Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
When people think of Cannon Films, typically a lineup of action and ninja movies run through their mind, or the distributor’s prominent stars like Bronson, Norris, or Van Damme. Generally, people don’t think of horror. Golan and Globus did distribute their fair share of the genre in the 80s and 90s though, including some classics like New Years Evil and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which I love and I’ll fight anyone who thinks differently. Some didn’t gain as much notoriety though – two such films being X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre) and Schizoid (aka Murder by Mail).
Neither film has seen a home video release beyond VHS…until now! The madmen over at Scream Factory! are dropping both on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time in one entertaining, but uneven, double bill. Dig:
Rejection can be a bitch. Especially when you’re a kid. Normally when you’re little you can shrug off a crush no problem and move on to the next girlie. Not for Harold though. Ever since he witnessed Susan mock his Valentine’s Day card when they were tykes he hasn’t been able to let it go. Two decades later he finally sees an opportunity for bloody revenge when Susan (all grown-up and engaged now) goes into a hospital for a routine follow-up. While it should be a quick trip for Susan, she soon finds it very difficult to the hospital.
X-Ray is set in the world’s worst hospital. Everyone from the patients to the doctors are insanely sketchy. The sanest looking person is the gangly janitor, who wrings his sweaty hands at the sight of woman. It was filmed in an actual abandoned hospital and, for some reason, they were only allowed to film at night. The location and natural low lighting adds loads to the sinister atmosphere and immeasurably boosts this paranoid little thriller.
Playboy playmate Barbi Benton stars as Susan, but it’s the cast of weirdo patients and sleazy staff members that are the real stars of X-Ray. There are three elderly creeps Susan has to share a room with – one of which is a man in drag. Another patient just roams the halls, sipping from a pint of gut-rot and stumbling all over the place. And, of course, there’s Harold, who’s in full doctor costume. Although his heavy breathing would wake up someone sleeping a block away, he still manages to get the jump on folks. As a slasher villain, he’s not very interesting, but there are some fun kills (which always seems to be the case in hospitals).
In the interview with Israeli director Boaz Davidson featured on the disc (the film’s lone special feature), he explains that horror isn’t his “forte.” This may have lead to the barrage of genre conventions he relentlessly throws at the audience throughout the film. It’s like he had two giant handfuls of slasher/horror tropes, wasn’t sure what to do with them or which ones to leave out, so he just hurled them all at the camera. Somehow, it works though.
The film is downright manic – only pausing to let us soak in Benton’s bare chest in one scene – and it’s this unyielding pace coupled with the colorful cast of cretins that makes X-Ray so appealing. From the mean prologue to the final bloody frame this bitch seriously delivers.
The only feature is a 13-minute interview with director Boaz Davidson. He gives a pretty interesting talk about the poster war he had with Cannon before he was hired by them and what shooting in the hospital was like. He’s rocking a pretty sharp Olympus Has Fallen pullover fleece during the interview, which I found distracting. (He was executive producer on that film, along with over 140 big and small budget productions. Respect.)
On the other half of the double bill is the 1980 slasher Schizoid. It’s not as entertaining as X-Ray, but it does sport a more competent cast and plot, with enough red herrings to choke an actual school of herrings.
Julie (Marianna Hill) works as an advice columnist for a newspaper – “Dear Julie,” her column is called. Real original. She mainly answers letters from “teenagers with pimples” and others going through crises. Then she begins receiving terrorizing letters compiled of words cut out of magazines (classic!) and is unsure whether to take the threats seriously. Then the female members of her therapy group start turning up dead and the cops can’t locate the killer. When Julie argues that the corpses and letters are not coincidence, the cops are all like “Whaaa?”
Aside from Murphy Brown’s Joe Regalbuto, pretty much every male character in the film could be the killer. Klaus Kinski plays Julie’s therapist, who’s recently widowed and getting his fuck on with his female patients. Christopher Lloyd plays the sketchy maintenance man in the newspaper building, who’s also in Julie’s therapy group. And Craig Wasson (Body Double) plays Julie’s smarmy ex-husband, who’s also her boss. All of them deliver suitable performances, even Kinski, who’s restrained throughout. There are only one or two hints of his frothing genius that peer through.
It’s the romantic subplot of Kinski and Julie that tends to cause a lag in the film. It’s there for an important reason, but their intimate moments together feel too forced and overdramatic. “Forced” in more ways than one, I mean – Kinski literally smashes his lips against hers. It’s not pretty. The kills are very dull as well and lack any kind of imagination.
Watching X-Ray and Schizoid back-to-back made me realize something. I always feel kinda bad writing about how a film had “fun kills” or “clever kills” or other killy shit like that. But when you watch a film that has boring, uninspired kills that lack creativity, like the ones in Schizoid, you really appreciate the thoughtful ones, y’know? The ones with effort! I’ll take a face melting off over a stab wound any day.
There’s a trailer and a 10-minute interview with actress Donna Wilkes, who plays Kinski’s daughter in the film. She discusses how she got cast because of her creepy nature, her big break in Jaws 2, and other aspects of the shoot.
Both films are presented in 1080p HD in 1.78:1. Scream Factory hasn’t let us down so far with a transfer and the same goes here. Both films have been cleaned up of any major blemishes and the film grain is left intact. No complaints across the board.
Audio on both films is presented in DTS-HD Master Stereo. On X-Ray, I did notice some annoying fluctuations in volume between music and dialogue, but other than that no complaints.