The Film: 3/5
For the latest double feature to be released under its Scream Factory imprint, Shout! Factory has resurrected a pair of mostly ignored slasher movies released during the early years of Cannon Films, along with a duo of newly-produced retrospective interviews from Red Shirt Pictures. Is this set worth your time and money? Read on, dear reader....
Among the many psycho-on-the-loose horror flicks pumped out of Hollywood and independent studios during the early 1980's - and there were a literal ton of them - Boaz Davidson's X-Ray, released by youngish Cannon Films in 1982, was neither the best of the widely-loathed and loved genre. But it certainly has to be the most overwrought slasher movie ever made. Alternately known as Hospital Massacre (its American theatrical and video release title) and Be My Valentine, Or Else, X-Ray has maintained a special notoriety in the three decades since it was released for its oddball sense of humor and unpretentious plotting. Davidson made a name for himself in his native Israel for directing the first four movies in the popular teen sex comedy series Lemon Popsicle. The same year he directed X-Ray he had also made the seminal teen comedy The Last American Virgin, also a Cannon release. These days Davidson works as a producer for Millennium Films and you can usually find his name in the credits of the Expendables movies and pretty much every other one of the company's releases that either get international theatrical releases or go directly to the new release DVD and Blu-ray section of the Best Buy approximately 3.7 miles from your home.
X-Ray also had the distinction of being one of a handful of movies to star Barbi Benton, the adorable and sexy Playboy model and Hee Haw girl best known for being one of Hugh Hefner's favorite pieces of arm candy back in the day when he wasn't a dirty, pathetic old letch. The screenplay was written by Marc Behm. You have no idea who this guy is, but that's okay because neither did I up until I sat down to write this review. Behm, who passed away in July 2007, was never much of a horror scripter when the assignment to write X-Ray was offered to him. His prior credits had included writing the story for Stanley Donen's romantic thriller Charade with Peter Stone and co-scripting the 1965 Beatles movie Help! with Charles Wood. Maybe that's why much of what happens is X-Ray is so unexpectedly bizarre and off-putting that the people working behind the scenes could not have possible been taking it seriously.
Benton's character Susan Jeremy made a fatal mistake as a child. When her young admirer Harold (played by Billy Jacoby, best known as every mutant asshole little brother in 80's cinema) bashfully slips a Valentine's Day card under her door she and her friend David (Michael Romano) respond with horrible, mocking laughter and derision. This naturally is followed by a callous crumpling of Harold's lovingly assembled gift to the girl who had captured his heart, which in the process completely destroys his soul and leads him to hang that little shit heel David from a coat rack moments later. Though Susan witnesses this (right after cutting a V-Day cake with a knife too large for a kid her age to be handling) she doesn't report it to the police and Harold escapes into nothingness. Yeah, she'll definitely never see him again.
Cut to a few decades later and little Susan, who had previously looked like the Swiss Miss girl, now bears a striking resemblance to a statuesque brunette nude model who seems unable to suppress smiling even when the situation hardly calls for revelry. Susan is a successful woman with a successful marriage, an even more successful divorce, a successful rebound relationship, and a young daughter whose mother succeeded in making the fruit of her exquisitely-photographed loins look just like she did at that age. As part of the requirements of the new promotion she just received at the job we know nothing about Susan had to get a full medical check-up. When she stops by the hospital to get the results the doctors tell her that she may have a terminal disease. So they force her to remain in their care against her will while they conduct more tests. It's all pretty pointless because the only thing that is wrong with Susan is that her childhood devotee Harold, now a fully grown lunatic with a penchant for murder and heavy breathing, has killer her doctor Jacobs (Gay Austin) and switched her X-rays with that of another patient and convinced the doctors that she might be quite sick. This is obviously a ploy by Harold to keep Susan in the hospital and without the means of calling for help so he can enact a terrible and gruesome revenge on her for the way she stomped all over his metaphorical paper heart years earlier. This will also entail killing a lot of people who stand in his way. Unfortunately we don't know exactly what he looks like because for most of the movie he wears a surgical mask. Instead of being a whodunit X-Ray becomes a "Who the Hell Is It?".
So....who the hell is it? Is it the sinister-acting medico Dr. Saxon (John Warner Williams)? Is it the sweet intern Harry (Chip Lucia) who is trying to help Susan? Could it possibly be a character we haven't encountered yet? Now the makers of X-Ray wouldn't dare pull a stunt like that, would they?
For a stagy and predictable horror movie X-Ray sure is a gas. It's almost knowingly out of its mind and its drive to keep us entertained rarely reeks of desperation. Subtlety is like a wanted criminal in this movie. Davidson and Behm drenched every second of their work in shameless excess and moments of weird humor that would feel out of place in a normal everyday slasher flick. Each murder scenes is accompanied by the music score (by Arlon Ober, composer for The Incredible Melting Man and Eating Raoul) suddenly going nuts with the strains of a screeching chorus. The blood in these kills doesn't just flow, it flies and sticks to walls like Spider-Man. Some of them are cringingly brutal, such as when a nurse gets stabbed repeatedly, but then there's the scene where a nosy janitor (and possible red herring) has his face shoved into a sink full of bubbling green acid and melted off. One poor sucker gets his noggin sheared off with a bone saw and placed in a box specially for Susan. The gore effects were supervised by one of Cannon's go-to guys Joe Quinlivan and the better-than-average make-up is credited to Allan A. Apone, whose credits range from Galaxy of Terror and Friday the 13th Part III to The Avengers and Django Unchained. This movie unquestionably had some heavy technical talent behind the camera, especially cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg (Dolemite, Slaughterhouse Rock) who shoots parts of the movie in a dreamlike haze that proves to be disorienting to a positive effect.
A savvy organization like Cannon wasn't going to hire Barbi Benton solely on the basis of her acting skills, which are few but there and serviceable, so she gets to strip almost to the buff for her contractually-obligated (or least I'm assuming) nude scene. But the tone of the scene is so unsettling that even as von Sternberg's camera lustily caresses Benton's bare female form from a comfortable close distance the whole thing becomes creepy and awkward. I don't think the scene was meant to be sexy at all. Davidson and his crew (and perhaps even Barbi) subverting our expectations and having a hearty laugh at our expense? Perhaps. It would fit in just as well with the rest of X-Ray's increasingly bizarre moments of goofball hilarity. Susan's prolonged elevator ride to meet with her soon-to-be-late doctor is a comedic highlight. Not only is she forced to share the ride with a man eating a hamburger dripped ketchup all over the place (meant to look like blood, as does a later scene where the janitor discovers another blood spill and is revealed to be....watch for yourself) but at one floor the door opens to reveal three men wearing gas masks that make them look like they just returned from the battlefields of World War I. Meanwhile, some of the hospital's crazier patients are allowed to roam the hallways and scare the crap out of the more-mentally adjusted characters at will.
I'm surprised the movie didn't have cats popping out of every corner and crevice of the hospital. Hell, I'm actually a mite disappointed they were left out. For a horror movie to throw in everything but the kitchen sink - at least until the end - and then forget to have an influx of cheap cat-related shocks just feels like a major cheat. X-Ray is nothing but cheap shocks, but fortunately they're all executed with absurdist panache. It's a gory laugh riot.
L.A. newspaper advice columnist Julie (Marianna Hill) has been receiving strange letters composed of words clipped from newspapers and magazines by an unknown member of her therapy group which is overseen by Dr. Pieter Fales (Klaus Kinski). In the letters the person appears to be on the verge of committing murder. Julie tries to get the police - represented by two ineffectual detectives (Richard Herd, Joe Regalbuto) - to hear her story, but they are unable to do anything until the person concretely states that they are going to kill. Making matters worse, several of the other female members in her group are being brutally murdered by an assailant wielding a pair of scissors. Could the killer be the one responsible for the letters sent to Julie? And if so, who could it be? Is it Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd), the lonely and sullen maintenance man from the therapy group who tends to act creepy whenever he comes into contact with the opposite sex? Perhaps it's Julie's soon-to-be ex-husband and editor Doug (Craig Wasson), or Dr. Fales' suicidal daughter Alison (Donna Wilkes). Then again there's a distinct possibility that the killer is the good doctor himself since he has a fondness for having affairs with his patients before they are slaughtered. Whoever it is, it's clear that Julie is the next person on their hit list.
While X-Ray was hysterical good fun, Schizoid - released two years prior - is a lifeless and plodding flick with absolutely none of the wit, style, and flamboyant violence of the Italian giallos it is so desperately attempting to pass itself off as. The TV movie of the week-type pacing and staging makes sense when you consider that Schizoid was both written and directed by David Paulsen. Besides this movie Paulsen has made only other feature film, the rural psycho-thriller Savage Weekend which was filmed in 1976 but sat on the shelf for four years and has acquired a minor cult following over the years, and has since worked mostly in television on shows like Dallas and Dynasty. Schizoid is playing it bland and safe to an illogical extreme; here's a movie that badly wants to embrace the nasty exploitation movie it was probably meant to be, but can do nothing but fail miserably at every turn.
The movie has all the elements for a decent slasher-rama: heroine in some kind of danger, mad dog killer with a fondness for sharp objects, a bit of blood and a lot of sex and nudity, truckloads of red herrings, useless cops, and an intensified finale where all is revealed. Shame that Paulsen has no idea what to do with them. The Italians would have tried a lot harder even if they ended up with a bad movie as well. Klaus Kinski, the infamous German titan of the stage and screen, is really dialed down here as the mysterious Dr. Fales. He was definitely in this for the easy money and Paulsen provides the professed sex addict with a fair amount of female flesh to grope, but Kinski's performance is very much a by-the-numbers job. Marianna Hill does slightly better as the heroine Julie as her character has more to do in the story. That's not to say she's good in the role. Hill's dual tasks of trying to make sense of the plot and then figure out exactly where her character is supposed to fit in is a thankless one. Paulsen never puts Julie in any real danger until the finale. With only three murders committed until the ending that leaves a lot of running time for the filmmakers to waste establishing the multiple suspects and then setting Julie up in a romantic relationship with Dr. Fales for reason other than to slip some extra sex into the story and give Donna Wilkes any reasonable excuse to have a suicidal freak out in her almost every scene. In fact just about every character in Schizoid acts like a complete weirdo, diluting any suspense in the process.
Christopher Lloyd and Craig Wasson are both characteristically solid in their underwritten roles, while Richard Herd (Seinfeld) and Joe Regalbuto (Murphy Brown) have a workmanlike chemistry as the bickering L.A. cops on the trail on the killer who spend more time fretting over their next cup of coffee and dismissing Julie's problems than doing any actual police work. The music score by composer Craig Hundley (Alligator) mostly sounds like he dropped his face onto his synthesizer keyboard and then rubbed it across the keys during the murder sequences. Clearly he wasn't having much fun watching Schizoid either.
Both movies are presented by Shout! in new 1080p high-definition transfers in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and outfitted with English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks. X-Ray has been compressed from its 1.85:1 theatrical release aspect ratio and looks soft and somewhat grainy in its HD upgrade. The print quality is fine but unexceptional; the pale, sickly blue lighting used for some of the hospital interiors remains in place and looks better than ever. I have no complaints with the audio, which is solid and balanced on most components of the sound mix though the music often gets too screechy. Schizoid's drab cinematography comes off somewhat more improved than expected. The audio track is serviceable. I have no complaints with this, unlike the movie itself.
No subtitles have been included for either movie. They really would have been welcome on Schizoid, if only because Klaus Kinski tends to mutter most of his dialogue.
X-Ray's only bonus feature is "Bad Medicine" (13 minutes), a new interview with director Davidson. He spends the first few minutes talking about his early years growing up in Israel and making his own short movies on 8mm film before segueing into the origins of his collaboration with Cannon Films heads Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Most of the interview is devoted to the making of X-Ray, including Davidson's pleasant working relationship with Barbi Benton and shooting the movie in a real abandoned hospital in Los Angeles. According to Davidson another director was originally supposed to do the film but was fired at the last minute because he was supposed to produced half of the capital needed to fund the production. Not as informative as a full audio commentary, but it's a good interview through and through.
Schizoid gets both its original red-band theatrical trailer and "Dear Alison..." (11 minutes), a new interview with star Donna Wilkes. The actress discusses how she originally was compelled to go into acting at the age of 4 by her mother but she only saw it as a hobby in the beginning. She talks about the impact appearing in Jaws 2 had on her blossoming career, working on Schizoid and her rapport with Kinski, and enjoying a brief bout of international fame thanks to Angel.
This release also comes with a DVD copy containing both films in standard definition anamorphic widescreen transfers and the accompanying supplemental interviews.
If you choose to buy this double feature combo pack then do it for X-Ray and consider Schizoid an unwanted supplement. One weirdly entertaining movie and one boring missed opportunity with a pair of new retrospective interviews make for a mixed bag of a release. Proceed with caution on this one.