Schizo is a 1976 film by crazed director Pete Walker. It involves a figure skater who claims to be pursued by an ax-crazy killer. A number of elements from other Walker films appear here, as do some of his frequent collaborators: writer David McGillivray and actress Stephanie Beacham. That makes it more of the same in some ways, but that "same" was pretty good to start with.
When is psychological horror not psychological?
Schizo begins with a voiceover describing schizophrenia as a condition in which a person has multiple personalities. That's popular belief, but in actuality the two things are completely different. The background, and feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don't find this short psychology lesson interesting, is that schizophrenia literally means "shattered mind." Somebody somewhere took that to mean "split into separate but complete pieces" and the idea caught on, but schizophrenia really means broken in the sense of a shattered drinking glass. A schizophrenic is too far removed from reality to hold together a single personality, let alone two or more. The condition here is properly called dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder at the time Schizo was filmed. (The name had to be changed because it at one point became overdiagnosed to the point of becoming a fad. Seriously). It's usually a by-product of hypnosis during psychiatric treatment. There's also something called a fugue state, which is kind of a single-instance occurrence. Think of the guy who disappears in St. Petersburg and turns up safely in Arizona a week later with no recollection of who he is or how he got there.
The fact that a "psychological horror" film would miss on these psychiatric basics is a tip-off that it's not an "examination" of anything. It's all about thrills, and the psychological element is there only to have a character who is ax crazy. Essentially, it's a monster movie with a human monster, although the nature of that monster is disguised. This is about as close as we get to the slasher era without the film ever quite becoming a slasher. Schizo lacks the layers of meaning found in Walker's best films, but that's OK. This is an effective and twisted little thriller with some clever details.
This all means that the title is a misnomer, but MPD doesn't have the same ring and would unnecessarily offend the vast majority of sufferers who are completely nonviolent. Likely Schizo was intended as a play on Psycho, whose shower scene is semi-recreated here. That's not the only Hitchcock reference, as there's a passing similarity to Gaslight. Schizo plays with the idea that someone might be trying to drive its main character insane, or that someone wants her to think that she is. Or is it that she really is insane, and none of this is happening for real? Schizo plays with a lot of stuff, and it throws around a lot of ideas for the sake of misdirection. Maybe it should have been called Red Herring.
A thuggish-looking man, played by Jack Watson, reads a newspaper headline that announces "Ice Queen to Wed," and he becomes angered. His obsessive cuckoo reaction segues into footage of the ice queen herself, the skater Samantha, played by Lynne Frederick. Her friend Beth (Stephanie Beacham) shows up with the headline at the ice rink where Samantha practices while our suspect is seen packing his belongings for a trip.
The mysterious man is tormented by flashbacks of gruesome murder as he heads for London. Samantha is haunted with memories of her own when she catches sight of him. Her nerves are horribly rattled when a bloody knife is sent with her wedding cake to the reception. Threatening phone calls and evidence of home intrusion follow. The number of pranks played makes the movie feel like April Fool's Day for a while.
There are hints that Samantha is on shaky psychological ground to start with. She sometimes seems to be in her own world and won't respond to her own name. No family members attend her wedding, as she has been out of contact with them since her mother's death, which she witnessed. It turns out that Sam has a hidden past and knows who is stalking her. William Haskin, her mother's murderer, has been paroled and is returning to give Sam some grief.
Schizo plays out in typical serial killer/stalker fashion. It's an "unexpected twist" kind of film. Hints are thrown, so the twist is hardly unguessable. The movie is effective with or without the element of surprise. There's enough of a drama element for it to matter that the performances are good. Frederick makes a good Samantha: Her character is not so much a vulnerable ingenue, so it's good that she doesn't come across as overly sweet. She has the eye appeal to carry scenes in which she's alone onscreen, and she handles the role's subtleties.
Schizo doesn't take itself overly seriously. Dialogue is frequently lighthearted and jocular. The movie toys with the viewer by setting up tension only to diffuse it with practical joke jump scares. This is a good indication of how the film as a whole works, because it sets up expectations and then takes a sharp left turn. That's a trademark of Pete Walker's work: He knows full well what his audience expects to see, and he sets out to thwart those expectations. Classic misdirection, to borrow an Archerism.
Walker and McGillivray revisit the "nobody believes her when she says she has a stalker" theme from The Confessional, although Schizo doesn't have the depth or audacity of that film. Aficionados tend to look at The Confessional, the film Walker directed directly prior to this one, as the last of his greats. The Confessional had some wicked little points to make and had a subversive element. This one loses the subversiveness and compensates with lowest common denominator tricks like gruesome deaths and starkers tarts. That's not necessarily a complaint, although there's no reason why a movie can't have all of those things at the same time. Here Walker may be playing by the numbers, and Schizo may not do anything new, daring or particularly intelligent, but it's a fun ride.