Schizo (Pete Walker, 1976)
I can’t believe I’m the only person who saw the ending of Schizo coming less than five minutes into the movie. In the seventies (and, unfortunately, beyond), there was a tendency to conflate schizophrenia and what we now know as Dissociative Identity Disorder. (That whether DID even exists is still a controversy raging in psychology journals, as depicted in the recent Julianne Moore vehicle 6 Souls, is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant to the current discussion.) The film starts out with a voice-over about schizophrenia. Well, actually, it starts out with a voice-over about split personality (the seventies term for DID, back when the now-discredited Sybil was all the rage) that contains a few less-than-subtle clues about the Big Reveal at the end of the film. Within two sequences of that voiceover, I knew what that Big Reveal was going to be, and you probably will as well. Given that the movie is framed as a genre mystery, this does tend to curtail one’s enjoyment.
Plot: Ice skating star Samantha (Phase IV beauty Lynne Frederick, who would appear in only two more feature films before retiring from the business in 1979, at the tender age of twenty-five) has just accepted a proposal of marriage from her beau Alan (John Leyton, in his last feature appearance until 2005’s Color Me Kubrick), and the two couldn’t be happier. Well, okay, maybe they could, because a long, long shadow from Samantha’s past resurfaces at the nuptials: William Haskin (Peeping Tom‘s Jack Watson), sent to prison fifteen years earlier for murdering Samantha’s mother, has been paroled, and it seems he’s on the like mother, like daughter trip. Soon enough, people close to Samantha and Alan start turning up dead, including the playboy husband of Alan’s close friend Beth (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase‘s Stephanie Beacham), who comes to stay with the couple after her spouse’s gruesome demise. Ultimately, with Samantha paralyzed by Haskin’s presence, it’s Beth who is forced to try and stop Haskin from bumping off any more of their compatriots.
Co-writers David McGillivray (who, amusingly, would go on to write a critical history of British sex films soon after) and Murray Smith’s decision halfway through the film to thrust Beth into the main role was a very good one; while Frederick is quite the beauty, and I doubt anyone is going to complain about the amount of time she spends unclothed in this film save those who say it’s not nearly enough, Stephanie Beacham carries this film to the point where I was wishing they’d done it quite a bit before they actually did. (I should add that whenever I say something in this review about Beacham’s strong performance, you should mentally append “except that hilarious final scene where she’s waving and jumping like a madwoman”. It’s embarrassingly hilarious.) It’s also notable that it’s once Beth starts looking into things, the film’s base solidifies; it’s been kind of a muddled mess up to that point, albeit one with some interesting foley work, but it’s right then that the film’s giallo-loving heart starts getting worn on its sleeve, and Schizo starts behaving like the stylish-yet-low-rent shocker that it’s been trying to be all along. The problem is that by that point, the cat’s been out of the bag for far too long, and many casual viewers will likely have lost interest in the story. Recommended for fans of British seventies thrillers, of course, and giallo fans will find some interest in the film’s second half; Walker has internalized the conventions of giallo well, and once the film goes in that direction, it does so convincingly enough. But casual thriller fans are best avoiding it. **
The full film available on youtube. (Do they cut the nudity when posting to youtube? I don’t know…)