Two of Cannon Films’ infamous slashers get the HD bump-up in Scream Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD combo of X-RAY/SCHIZOID.
When young Susan (Elizabeth Hoy, THE BLUES BROTHERS) laughs off a Valentine from class outcast Harold (Billy Jacoby, Hoy’s BLOODY BIRTHDAY co-star), he gets back at her by impaling her brother David (Michael Romano) on a coatrack. Nineteen years later, Susan’s (now Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton) Valentine’s Day is about to be ruined again. Her boyfriend Jack (Jon Van Ness, THE HITCHER) drives her to the hospital to pick up the results of her routine physical. Unbeknownst to her, a psychopath in scrubs has murdered her doctor and altered her test results to convince Drs. Beam (Den Surles) and Saxon (John Warner Williams, LOVE SCENES) that she’s terminally ill and needs to be kept under observation. Intern Harry (Chip Lucia, SYNGENOR) suspects that something’s not right and does some investigating, but everyone else whose actions might lead to Susan getting out of the hospital are being called up to the closed-off-for-fumigation ninth floor for vivisection. When Susan receives a severed head in a box from an unknown admirer, the doctors interpret her hysterics as a seizure and decide to proceed with surgery; however, the killer has another kind of operation in mind for Susan on this very special Valentine’s Day.
One of a trio of sub-par slasher films including NEW YEAR’S EVIL and this disc’s co-feature SCHIZOID (see below) mounted by Cannon shortly after the company was acquired by Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (five if you count the pre-Golan/Globus Cannon slashers SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT and SAVAGE WEEKEND), there is absolutely nothing subtle about X-RAY – originally titled BE MY VALENTINE… OR ELSE! – beyond its title (and that was changed right before US release to HOSPITAL MASSACRE). The red herrings – including Susan’s ex-husband who is seen several times fondling a knife even though he’s nowhere near the hospital – are so obvious in Marc Behm’s screenplay (yes, the guy who wrote CHARADE also wrote this) that of course the only character who behaves normally is the killer. Benton’s Susan isn’t a particularly likable character from the start, but the only reason the audience can identify with her is because the script amps up the phobias and paranoia about hospitals to a ridiculous degree. The killer is no silent phantom; he rants, roars, and raves during the killings so much that it’s surprising no one notices (although this is also a hospital whose hallways become deserted when convenient for the killer or whoever discovers his latest victim). NEW YEAR’S EVIL and SCHIZOID were fairly bloodless, but X-RAY has truly in its favor a number of splattery kills – courtesy of make-up effects artist Allan Apone (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III) – that might have lost some of their impact to the MPAA but still give the film a bit of an edge (especially when one considers that all of Cannon’s slasher films seemed to be aimed at older audiences through their use of adult characters rather than the usual teenagers). I actually hated the film when I first saw it on tape, but now I’m somewhat entertained and very amused at its clunkiness. The cinematography of Nicholas Von Sternberg (TOURIST TRAP) – junior, that is – is slick and moody, particularly during the ninth floor scenes (and a couple cool shots of the killer descending on his victims, including neat but overlong one bit that seems to anticipate a more disturbing shot during a hospital scene in William Peter Blatty's EXORCIST III), and the bombastic score of Arlon Obler features some chanting voices that are more THE OMEN than FRIDAY THE 13TH.
Released early on by MGM/UA in one of their cardboard big box editions under the HOSPITAL MASSACRE title in 1983 (and never since then), Shout’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray (and 16:9 DVD) features the original X-RAY title card (the theatrical prints reportedly had HOSPITAL MASSACRE spliced in and the MGM VHS had a video burn title card). The new transfer is spotless and handles the hazy ninth floor scenes well and even adds a degree of gloss to the physical exam scene that makes it a shade less sleazy. The mono track – DTS-HD 2.0 on the Blu and Dolby Digital 2.0 on the DVD – is in fine condition.
The only extra is an interview with director Boaz Davidson (13:00) – who has since retired from directing to become producer and head of development for Millennium Films (a division of former Cannon regular Avi Lerner’s Nu Image) – in which he discusses his beginnings making 8mm films in Israel and returning to make shorts after film school in London. Producers Golan and Globus afforded him the opportunity to make features in Israel (including the LEMON POPSICLE sex comedies), and then stateside with the drama SEED OF INNOCENCE. X-RAY was his first film for Golan-Globus after they acquired Cannon. Davidson likes slasher films but had never been afforded to opportunity to do one before this film, and he was only offered the film after the film’s original director failed to make good on his promise to bring in some funding from Austria. He recalls working with Benton and the night shoots at the abandoned hospital location, as well as an encounter with a representative from Cannon’s UK distributor – who cut the film by eight minutes (expository scenes) – who found the film funny.
A scissor-wielding killer is stalking the female members of a therapy group run by Dr. Pieter Fales (Klaus Kinski, CRAWLSPACE). When advice columnist and group member Julie (Marianna Hill, MESSIAH OF EVIL) recognizes a Jane Doe as one of her fellow group members, she and the police – TRANCER’s Richard Herd and Joe Regalbuto of TV’s MURPHY BROWN – wonder if the killing is related to a series of threatening letters. Suspects include Julie’s ex-husband and current boss Doug (Craig Wasson, GHOST STORY), Dr. Fales, his daughter Allison (Donna Wilkes, ANGEL) – who resents Julie (and other members of the group) for sleeping with her father – as well as creepy but “red herring”seeming janitor Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd, CLUE) who is also in the group and gets assigned to do work at both Julie’s apartment building and her office.
Like Cannon’s NEW YEAR’S EVIL, SCHIZOID is less of a slasher than a stalker thriller peppered with a couple none-too-suspenseful stalk-n-slash scenes. As with X-RAY, the weird behaviors (including the common reason for their lack of alibis) of various characters is emphasized to such a degree (although Kinski is pretty much being himself) that it becomes quite easy to narrow down the identity of the killer (it also helps that we get just enough of a view of the killer’s face in a car’s rearview mirror to be sure that it’s definitely not who the director wants us to think it is). More intriguing is that the writer of the letters seems to possess seemingly multiple copies of the ad mat for THE KILLER BEHIND THE MASK – director David Paulsen’s earlier (and more brutal) slasher pic released by Cannon as SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979) – from which to extract the word “murder!”. Hill, Kinski, Wasson and Wilkes are at least watchable even if the script itself is going through the motions, but the whole “it’s the one you least expect” doesn’t really work here. Apart from the stalking scenes, composer Craig Huxley (ALLIGATOR) takes the lyrical “psychological thriller” bent in his score while cinematographer Norman Leigh (THE BRINKS JOB) exploits the environs of Kinski’s character’s picturesque villa for all its worth.
First released by MCA in the early 1980s and then reissued in 1988 by the short-lived Cannon Video, SCHIZOID’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1.78:1 transfer comes from a film element that is clean but does not seem to have had any additional digital cleanup going by the single instance of vertical scratching that appears late in the film. No complaints about the mono track. Extras for SCHIZOID include the film’s trailer (1:58) as well as an interview with actress Donna Wilkes (10:40) in which she recalls working with Kinski, who did and said things purely for shock value and did not ingratiate himself with the female members of the crew (although Wilkes says she herself had a pleasant experience working with him). She also recalls accidentally stabbing one of her co-stars during the film’s climax. She was unaware that the film had its fans until an appearance at Monsterpalooza, but she does relate her surprise at how well-loved the film ANGEL was when she was doing European promotion for the film. There is no option to play the films one after the other, but I would suggest watching SCHIZOID first and then X-RAY to perk yourself up (even though the order is reversed on Shout’s packaging and the menu). (Eric Cotenas)
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