X-Ray/Schizoid Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out two wonderfully sleazy horror flicks from Scream Factory...
Boaz Davidson’s X-Ray is better known as Hospital Massacre and also sometimes as Ward 13 and my favourite alternate title, Be My Valentine, Or Else…), but not to be confused with Canadian slasher Visiting Hours, which is sometimes known as Hospital Horror, or the British-made Computer Killers, which is also sometimes known as Horror Hospital. The story follows Susan Jeremy (Barbi Benton), a divorcee mother of one that visits a local hospital for a routine checkup. Unfortunately, the ominous staff seems to think that her test results are questionable and refuse to tell her what is wrong. It also appears that a crazy person who may or may not be a part of Susan’s dark past is roaming the hallways, slaughtering people.
X-Ray is typically trashy exploitation material and I mean that in the very best way. All the hallmarks of a formula-driven, post- Friday the 13th slasher are here, including a killer stoked by a childhood trauma, a myriad of creepy and cruel characters, a contained and claustrophobic setting (in this case, a hospital, something stolen from John Carpenter and Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II), and even a little gratuitous T&A (an elongated physical check-up). Following a brief flashback sequence that sets up the killer’s purpose, the storyline dives right in to the stalking & slashing. This leaves no room for proper ambience and no time to get to know any of the characters, but allows Davidson to quickly find his way to the point. He displays little understanding of the context required to achieve real horror, but is good at wringing the sleaze and suspense from the material. X-Ray doesn’t work particularly well as a slasher, mostly because Davidson overdoes the fake-out scares so early in the film, but, as a raunchy paranoid thriller, it’s almost great. The mad killer sequences sort of get in the way of the more cryptically creepy hospital stuff – Susan’s mystery diagnosis, mentally deranged co-patients, and unnecessarily cabalistic doctors. The final film is kind of like a particularly R-rated (and overlong) episode of The Twilight Zone that keeps getting interrupted by a typical ‘80s slasher movie. Sadly, it’s never clear exactly what the non-crazy doctors saw on Susan’s x-ray. I was kind of hoping for the sudden appearance of a mutant monster baby.
The violence is appropriately bloody, though the budget limitations appear to have effected the special effects department, because dollops of red Karo syrup stand in for Tom Savini-worthy gaping wound appliances. And, like any good sleaze-fest, X-ray is inadvertently funny. This includes dopey scare set-ups (the killer chases a terrified nurse down a hallway while brandishing…a sheet?), the killer’s exaggerated mouth-breathing, wooden acting, and, of course, quotably daft dialogue. My favourite bits include a gas-masked exterminator yelling, ‘You bettah get outta here kid, if you don’t wanna get de-loused,’ when Susan gets off the elevator on the wrong floor, and Susan herself screaming ‘Right! Just try to sleep?! I just saw a murder! You Moron!’ after being strapped into bed and instructed to ‘just try to sleep.’
X-Ray is presented in 1.85:1, 1080p video. This is a strictly no-frills release, but is not even remotely comparable to Shout Factory’s problematic Jackie Chan double-features. This is an occasionally dirty transfer that features little blips of print damage (cigarette burns, flecks of white noise, a few scanning lines), but generally natural-looking grain levels. Details are slightly smudged in wider-angle shots, usually a symptom of cinematographer Nicholas Von Sternberg’s soft and purposefully murky photography, but crisp in most close-ups. The whole palette leans a bit on the red side, which is a common side effect of not particularly well-maintained film, but this is a minor problem, one that is really only persistent during the brightest shots. There is also a bit of cross-colouration and low-level blocking in the stronger hues, but, in general, the colour qualities are pretty vibrant. The original mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound design is minimalist and is mostly made up of clear (though not always sharp) dialogue and basic, incidental effects work. The track gets a little more stylized as a handsy doctor gives Susan a physical and the audience is given a taste of what he hears through his stethoscope. Arlon Ober’s music is sometimes glorious, especially the opening title theme, but is incredibly derivative of Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th score (which was already derivative of Herrmann’s Psycho score) and, at its most ridiculously dramatic, Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen score. The lossless sound quality ensures that the punchy orchestrations aren’t distorted at higher volume levels.
The only extra here is a retrospective interview with Davidson (13:00, HD) that traces his career from small beginnings in Israel to directing B-productions, like this one (which he freely admits is a rip-off of other slasher classics), and all the way up to modern major Hollywood productions. What’s fascinating about Davidson’s work as a producer is that he doesn’t really seem to differentiate between his A and B-level projects. In the same year (2008), he made twelve movies, including two belated horror reboots ( Day of the Dead and It’s Alive), a Diane Keaton vehicle aimed at middle-aged females ( Mad Money), a long-delayed First Blood sequel ( Rambo), an STV killer shark movie ( Shark in Venice), the third in a line of a series aimed at little girls ( The Prince and Me 3: Royal Honeymoon), and only the third film to star both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro ( Righteous Kill). In fact, the only thing his more recent productions seem to have in common is that most of them aren’t any good ( Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Rambo, notwithstanding) and a shocking number of them barely make it into theaters in the US at all.
Like X-Ray, David Paulsen’s Schizoid is not an objectively good movie. It’s more of a likeably sloppy little slice of exploitation and it succeeds mostly on unconventional terms, specifically an otherwise unobtainable brand of authentic ‘70s/’80s low-budget sleaze. The plot follows an advice columnist named Julie (Marianna Hill) that starts receiving cryptic death threats at her newspaper’s office. Meanwhile, the female members of her weekly therapy group start turning up murdered.
Paulsen was much better know for directing ‘80s television shows, including Knots Landing, Dallas, and Dynasty, but, before he found success with primetime soap operas, he made two cheapo horror films – Schizoid and Savage Weekend. Savage Weekend is a campsite slasher that is only really notable for pre-dated Friday the 13th by a year; otherwise it sits rightfully forgotten. Schizoid was released some months after Friday the 13th, but before that film set a precedent with its formula. The result is a stalk-and-slash whodunit that owes more to the garish, gory, late-70s Italian gialli than slasher genre forerunners, like Halloween or Black Christmas. The gialli-isms begin with a character introductory sequence straight out of Bird with the Crystal Plumage (an unseen menace snaps photographs of his intended victims) and go on to include the killer’s wardrobe (black gloves, a black brimmed hat), gliding P.O.V. shots, and a fetishized weapon (scissors, in this case). Paulsen’s occasionally amateurish direction is actually quite endearing at times. He robs shots from all of the best sources (the opening murder scene apes Tobe Hooper’s frenetic Texas Chainsaw Massacre style) and, like Davidson, does a good job establishing an oppressively disturbing tone between kill sequences. Schizoid ends up sitting alongside Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper as something of a missing link between Dario Argento’s slick style and Bill Lustig’s 42nd Street grit. But don’t go expecting something as graphic as New York Ripper – Schizoid is brutal without being particularly gory and the sex scenes are squalidly unattractive.
Schizoid’s most valuable asset is Klaus Kinski as the psychiatrist in charge of the doomed therapy group. Kinski, whose presence is another indicator of the film’s giallo roots, made a series of underrated B-genre flicks throughout the ‘80s that have been largely forgotten in favour of his objectively better work with George Roy Hill and Werner Herzog. These include James Glickenhaus’ The Soldier, Aaron Lipstadt’s Android, William Malone’s Creature, and David Schmoeller’s Crawlspace (which is also due for a Scream Factory release). This particular performance is strangely sweet, despite the fact that recent sexual abuse accusations from his real-life children make his relationship with his on-screen daughter significantly more disturbing. Schizoid is also notable for an early appearance of Christopher Lloyd, back when he could still play an imposing figure without the audience laughing at his bizarre façade. In fact, the entire cast is pretty good here, especially during the talk-heavy group therapy sessions. Kinski’s creepy presence is entirely out of step with the otherwise naturalistic performances, which is problematic for any audience trying to take the film seriously, but it makes the double-feature attachment to X-Ray all the more apt – both productions feel like multiple movies have been haphazardly squeezed into a single feature. In this case, Schizoid is a giallo-inspired amateur detective story that keeps finding itself interrupted by a bleak character study comparable to Lustig’s Maniac, which itself is repeatedly interrupted by a melodrama about a widowed single father struggling to reestablish a relationship with his angst-ridden daughter.
Schizoid looks very similar to X-Ray, though perhaps a tad more impressive on the whole and a notable upgrade on the included DVD version (which is taken from the same source and included in this release). This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is similarly dark and grain-soaked in keeping with the source material’s basic photographic intentions. Possibly avoidable artefacts include some black flecks of dirt, a couple of chunky uptakes in grain, and a scan line or two, but the more problematic issue is the pulsing and frame wiggle that plagues a handful of shots. Details can be soft, but are crisp where it counts, including complex close-up textures and well-separated background patterns. Like the X-Ray transfer, this one seems a little too red, especially in skin tones, but overall colour quality is strong without any major compression artefacts, like macroblocking. The contrast levels are keyed a bit too high at times, specifically during the brighter outdoor shots, where the sunlight tends to bloom from the backgrounds. Darker sequences are, of course, grainier and less vibrant, but do feature some strong black edges that help keep the important images discernable. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound is a bit stronger than X-Ray’s similar track, specifically in overall volume. There are distorted pieces of dialogue and a slightly fuzzy sound floor during talkative scenes. Whenever it looks like Schizoid is going to approach something resembling greatness, Craig Hundley’s frantic, off-tempo keyboard score adds another level of inadvertent ineptitude. This track sounds best when Hundley is hammering out non-sequitur synth notes during the attack scenes. The extras include an interview with actress Donna Wilkes (10:40, HD), who covers her role as Kinski’s troubled daughter, and a trailer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 20th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Director Interview, Actress Interview, Trailer, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Boaz Davidson, David Paulsen
Cast: Gay Austin, Chip Lucia, Den Surles, Barbi Benton, Klaus Kinski, Richard Herd, Marianna Hill
Genre: Crime, Horror and Thriller
Length: 178 minutes
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