Thursday, October 24, 2013


Lately I've been taking the opportunity to catch up on some horror flicks that have flown under my radar through the years. Maybe it's something I flat out missed (The Asylum's enjoyable slasher riff HALLOWEEN NIGHT), something I avoided based on rep (the underrated PROPHECY), or a flick that I had a bad vibe about, only to have that gut feeling confirmed (the pointless FRIGHT NIGHT PART II).

And while their recent spate of releases has been causing a lot of wallet-emptying on my part, Scream Factory has also been making it far easier to dip into the past thanks to discs like this X-RAY/SCHIZOID double feature blu-ray.

I can't tell you how many times I picked up the oversized HOSPITAL MASSACRE box (X-RAY's more common VHS title), turned it over in my hands, thought about it... and then moved on to something else. But after watching Boaz Davidson's delightfully goony slasher the other night I have no idea what I was thinking!

A still-in-her-prime Barbi Benton stars as Susan, a buxom divorcee who needs to swing by the hospital and grab the results of her physical for her new insurance coverage. While her dicky ex-husband takes care of their kid and her new beau nods off in the hospital's loading zone, Susan finds herself smack dab in the middle of Freak City Central.

Unable to locate her doctor – who has been dispatched by a crazy killer decked out in full surgical gear – Susan finds herself at the mercy of creepy Dr. Saxon (John Warner Williams) and the worst nursing staff in the history of cinema. Fooled by the faux test results planted by the killer, Saxon and his minions keep Susan confined to the hospital, talk about how her condition is tantamount to a "death warrant" and even subject her to a topless medical exam that eventually crosses the line into uncomfortably creepy.

On the surface X-RAY has all the earmarks of a traditional, potentially forgettable 80s slasher flick: the "19 years ago" opening (featuring two of the killer tykes from BLOODY BIRTHDAY!); holiday-themed decorations throughout the hospital; and a gaggle of suspects (including, but not limited to, the ex-hubby, Dr. Saxon and Harry the internist).

But Davidson – who directed from his own story – elevates the familiar material by populating the hospital with a freaky cast of characters and making this ostensibly safe environment feel anything but secure. Peeping Tom drunks wander the halls, Amazonian nurses keep patients from leaving, leering doctors ask busty patients to strip to their panties, x-rays are swapped (hence this version's title), and Susan gets stuffed in a room with a trio of creepy old ladies who spout venomous lines like "her blood is as malignant as slime". As a fan of Davidson's later work on films like US SEALS II, MANSQUITO, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING and NINJA, it's no wonder I found this to be such an enjoyably daft – if not indispensible – slice of slasher history.

Alas, the disc's second feature doesn't fare quite as well.

I last saw SCHIZOID a few decades ago when we originally published our "Complete (sic) Guide to Klaus Kinski" in ER #26 (Winter 1989). At the time I thought it was a pretty low-grade attempt at an American giallo made oogier by watching Klaus take long looks at a semi-naked Donna Wilkes (who co-stars as his unhinged daughter). Accusations about Kinski's relationship with his actual daughter do nothing to alleviate the creepiness that permeates the proceedings.

Written and directed by David Paulsen, SCHIZOID (aka MURDER BY MAIL) comes off like a poor man's attempt at emulating the shocking thrillers of Dario Argento and early Brian DePalma, yet without any of their skill. Kinski – in what could be viewed as an extension of his psychiatrist character from SLAUGHTER HOTEL – stars as a suave group therapist who dresses sharp, makes smoking look super cool, and is banging a handful of his patients (including a stripper against a water heater... smooth).

When the patients start turning up dead, a couple cops (character actor Richard Herd and a pre-'Murphy Brown' Joe Regalbuto) start focusing their investigation on the person sending cryptic notes to group member Julie (Marianna Hill), a newspaper advice columnist and Kinski's girlfriend.

Is it the sharp-dressed psychiatrist? The group's weirdo boiler repairman (Christopher Lloyd)? Alison (Wilkes), who bitches that her father spends too much time talking to his patients? I won't spoil it, but if you've seen more than a handful of flicks featuring a black-gloved killer stalking a group you'll ID the culprit the minute they turn up on screen.

SCHIZOID is just as tedious as I remembered and Kinski doesn't even elevate the surroundings with any of the loonies that sets apart most of his more enjoyable 80s work. He's pretty sedate and unmemorable here, though it wouldn't be long before he was letting his freak flag fly in flicks like VENOM, ANDROID, CRAWLSPACE, TIMESTALKERS, NOSFERATU IN VENICE, CREATURE and CODE NAME: WILDGEESE. To be frank, any of those would be a better use of your time than SCHIZOID.

Released in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, I believe Scream Factory's X-RAY/SCHIZOID Double Feature marks the first time since VHS that either of these flicks have been available. In addition to the widescreen presentation of both titles, bonus features include interviews with SCHZOID star Donna Wilkes and X-RAY helmer Boaz Davidson.

Not as "must have" as some of Scream/Shout Factory's other releases but worth picking up for X-RAY alone. – Dan Taylor

X-RAY/SCHIZOID is available from Amazon.

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