|Director: Boaz Davidson / David Paulsen
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Barbi Benton, Donna Wilkes, Marianna Hill, Craig Wasson, Charles Lucia
Though Cannon and producers Golan-Globus were mostly known for their action output in the ‘80s (and break dancing films Breakin’ and Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo), they released a number of horror films, such as New Years Evil and this double feature recently out on blu-ray from Shout! Factory, X-Ray aka Hospital Massacre (1982) and Schizoid (1980). Schizoid is not to be confused with the Lucio Fulci film Lizard in a Woman’s Skin aka Schizoid (1971) or Pete Walker’s Schizo (1976). While these are certainly lesser known ‘80s horror efforts, it’s great to see Shout! Factory rescuing such potential cult classics from obscurity.
First up is X-Ray, which concerns a woman (Barbi Benton) trapped in a hospital for a terrifying night of stalking and bloodshed. After an opening sequence where a little girl, Susan, receives an unwanted Valentine and her creepy, would be suitor proceeds to murder her friend, the adult Susan makes a quick trip to the hospital to pick up the results of a routine check up. Unfortunately complications arise and it seems that someone has switched her records, requiring her to stay overnight for some emergency tests. This stalker is roaming the hospital, killing anyone who gets near Susan or her records, including her doctors, nurses, and fiancé. Who is after Susan and will she make it out of the hospital of horrors alive?
If you guessed that her adult stalker is the same kid whose Valentine she rejected, you would be dead on and it’s so obvious that I’m not really giving away any spoilers. Make no mistake, X-Ray is completely ridiculous and hilarious in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. There are some wonderful moments of surrealism and violence, particularly when the killer crams a dead doctor upside down in a locker, when he runs down the hallway holding up a sheet to strangle a nurse, and when Susan inexplicably encounters a hallway full of men in gas masks, among many other things.
Hugh Hefner’s ex-wife and former Playmate Barbi Benton (Deathstalker) is the main attraction here and though she’s not a great actress, she looks suitably baffled or terrified for much of the film. She has a requisite nude scene, where a doctor requires her to strip down simply to take her blood pressure and draw some blood. Keep your eyes peeled for cameos from some of the kids from Bloody Birthday, one of my favorite ‘80s horror films. Interestingly, co-writer Marc Behm was also responsible for the Beatles’ Help, Charade, and other acclaimed films. I can’t help but wonder how he got saddled with this. It’s Israeli director Boaz Davidson’s only horror film and he is more recently known for producing and co-writing action films like Rambo (2008) and The Expendables (!!!).
X-Ray is certainly an acquired taste, but if you like obscure, nonsensical ‘80s slasher films, then this comes highly recommended. I hadn’t heard of it until this release, but it is more interesting than Halloween II and far zanier than Visiting Hours. Reading the description, you might think this is another riff on My Bloody Valentine, but the Valentine’s Day motif is only present in the background. This is definitely hospital/medical horror and all the side characters are incredibly creepy or suspicious. X-Ray is memorable simply because it is so bizarre, though there are some slow scenes and moments that feel like filler, which is pretty standard for low budget ‘80s horror.
Schizoid aka Murder by Mail is not as entertaining as X-Ray, but is worth a watch, particularly for Klaus Kinski fans. Director David Paulson had an obvious interest in giallo films and this follows a certain general plot pattern established in the ‘60s and ‘70s. An advice columnist, Julie (Marianna Hill), has received a number of cut and paste letters threatening her life. The police ignore her, though her recent ex-husband/co-worker (Craig Wasson) is concerned for her safety. Unbeknownst to her, members of her mostly female therapy group are dropping dead all over the city. She is having a secret affair with the head of their therapy session, psychologist Dr. Fales (Klaus Kinski), who is also secretly sleeping with most of the group and has an odd relationship with his angry teenage daughter (Donna Wilkes).
All the male characters here are extra creepy. Kinski is relatively subdued, but a young Christopher Lloyd is particularly unhinged as the sole male member of the therapy circle. Julie’s desperate ex-husband is played by Craig Wasson (what happened to his career?), who you may recognize from his starring role in Brian De Palma’s Body Double and a supporting role in Nightmare on Elm Street III. Interestingly, all the female actors except Dr. Fales’s daughter, including star Marianna Hill (The Baby), are middle aged, something not typically seen in a giallo or slasher film. Though the movie opens with a hot tub party—one of the characters is a stripper, and there are some tame love scenes between Hill and Kinski (shudder)—Schizoid is very light on sex and nudity.
The film is also relatively tame in the violence department and drags in places from some conversational filler, but is sleazy enough to please fans of the genre. There are tons of giallo tropes in place, including a black-gloved killer, and enough twists, turns, red herrings, and suspicious characters to keep things interesting. Though this is certainly a more minor effort, it will interest fans of obscure slasher films and thrillers inspired by giallo films. As long as you don’t expect much, Schizoid is pleasantly uncomfortable and silly in equal measure.
I haven’t been disappointed with a single Shout! Factory release I’ve seen so far and they should count this as another, if somewhat lesser, triumph. Both films are presented in MPEG-4 AVC with a resolution of 1080p and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Both look far better than they probably deserve. Schizoid in particular is quite clear, and though X-Ray looks very good, there are some issues with the smoky, shadowy or black scenes, where it can be difficult to see what’s going on. Both films have varying amounts of grain, though that’s to be expected from forgotten, low budget early ‘80s horror movies, and both films retain a soft filmic quality which is pleasing. I can’t imagine either of these looked nearly as good on VHS, so obscure horror fans will be delighted.
There is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix for both X-Ray and Schizoid. Dialogue is clear and the soundtracks in particular sound great in both films. Schizoid has some occasional hissing and static, but the frequent whispering in X-Ray comes across loud and clear. Its score occasionally sounds like a blatant rip-off of parts of Jerry Goldsmith’s tremendous score for The Omen (1976), but it adds a combination of dramatic seriousness and over the top ridiculousness that help make the film so enjoyable. This release lacks any subtitles or audio commentaries for either film.
There aren’t many extras included on this disc, which isn’t that much of a surprise, but Shout! Factory at least managed to include a few interesting interviews and a trailer for Schizoid. “Bad Medicine” is an amusing 13 minute interview with X-Ray’s director Boaz Davidson. He discusses his relationship with Cannon and the filming of X-Ray. “Dear Alison…” is a ten minute interview with Schizoid actress Donna Wilkes, who discusses her B-movie career and appearances in films like Jaws 2. Though this feels a little random, it’s interesting to hear her talk about what it was like to work with Klaus Kinski.
While this may not seem like the must-have blu-ray release of the year, I have always loved horror double feature releases, particularly for films that otherwise would not have seen the light of day. Shout! Factory has been putting out some great blu-rays and I would love to see them do more of these double features, a la the wonderful MGM Midnite Movies DVD series from the early ‘00s. While X-Ray is the superior of the two, both films offer up plenty of entertainment for fans of ‘80s slasher films and the release comes recommended.
~ By Samm Deighan