Schizoid (1980)

AKA: Murder by Mail

Julie works as an advice columnist at the local newspaper. She’s been on-edge lately because she’s been receiving anonymous cut-out notes threatening her with increasing levels of violence. But no matter where she turns, no one seems to be willing to help her. The police say they can’t do anything for her unless something actually happens to her, her ex husband writes it off as a harmless creep, and her therapist just brushes her off and tells her not to worry about it. Naturally Julie is less than reassured, and initially follows their advice but, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out she should have listened to her first instinct. Turns out some of the other female members of her therapy group have suddenly gone missing, having been stalked and stabbed by an unknown assailant wielding an oversized pair of scissors. Yet the police still don’t seem too convinced of any connection, so poor Julie is forced to be proactive for the sake of her own safety, especially when it becomes apparent that the danger is much closer to her than she’d like to believe.

Ah yes, the good ol’ days when TV boxes were huge and sturdy enough to support a fully-sized 20lb typewriter.

Schizoid is an American slasher from 1980, which places the film in the early formative years of the slasher, when the sub-genre was still getting it’s footing and there weren’t 1001 clones of Halloween. This means that the movie pulls some of its influences from other horror genres, and isn’t bogged down by a cavalcade of now familiar genre tropes. But while it may be a bit more unique than it’s later brethren, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suffer from its own issues of growing pains.

Still has a bath scene, though. So check it off your bingo card.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is it’s clear influences from Italian giallo films. Up until the killer’s identity is revealed, the killer is exclusively seen wearing nothing but a dark trench coat, dark pants, dark fedora-like hat, and dark leather gloves, basically all of which are classic hallmarks straight out of any standard Giallo Killer Kit. Add in the giant pair of scissors, and you could easily toss this silhouetted psycho into some Italian horror flicks and they’d fit right in. One could also argue that the movie’s focus on targeting women and killing them in an oversexualized atmosphere is also a familiar giallo nod, but at this point that seems to be a common staple among horror movies, so it’s inclusion doesn’t seem so special these days.

Could you do me a big favor and hold still while I stab you? It’d be a big help.

But don’t go in hearing “giallo” and start expecting the film to also have any sort of related sense of visual style. There’s no focus on decor, color or fashion to be found here, and very little in the way of any sort of specific “artistic” vision. Instead the film looks and feels like a 70s TV movie, only with a lot less blood and a lot more boobage, which makes it feel a bit more like a sleazy exploitation flick and probably makes it a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the slasher fans. No, sadly stealing that outfit from our European friends is really the only notable thing about the film…. Or at least it is if your definition of ‘notable’ only includes good things worthy of remembering. Beyond that and a couple of amusing performances the film feels very mediocre.

Ah yes. 70s suits accompanied by uncomfortable 70s era touching. Lovely.

The film’s biggest drawback is undoubtedly the plot itself. The movie tries it best to be a suitable “Who Done It,” essentially throwing every character they can at you, including Julie herself, to try to dissuade you from your choice of killer whom you undoubtedly picked out right off the bat. But rest assured, you are right and all the red herrings in the world will not sway you, nor be able to mask your disappointment when the killer is finally revealed at the end and you’re able to point to the screen and mutter a half-hearted “…I knew it.” The movie is also littered with more than its fair share of implausible twists, made either by virtue of characters’ improbable actions or by making them make wild assumptions that somehow lead to the correct conclusion. Thankfully some of these actions end up being highly amusing in a ridiculous sort of way, which keeps the film from being a total wash, but that doesn’t keep the plot from being a bit of a kerfuffle.
So I just bought this really neat new car, wanna see it?

Some of the plot issues could be forgiven if the characters could somehow make up for the story’s deficiencies, but alas, no such luck. The film pretty much rests all of its hopes on Julie, her psychiatrist Dr. Pieter Fales, and the believability of their situations and their relationship. But while Julie’s story fares pretty decently as far as slasher’s go, his believability and their relationship is an absolute bust. All due respect to Mr. Klaus Kinski’s acting ability (may his angry, wrathful ghost not haunt me), but he just CANNOT pull off a credible psychologist, let alone one who’s successfully able to seduce (at least) two of his female patients. I’m sorry, but no woman’s self-esteem is that low. Thankfully, the movie is helped along by some secondary characters, including an early appearance by Christopher Lloyd, and by a young Donna Wilkes, who probably puts in the best performance of the film as Dr. Fales’ very troubled teenage daughter. Sadly, though the movie is filled with familiar faces, no one else is given much screen time to stand out, not even Richard Herd or Joe Regalbuto as the film’s two grizzled detectives. Though their exceedingly high levels of disinterest and ineptitude, their patronizing attitudes, and their complete lack of motivation to solve the crimes, may make them the worst law enforcement officers I’ve ever come across in a horror movie. And considering how bad police officers usually fare in these things, that’s really saying something.

Isn’t that cute. She’s trying to pretend she’s in a better movie.

Also of note, and not in a good way, is the film’s very bizarre musical score by Craig Hundley. Craig Hundley has had an impressive career and is a Grammy nominated musician, but I don’t know what the heck was going on here. The score felt a bit all over the place, like no one had agreed on a generalized theme and instead they just pulled out whatever instrument they cared to use that day for whatever scene they were working on. There was more than once where I remember cringing during the background music or a sound cue where there was no reason to cringe. Background music isn’t supposed to do that. For a while I couldn’t decide whether it was amusing or ridiculous, but since it was kind of distracting I’m leaning towards ridiculous.

Schizoid is an interesting, though flawed early slasher. It’s got a decent (though in one case horribly miscast) cast and some effective stalking scenes. But when it comes to the heart of the film’s plot, the mystery angle, it’s so ineffective that most people are going to stop caring before they get half way through. It’s still highly amusing to watch, and slasher fans will surely want to watch it to get their completionist badge, but even they should remember to keep their expectations low. Everyone else will likely be disappointed.

Schizoid is available for streaming on a variety of services.

It is also available on Bluray as part of a double feature with X-ray.

Michi

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