Written and Directed by: David Paulsen
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Donna Wilkes, and Marianna Hill
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Dear Julie, don't let me do it again...
Schizoid feels like a reheated leftover: it’s the old 70s giallo standard, here microwaved as an American thriller as the world moved into a new decade, where it would soon be introduced to an almost endless horde of slashers. Technically speaking, David Paulsen’s effort arrived shortly after Friday the 13th began chipping away at the levies, but I’m guessing it probably already felt all too familiar to contemporary audiences who had spent the previous decades untangling murder mysteries with superior plots and style.
Where the budding slasher genre often placed teens and young adults in its sights, Schizoid is more in line with the giallo genre, as an unseen assailant begins to target a self-help group comprised of middle-aged adults. The killer has particularly taken a shine to a set of women within the group that includes Julie (Marianna Hill), a recently-divorced newspaper writer whose advice column attracts strange, threatening letters from the psychopath. As the corpses begin to mount, Julie seeks help from her ex-husband (Craig Wasson, whose presence contributes to the low-rent de Palma vibe) and her therapist (Klaus Kinski). When she finds herself drawn into the arms of the latter, she discovers that he’s recovering from the traumatic loss of his wife, which really did a number on his now troubled daughter (Donna Wilkes).
Schizoid makes a good case that surface-level affectations don’t add up to a satisfying whole. It looks and sounds an awful lot like a giallo, and it’s almost as if Paulsen ran down a checklist: a protagonist working at a newspaper? Check. A couple of cops investigating the murders? Yep. Cloaked figure wearing a hat and black gloves who murders with a signature weapon (a pair of scissors in this case)? You bet. Neon-lit strolls down sleazy, urban strips and encounters with sexual perversion and taboos? Check and check. It even goes all-in with its red herrings and suspects: in addition to the perpetually deranged and totally nuts Klaus Kinski, you also get weirdo Christopher Lloyd as a handyman hanging around the proceedings. And those two bug-eyed loons aren’t even the craziest motherfuckers up in here. That honor goes to Wilkes, a sort of forgotten scream queen here playing a totally unhinged teenager lashing out at fate and her father by dressing up in her dead mother’s clothes and totally ruining dinner dates.
Based on all this, there’s little doubt that Paulsen was well-versed in gialli—it just so happens that his familiarity didn’t quite help him make a particularly great one. Schizoid is quite functional and proceeds along with just enough intrigue to remain interesting, though I’m not exaggerating too terribly when I say it’s mostly driven by Kinski’s creepy on-screen relationship with his daughter (a subplot that gets an unfortunate, additional layer of discomfort due to Pola Kinski’s recent accusations) and Wasson’s obsession with wallpapering his office. Occasionally, the murderer gets behind the wheel and goes on the prowl for victims, so the film is peppered with a few death sequences that feature some moderate stylistic flourishes. None ascend to the heights of similar sequences found in giallo or straight slashers; it’s particularly not interested in mimicking the latter, as this is straightforward, savage stuff that doesn’t relish in the gory details, save for one bit of aftermath that does resemble something from a slasher (it involves two kids frolicking in the barn before they’re interrupted by a carved up corpse).
Paulsen—who went on to have a fruitful career doing primetime 80s soaps—has an eye for these sequences at least, even if they feel like pale imitators of previous films. Schizoid wears the skin of a giallo but misses the dazzling, alluring soul; the best of this genre transports audiences to strange, surreal corners tucked somewhere between dreams, nightmares, and reality. By comparison, Schizoid is a dry experience that limps along and leans on its trashier elements whenever it has the chance. The disjointed result is made tolerable by the impressive cast; Hill is solid as one of the few normal people, but the group of oddballs surrounding her is more fun. Kinski is the obvious highlight here doing his typical creepy, leering shtick that immediately tilts everything off-center. His introduction finds him weirdly gazing at his topless daughter before he starts to hit on the women in his group (in addition to Hill, he also has a thing for the stripper in the bunch). Remarkably, Kinski finds an empathetic center in the character, too—as this is a giallo knock-off, perceptions are fluid, and it starts to seem like he might actually be more of a victim.
The same is true of Wilkes, who forms a spectacular nutty father-daughter duo along with Kinski; in a perfect world, Schizoid would be straight-up schlockfest focusing on their weird dalliances, but their placement in this whodunit is a little too obvious. Well-trained giallo vets will likely snuff out the film’s big secret before it goes suitably nuts for the final ten minutes or so. In the grand tradition, the conclusion is something of a satisfying groaner—it certainly makes sense, but it feels like the film takes the least interesting route possible in order to deliver a climactic shock. That Schizoid was quickly consigned to obscurity speaks to how flat and unremarkable it is. Cannon did bring it to theaters in 1980 (perhaps to cash in on the growing success of slashers) before it joined a horde of similar films on video store shelves.
Scream Factory has plucked it from the ranks of those films that somehow never made it to DVD during the past decade and has given it a Blu-ray treatment to boot with a nice collector’s edition double feature that pairs it with Cannon slasher brethren X-Ray. Schizoid looks slick, all things considered, while the DTS-MA 2.0 soundtrack especially gives Craig Huxley’s synth noodling score a nice presence. Both a trailer and an interview with Wilkes round out the disc, and it’s nice to see the latter feature give an unsung actress her due—between this, Jaws 2, Blood Song, and Angel, she carved out a nice little run for herself. Likewise, Schizoid carves out some memorable moments, especially whenever Kinski and Wilkes are on screen—it never quite shakes that leftover smell, though. Rent it!
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