Schizo (1976)

In line at the grocery store, I hoped that Samantha was going to be OK. Driving home, I hoped nothing terrible happened to Alan. Making breakfast the next morning, I tried to figure out how Beth would take some bad news. Does a slasher film have any right to make me think so much after a viewing? Only if Pete Walker is behind the lens.

When it comes to horror films, UK director Pete Walker is a very talented guy. After a brief career in sexploitation, Walker unleashed two handfuls of stylish, intelligent exploitation/horror films before retiring from the film biz in the early 80s. Intending to disrupt and unsettle the stagnant state of British horror in the 1970s, he lined films like Frightmare and House of Whipcord with shock and thought. He added grue for the thrill seekers and social undercurrents for the thinking man, not unlike his American contemporaries George Romero and Bob Clark. Schizo finds Walker tackling the slasher, a sub-genre that was developing towards its peak when this film was produced. Although it lacks the social thrust of a majority of Walker’s other work, the simplistic Schizo isn’t any less successful. Just like Frightmare, it will burn in your brain long after “The End” greets your eyes.

On his way home from the graveyard shift, an older man chances upon a newspaper headline: “Ice Queen To Wed.” Instant rage. Newlyweds Alan (John Leyton, protégé of eccentric UK record producer Joe Meek) and professional ice skater Samantha are just beginning their lives together. On the eve of their honeymoon, Samantha begins seeing a sinister man. She first sees him immediately following the wedding, then again while taking a shower the next morning. Alan and the police are skeptical. There is no evidence. The marriage strains and Samantha turns to best friend Beth, her shrink, and her New Age cleaning lady for support. Shockingly violent murders build up, but the police still have their doubts as to what’s going on.

In lesser hands, the 110-minute Schizo might have ended up routine and slightly intruding. Thankfully, Pete Walker’s inherent technical capabilities are in full force. The film’s major twist appears predictable at first, then gets thrown on its rump with yet another twist and a brilliant ending. All the while, Walker anchors the film in class. The clever transitions and camera movements, excellent acting, and plot work together towards one goal: building tension. And build they do. As pressure runs high, dark secrets are revealed. Sudden scenes of shock and skewed sex flashbacks occur in tandem with the developing storyline’s surprising moments, ultimately leading to a fruitful climax. Sure, the plot is slightly predictable. Yes, the runtime does approach epic proportions, especially for a low-budget horror film. In the end, such minor quibbles disappear completely, overwhelmed by the effectiveness of the whole.

Today at lunch, poor Alan and reluctant Beth will probably pop into my mind. That’s the mark of an effective horror film at work. That’s the mark of Pete Walker.

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