shout Factory // R // August 20, 2013
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 6, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Oooh, a double feature of obscure, early '80s slashers from Cannon Films, and it's not even my birthday!

"X-Ray" may be what's on the marquee here, but this movie's gone by somewhere in the neighborhood of eighteen hojillion other handles over the years, among them Ward 13 and Be My Valentine, Or Else... You've probably
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spotted it on video store shelves back in the '80s as Hospital Massacre, though, and those two words are preeeeetty much all the plot summary you need.

See, all Sarah (perennial Playboy pin-up Barbi Benton) wants is to pick up some routine test results. Instead, she's basically held prisoner in this third-world, pretty much abandoned, Fincheresque nightmare of a hospital. All she gets are sorrowful glances and assurances that some undefined-it will all be taken care of soon. Meanwhile, some nutjob in scrubs and a mask is slaughtering everyone in sight, and he's doctoring Sarah's test results every step of the way. As far as the skeleton of a plot goes, it's just about exactly what you're picturing too. Lotsa red herrings. Oodles of teases at false scares. A hefty body count. You know the killer is that twisted tyke who murdered Sarah's kid brother back in the '60s, but which of the guys in the sprawling supporting cast is the psychopath hiding behind that surgical mask?

The premise is nothing special, playing sort of like a mash-up of the hospital-bound Halloween 2 and My Bloody Valentine. It's kind of crazy to think that My Bloody Valentine was released the very same year as this, even, since you get some creepy guys in gas masks, a grisly Valentine's Day gift in a big red box, and the whole February 14th thing. The execution, though...? That's somethin' different.

X-Ray's ghoulish, campy, carnivalesque atmosphere certainly sets it apart from the rest of the lot. With goofy gags like a burger overflowing with ketchup and a knife that hovers in the air before carving
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into a Valentine's Day cake, it sort of teeters on the brink of being a horror-comedy, even. They aren't great gags, and they sure haven't aged well over the past thirty years and change, but at least it isn't more of the same. When you have a Playboy mainstay like Barbi Benton in the lead, it kinda goes without saying that you score some nudity, and here it's in the form of a bizarre, meandering, topless examination. Nothing against boobs because...boobs, but it drags on for what seems like five or six minutes with basically nothing happening. Actually, many of the scenes here seem as if they plod along a whole helluva lot longer than they really should've, with the middle stretch of X-Ray standing out as particularly torturous. The agonizingly slow pace cries out for fast-forwarding to the good stuff, although at least it does pick up a bit in the last half hour. Even for a slasher from the class of 1982, characterization is pretty much non-existent, with even its leading lady devoid of anything resembling a personality. Shouldn't your Final Girl be at least a little likeable? Shouldn't actors be able to...y'know, act? Whatever. Don't think too hard about the big reveal near the end (or, well, anything else about the flick) because everything that would have to happen to get Sarah and her tormentor together here is borderline-impossible.

I mean, X-Ray is kind of dumb and ridiculous, sometimes deliberately and other times not so much. Even though there's basically no gore to speak of, plenty of the red stuff still gets sloshed around. The hospital backdrop opens itself up for some gleefully twisted and frequently medical-themed kills. I really love the score, and my ears are pretty certain those are actual strings and not the usual early-'80s banks of synths. Taken as a pure horror flick, it's a misfire: zero successful scares and not all that much in the way of suspense. As '80s slasher junk food, something I'll never turn down, it's worth watching once. And, yeah, once; not sure this is something I'll ever give a second spin.

Oh, and for anyone keeping track at home, this is the cut of X-Ray you're looking for, not the trimmed-down version that was making the rounds on VHS in some places.

No, it's not the American version of Lucio Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, although Shout Factory was planning on releasing that other Schizoid the exact same day as this one. As if that weren't enough
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of a coincidence, the 1980 film we're talking about here could pass for a giallo too.

Never before have Tuesdays and Thursdays been wrought with such terror! That's when Dr. Pieter Fales (Klaus Kinski) holds one of his regular group sessions for people suffering from...something? I don't know. One by one, the women in this group are being savagely murdered. Could this have anything to do with the disturbing letters that have been flooding into the inbox of newspaper advice columnist Julie (Marianna Hill)...someone who happens to be both Fales' patient and his secret lover?! The list of potential suspects is endless. Perhaps it's the maintenance man (Christopher Lloyd) that can't stop leering at Julie. Maybe it's her obnoxious ex-husband (Craig Wasson) who's been giving her such a hard time at the office. Could it be Dr. Fales himself? I mean, the guy's being played by friggin' Klaus Kinski, after all.

Believe it or not, Kinski's performance is actually pretty restrained, at least if you consider "restraint" to include the sticky, incestual angle with his on-screen teenage daughter (Donna Wilkes) and the fact that he's sleeping with damn near every woman in his therapy group. Hitting theaters just a few months after Friday the 13th, it ought to go without saying that Schizoid draws more deeply from Italian murder flicks rather than the usual slasher template. The stalking-and-slashing all looks fairly routine and tame all these years later, but Schizoid does manage to establish a reasonably creepy atmosphere, and that has to count for something. That its central character and most of its victims are middle-aged women leave the film feeling kind of unique. Nubile, yes; barely-twentysomething, not so much.

I found the whodunnit angle to be surprisingly involving (unexpected and ultimately nonsensical, but, hey, giallo!), a suicide attempt is haunting and disturbing, and I'm pretty sure I screamed out loud when I realized that was TV's Frank Fontana playing one of the detectives. Schizoid writer/director David Paulsen is clearly a charter member of the Dario Argento Fan Club, hitting just about every last one of the usual giallo tropes, down to the P.O.V. shots lingering on the killer's leather gloves. It's kinda ridiculous too, from the dismissive obnoxiousness of the two detectives to a "...the hell?" light-in-the-loafers false scare. Schizoid will never be mistaken for an especially good movie, but between Kinski, some sporadic effectiveness, and the entrancingly oddities it occasionally whips out, I'm definitely glad I had a chance to check it out.

Schizoid is the slicker half of this double feature: clean, clear, and well-defined. Its colors are reasonably robust, the grain structure is rendered nicely, and the closest thing to a gripe I have is
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some judder during the opening titles that's almost certainly been there all along. X-Ray, meanwhile, has a much hazier appearance to it, but it generally looks alright in high-def. I mean, yeah, it's pretty flat looking, and the image really struggles under limited light -- it feels like I'm looking at golf-ball size grain here -- but definition and detail are still pretty respectable. The compression leaves the gritty texture throughout X-Ray looking kinda blocky and digital, despite having an adequate bitrate and all. Not a knockout but decent enough.

Dual layer Blu-ray disc. 1.78:1 aspect ratio on both halves of this double feature. AVC encodes all around.

Both Schizoid and X-Ray feature DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in 24-bit stereo. My kneejerk reaction to Schizoid is that it sounds raw but robust: pretty punchy for a film of its age and obscurity, sure, but with some mild hiss and background noise rearing its head. I love the weird, belching keyboards in the score, and the few cracks of gunfire pack a hell of a wallop. Not a whole lot to drone on about when it comes to X-Ray's lossless audio. It's reasonably clean and clear. There's a little clipping, but all of that's easily shrugged off. I could make out all the stuff I wanted to hear, and there aren't any nasty artifacts to get in the way. Neither track will redefine the way you perceive cinematic sound or whatever, but they're pretty much exactly what I hoped they'd be.

There are no other audio options whatsoever: no commentaries, no dubs, no remixes, and no subtitles. Um, I'm pretty sure you'll be able to follow along no matter what language you speak, though.

  • Bad Medicine (13 min.; HD): On the X-Ray side of things is an interview with director Boaz Davidson. He speaks
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    about how he got his start as a filmmaker in Israel and how he hopped onboard X-Ray as a director the day before filming was scheduled to start. You get a pretty hysterical story about how he first met the Go-Go boys of Cannon and what it's like to film in an abandoned hospital in the dead of night.

  • Dear Alison... (11 min.; HD): Donna Wilkes chats about the entirety of her career as an actress, touching on highlights like Jaws 2 and Angel. 'Course, this being an extra on the Schizoid Blu-ray release and all, you can probably guess what the central topic of discussion is. Wilkes delves into Alison's mind, talks about how her relationship with Klaus Kinski was a whole lot more pleasant than most of her co-stars' (and, no, she doesn't acknowledge those rumors), and there's a whole thing about an accidental stabbing that's pretty yikes. 'Sokay.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a two minute trailer for Schizoid. The quality's nowhere near the same league as the movie proper, but I'm pretty sure it's honest-to-God high-def.

This double feature of X-Ray and Schizoid is a combo pack, so you get a DVD out of the deal too.

The Final Word
X-Ray is sort of terrible and cacklingly fun at the same time...a movie I didn't even know existed, but I'm glad I was able to finally unearth it on Blu-ray. Pretty sure I'll never watch it again, though. Schizoid, meanwhile, is a sporadically effective and mostly forgettable stab at giallo from this side of the Atlantic. Worth a rental for '80s slasher completists, but I don't think this is really one for the archives. Rent It.
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