Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Census Bloodbath: Scissors, Der Zorn Gottes

If you're new to Census Bloodbath, click here.
Year: 1980
Director: David Paulsen
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Donna Wilkes, Marianna Hill
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

After some time traveling all the way through to 1984 with my Friday the 13th marathon, let's reel it back in here with the next film, straight outta 1980. This was a unique year for the slasher film because nobody really knew what they were doing yet. The rules hadn't yet been set in stone, and the flicks that came out in the months following the Crystal Lake Massacre were too deep in production at the time of release to reasonably be able to copy Mrs. Voorhees' exploits. That would come, my pretties. That would come.

But in the meantime the slasher film was still on uneven ground, and this film falls in more with the Silent Scream and Don't Answer the Phone features, focused more on plot and characters than elaborate gore effects. In fact, except for the damning aspect that a serial killer is offing women with a pair of scissors, Schizoid could hardly be considered a slasher movie at all.

It regards itself more as a psychological thriller, which is evident in the film's lack of gore (except for one split second shot of a cut on a woman's face, it's absolutely bloodless) as well as its cast. For you see, Schizoid is helmed by the frequent Werner Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski, a man of no small talent who would certainly see it as an insult to be asked to perform in something as lowly as a slasher picture.

Those Germans, man.

As a result, the film takes itself very seriously, which to be honest isn't a total benefit to Census Bloodbath.

The plot follows recently divorced advice columnist Julie (Marianna Hill) as she receives a series of mysterious and threatening letters cut and pasted from magazines. She is unsettled by this, but she is rebuffed by the police when she requests an investigation. Nobody has actually been harmed by the letter sender, so there's no justification to warrant police action.

Things begin to look up for her case when members of her therapy group begin turning up dead, brutally stabbed to death with scissors like a demented giant's art project. These victims include Sally (Cindy Donlan), who was supposed to leave for Tennessee so nobody noticed she was gone; Rosemary (Kiva Lawrence), who disappears for the entire second act only to be killed in the last half hour; and a woman who is apparently called Pat according to IMDb, but I assure you gets no name in the film. I took to calling her Boobs McGee (Flo Gerrish, aka the Final Girl from Don't Answer the Phone, a movie with a suspiciously similar plot) because there's a scene with her being a topless dancer at a bar that has absolutely zero impact on the film at large.

As the bodies pile up, Julie gets more and more perturbed. And the dramatic upheaval of her personal life certainly isn't making things any easier. She has recently kindled a relationship with her therapist, Dr. Pieter Fales (Kinski) against the objections of his daughter Alison (Donna Wilkes), who hasn't yet come to terms with the death of her mother. And her annoying ex-husband Doug (Craig Wasson who we'll later see in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, one of the actually good Freddy movies) simply won't leave her alone, especially since they work for the same newspaper.

Also creepy plumber Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd aka Doc Freaking Brown) stands in the background being creepy.

You know what else can go 88 miles per hour...

Julie is much more reactionary than your typical Final Girl which is a little disappointing, but she does stick to her guns and get what she wants. Go feminism!

Honestly I don't have a ton to say about this film. It was obvious they were trying to be scary (you'd be surprised how many slasher films seem to forget that's an element of horror) and they were intermittently successful, meaning this is one of the scariest slashers ever made (slashers aren't scary). But for the bulk of it, it's just pretty boring.

The greatest redeeming factor of the film is the interplay between Kinski and Wilkes as an estranged father and daughter. Their chemistry is so strong it burns holes in the film and the scenes they have together sizzle and pop.

For some reason, I can't find a picture of them together without her boobs showing. Screw you too, Google.

There's really a lot of good in this film, it's a shame it's so slow. Alongside its pretty well accomplished actors, it has a uniquely realistic plot and the twists bubble up naturally from the movie's universe so they're totally believable as well as being unexpected. The reveals at the end are a marvel of intricate slasher plotting that are only undone by the sedate finale, in which Kinski walks around an office building for five minutes.

So, maybe not one for the record books, but this slasher has a brain and it's not afraid to use it. I'd much rather rewatch this film than any of the Don't films or even Mother's Day. Schizoid has understandably been forgotten by time, but it perhaps doesn't deserve its fate as much as some of its 1980 brethren.

Killer: [Doug (Craig Wasson)]
Final Girl: Julie (Marianna Hill)
Best Kill: The kills are all the same, but Rosemary's is the best cuz she's in a hot tub.

Sign of the Times: Typewriters and pay phones are both integral to the plot.
Scariest Moment: Sally is chased into an abandoned house off the side of the road.
Weirdest Moment: The doctor has sex with Boobs McGee in a scene that, rather than increasing the mystery, makes everything that much more confusing. Also he never takes his pants off.
Champion Dialogue: "I have felt less terrified in my life."
Body Count: 5; including the killer.

  1. Sally is stabbed in the gut with scissors.
  2. Boobs McGee is stabbed in the back with scissors.
  3. Rosemary is slashed with scissors in a hot tub.
  4. A man is stabbed in the back.
  5. [Doug is killed somehow. Let me get back to you on that one.]
TL;DR: Schizoid is of a higher class than some of its slasher counterparts, but we're not in this for the class.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1077

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