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The ice queen and the knife man
A US region 0 DVD review of SCHIZO by Gort
 

Note: This review is of Redemption's US DVD release of the film – the recent UK release, we are assured, is identical.


British horror fans of long standing will know the name of Pete Walker well, or at least they should. In the late 60s and 70s he was the nearest we had to a specialist horror director. He was never going to rival his genre contemporaries from across the pond, but then Walker never made a Night of the Living Dead or a Shivers or a Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He was a horror practitioner rather than innovator, a filmmaker who learned from others and did his own thing with the borrowings. It didn't always work. Indeed, there are moments in Walker's film cannon that are guaranteed to make even the genre familiar slap their foreheads in disbelief. But you have to admire the balls of any director who would create a character named Mark E. Desade, and the films themselves were sometimes a lot more sophisticated than the exploitation titles and tacky packaging implied.

His 1976 Schizo is a case in point. Behind the lurid presentation of its sub-Hitchcock title lies something unexpected, something genuinely surprising. Wait a minute, is that restraint? By God, yes it is! And if you only know Pete Walker from that lady with the drill in Frightmare, then that statement is likely to prompt a raised eyebrow and a disbelieving smirk. But give the film a chance and it may catch you out. And in more ways than one.

As a British thriller from the 1970s, there are a few familiar faces for those of us old enough to remember. Familiar face #1 is Samantha (Lynn Frederick), a successful ice skater who is about to get married to carpet factory manager Alan. He's one of those businessmen who believes the place will fall apart without him and has even postponed his honeymoon for two weeks to personally see an order to completion. Disturbed by the idea of this impending union is William Haskin (familiar face #2, Jack Watson – see the screen grab above), who attempts to prise Samantha's address from the newspaper that printed the wedding story and then draws angry circles over her picture. And William has a machete. A big one, well used and rusty, one that he takes with him when he heads off in search of the girl. None of which may smack of the restraint I promised, but stay with me.

Samantha has a couple of good friends who are a bit unsure about Alan but are supportive nonetheless. Leonard is a psychiatrist, a useful friend to have as it later turns out, while the gregarious, fun-loving Beth (Stephanie Beacham, familiar face #3) appears to just swan around having a swell time of it. Everyone gets to do likewise at the wedding reception, but the bride's happiness is cut short when a man who wanders into the venue's kitchen is mistaken for an agency washer-upper and leaves a rusty machete on the tray containing the wedding cake. No prizes for guessing who.

It's in the lead-up to the wedding that we get our first sign that Walker is not going to play this for cheap scares. As Samantha is being driven to the reception, she and we catch passing sight of Haskin leaning casually against a tree in a moment that is genuinely creepy without a hint of overstatement. The casting of Watson is a big plus here, an actor able to suggest a lot by doing seemingly little, his worn-in face and controlled stares and frown standing in for dialogue and giving his character a genuinely unsettling enigma.

Increasingly it becomes clear that there's more going on here than a madman hunting a pretty girl, first hinted at when cheerful Samantha gets suddenly twitchy when she is told by rink receptionist Roy (Colin Jeavons, familiar face #4) that there was a phone call for someone named Jean. Who could that be, do you think? She's soon given good cause to get jumpy, first by Beth's wedding night pranks (that an obviously fake spider turns out to actually be a fake spider is a nice touch), then when ominous shadows appear on the shower curtain and she hears strange noises downstairs. In another nice reverse-gag, she's given a start when the sound she is investigating turns out to be just the housemaid, who responds not by reassuring her but by claiming that the house is full of spirits.

The pace and development of Sam's transformation from carefree bride-to-be to terrified paranoiac is well handled and reaches a smartly edited peak when she almost loses it in her local supermarket. Following a late night patient-doctor session with Leonard that fires Alan's suspicion, the truth about just what is going on starts to come out. Or does it? By keeping key details unclear, misdirecting the audience and sustaining the threat level (one victim is assaulted with a hammer and thrown in front of a bus, another is speared through the eyeball, and a third has his throat cut in his own car, none of which helps my claim about restraint), Walker builds the tension and moves the story nicely to its climactic revelation.

Tautly structured by regular Walker pen man David McGillivray and boasting some nifty camerawork by Peter Jessop (whose credits include the TV showpieces Piece of Cake and G.B.H.), Schizo delivers a lot more than its tacky, shatter-font title suggests. It's as sound an introduction to the cinema of Pete Walker as you'll find, and a rather smart little thriller that deserves rediscovery.

sound and vision

A reasonable anamorphic 16:9 transfer that nonetheless had a few problems. Contrast and sharpness are quite good, but some scenes are much darker than I'm sure was intended, shadow detail is lost in gloom, compression artefacts are occasionally very visible and there is a lot of dust on the print throughout. And I'm talking about the US release here – I've yet to see the UK disc, which may (and note I say may) also be burdened with an NTSC to PAL transfer.

The sound is Dolby 2.0 mono, which is clean of noise and damage.

extra features

Not much. There's a weak stills gallery with four pages of stills and a video cover, and a Pete Walker filmography, plus some promo material for other Redemption releases.

summary

A neat thriller/slasher from a British horror director who may just have enough fans to constitute a small cult. The presentation here isn't bad, but it would be nice to see a cleaned up print and some beefier supporting material.

Schizo

UK 1976
109 mins
director
Pete Walker
starring
Lynne Frederick
John Leyton
Stephanie Beacham
John Fraser
Jack Watson

DVD details
region 0
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Pete Walker filmography
Stills gallery
distributor
Redemption
release date
29 April 2008 (USA)
26 May 2008 (UK)
review posted
12 June 2008

See all of Gort's reviews