At a time when the British film industry was in the doldrums and the great British success stories of the late fifties and early sixties - Hammer Films and, a little later, Amicus - were in the process of disintegrating (their escapist, fantastical approaches to horror now beginning to look distinctly old fashioned in the light of such hard hitting U.S. films as "The Exorcist" and "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"), one man was busy making his own brand of cynical, exploitation-based shockers: ultra low budget, almost guerilla style horror thrillers, but with a distinctly quirky approach that placed them well within the British tradition, despite their willingness to go where Hammer and its contemporaries feared to tread. The films of Pete Walker managed to combine a bleak, world-weary mid-seventies grunginess with a penchant for imaginative flights into a world of the bizarre and the macabre; they reveled in offbeat subject matter that satirised the concerns of the age, although with always a crafty wink at their own absurdity.
But "Schizo" actually dates from a time when Walker and his then writer David McGillivray were starting to struggle with their "formula". Although still bonkers enough to more than warrant attention, it's actually a pretty standard psycho-thriller of a type Jimmy Sangster was much more comfortable with than evidently were McGillivray and Walker! Gone are the crazed Catholic priests cheerfully getting away with murder ("House of Mortal Sin"), the cannibalistic little old lady in the attic with a power drill ("Frightmare"), or the right wing patricians running their own correctional facility for errant teens in the Home Counties ("House of Whipcord"). By comparison, "Schizo" trots along in a fairly standard thriller fashion. It concerns ice skater, Samantha Falconer (Lynne Frederick) whose wedding to top carpet selling tycoon, Alan (Lohn Leyton) is somewhat marred by a bloody machete left next to the wedding cake, deposited there by a weirdo in a dirty mackintosh and a red bobble hat (Jack Watson). This sets Sam off having weird hallucinations about a naked woman being stabbed in her bed. The bobble-hatted nutcase starts making crank phone calls and eventually even starts breaking in to the newly married couple's house while Alan is at work and Sam is in the shower (yep ... your standard shower scene, that's how traditional this slasher-cum-thriller really is). Lots of other odd things start occurring and it transpires that Sam is trying to hide a dodgy past from her unsuspecting husband. She confesses to a psychiatrist friend that the intruder is a man called William Haskins - the man who murdered her mother when Sam was only seven, and who is now let loose from prison, apparently out to finish the job he left only half completed when he hacked her mother up in her bed with a machete! Soon, the psychiatrist gets the chop as well (or rather, a bloody gash in the throat!) and Haskins continues to terrorise Sam until a tense climax in her husband's factory at night results in a "twist" which most viewers will have worked out some time previously.
To pep up this fairly standard plot, Walker indulges himself in some gory set-pieces which actually go much further in terms of visual gruesomeness than most of his other, better films. Among its delights there are throat slashings, machete attacks, a hammer in the face (before the unfortunate victim is pushed under the wheels of a bus) and a knitting needle through the eyeball! The nudity and gore, and the general air of grainy sleaziness prevalent throughout, ties this in well with Walker's other films from the early '70s, but the subject matter is nowhere near original enough to make this particular film quite as memorable. There is one fantastic scene at a séance though, which starts off as quite a funny dig at the type of people who are usually attracted to such practices, before transforming itself into an unexpectedly scary demonstration of supernatural terror, all the more bewildering since this apparently genuine manifestation of the supernatural isn't explained away later, as one would expect in an otherwise "realistic" thriller of this genre.
"Schizo" is then, despite a few dodgy performances (while the always wonderful Stephanie Beacham is woefully under-used) and an uninspired plot, actually a rather watchable little period piece with a number of quirks which add colour to its otherwise standard plotting and which gives a vivid (if rather depressing and miserable) snapshot of mid-'70s Britain (check out those supermarket prices!). The DVD from Redemption seems to use the same rather dark and murky transfer as the previous disc from Image, but the anamorphic transfer, while not perfect by any means, is still pretty clear for the most part. This is a middle range Walker film but still hugely entertaining all the same, and well worth adding to your British horror collection!