Famed figure skater Samantha Gray is engaged to businessman Alan Falconer. When William Haskin stumbles across this news in the daily paper, he immediately jumps on a train to London and begins stalking and terrorizing her. But none of Sam’s friends and associates believe her story–until those around her start falling victim to murder. Who is William Haskin, and what dark secrets tie him to Samantha Gray?
Certainly, on paper, Schizo has promise, and there’s a couple of brief moments when its potential is in the same room as being realized. (The contrast between the two scenes in which Sam flashes back to the murder of her mother is impressive, for example.) The direction is effective and the effects scenes memorable (although there’s some terrible makeup in one of them). Most of the performances are solid without being remarkable, and there’s even a couple of good turns delivered by Jack Watson (whose creepy, desperate reading of Haskin is easily the best thing in the movie), John Fraser (as Leonard, Sam’s snide psychiatrist) and Britcom fixture Queenie Watts (as Mrs. Wallace, Sam and Alan’s superstitious housekeeper).
A lot of the strong casting is offset by Lynne Frederick (Vampire Circus) in the leading role of Sam, who simply doesn’t have the skill and range as an actress to pull off a character this complex, and as a result ends up going a bit too over-the-top a few too many times. But even the better actors are hampered by thin characterization; as appealing as John Leyton (Alan) and Stephanie Beacham (Leonard’s wife Beth) are, there’s simply not much to the roles. And underdevelopment isn’t the only problem with this lot: there’s too much behavior contrived specifically for the convenience of the plot (as with one character whose husband is murdered early in the film; she mourns him for all of about one scene, and then reverts to her previous personality for the rest of her involvement in the story).
And then there’s the story itself. While I can’t reasonably expect a film in this subgenre to not have a measure of predictability, I was particularly disappointed by that I mostly worked out what was going on within the first twenty minutes. The filmmakers’ constant attempts to fake out the audience became more annoying as they became more desperate. A psychic subplot takes up too much screen time while adding almost nothing (and a nitpick: if the founder of the Psychic Brotherhood is a woman, and most of its members are female, then why the hell is it called a “brotherhood”?). And, while I can forgive the film for equating “schizophrenia” with “multiple personalities” because everybody else in the ’70s did too, I can’t forgive the film for not knowing what multiple personality disorder is either. Or for making about as much use of it as it does of Sam’s career as a famous figure skater, which seems to exist in the movie for the sole reason that it gives Haskin a way to find out about the wedding.
Formula isn’t always a bad thing. Movies are a lot like music. Blues and rock might be based on three basic guitar chords, but you can do a lot with those three chords. Schizo has all of the elements of a great psychological thriller without actually being one itself. To extend the blues/rock guitarist metaphor, if Alfred Hitchock is Clapton and Dario Argento is Hendrix, that puts director Pete Walker in the same league as Joe Satriani: an impressive technician who can play the notes but can’t feel the soul in the music.
My rating: 3 of 10.
United Kingdom. 109 minutes. Directed by Pete Walker. Starring Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham, John Fraser.