Schizo

Uncle Bill is so thoughtful
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1976
Director: 
Jack Walker
Starring: 
Lyne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham, John Fraser
The Setup: 
Woman's psychotic uncle returns on her wedding day.
Discussion: 

Having been entranced by the eerie charms of The Comeback, and seeing that, unbeknownst to me, this is a British horror director of some repute, I resolved to take in more of his films, a feat easily accomplished by their ready availability on Netflix. This one I believe was earlier than The Comeback, and isn't quite so wild, but still maintains a strange charm. We open with a voice-over about schizophrenia as we see broken-up sunspots--not unlike broken-up, schizoid minds--reflecting on water. We are in England, where a disheveled and somewhat vacant large older man sees a paper saying "Ice Queen To Wed," and this causes him to go... SCHIZO.

He packs his suitcase for a fabulous week of travel, making sure to include any bloody machetes and broken bottles he may need while away from home. Then we meet the bride, Samantha, who is a dewy brunette and professional figure skater. She is marrying Alan, blonde british macho dude most at home in a see-thru mesh shirt. Uncle Bill, that's the crazy one, wanders into the kitchen with the bloody machete. He seamlessly joins the catering staff, places the bloody machete by the (rather modest) wedding cake, but is caught before wheeling it out. Samantha is all set to enjoy the sweets of her special day, when ewww, icky bloody machete! That is SO GROSS. She is freaked out, and worried that a bloody machete by the wedding cake may be an ill omen for her marriage. Or whether she should simply open herself to alternate expressions of wedding wishes.

She and Alan go back to his house, as they have a week before the honeymoon. This leaves Sam in the house alone all day, during which time she is often creeped out. She is scared in the shower. She hears strange noises in the house. She is accosted by an unseen man calling her name in the supermarket aisles. Also on hand are kindly housekeeper Mrs. Wallace, Sam and Alan's mutual friend Beth, who is a cool 70s British chick, and Sam's older psychologist friend Leonard, who is dismissive intellectual who Alan doesn't like to have around. Soon Sam is finding bloody knives upstairs, which vanish by the time the police arrives. One little detail I love is that, with the deeply set-in stain we see around the bloody knife on beige carpet, the killer would have had to get in there the second Sam leaves with some industrial carpet cleaner and a serious scrub brush for some deep cleansing. I just love the whole image of our psychotic killer on his knees doing housework.

Anyway, Sam's fragile little mind is shaking loose. By now we can see that this might more likely be the result of Alan's decor, which favors wallpaper and drapes of garish color patterns, which might just be enough to drive even the most stable mind... SCHIZO. Beth calls up to ask Sam out for a drink, but she has just gotten into the car and sped away, so Alan goes for a drink with Beth. Sam, meanwhile, has gone to Leonard's office, and lies back to tell him the root of her trauma, which we see in flashback. Little Sam was painting when she heard a funny noise upstairs, and went up to find her mom riding Uncle Bill's baloney pony. She witnessed as Bill got mad over something, smashed a ceramic thing, and used one of the shards to repeatedly stab her mother into a bloody mess. When we return to the present, Leonard maintains his condescending prick status as he tells Sam yeah, that's sad, but there's no reason to think anyone is stalking you and you're imagining the whole thing. So Sam goes home, and a drunk Alan goes looking for her at Leonard's, telling Leonard to leave Sam alone "or he'll regret it."

SPOILERS > > >
Well, we can tell that Leonard is next for the slashin' when we stay with him and watch him leave his office, and--well, people really should take a glance in their back seats before getting in cars. It takes a while, but finally Leonard gets his throat slit, and an irate woman in traffic finds him. You'll notice that Sam doesn't seem remotely fazed by the news of his death the following morning. Meanwhile, kindly housekeeper Mrs. Wallace has invited Sam to join her at a meeting of the psychic brotherhood, where Sam thinks she just might find some answers. Later that day, Sam is once again menaced by Uncle Bill, who is smushed up against her window making a quite, quite silly face (see photo). He is directly outside when she... Oh, sometimes you just get so sleepy! So she lies down on the floor with him four feet away. Yes, I know she's supposed to have passed out, but she just takes so long about settling down on the floor and reclining comfortably it really doesn't sell the illusion.

Well, no matter, she goes to the meeting of the Psychic Brotherhood, which, despite its name, is predominantly women. Who should also be present but Uncle Bill, and he stands out in the hall. Part of what I am now recognizing as the unique brilliance of director Pete Walker is the way the shadow of Bill standing behind the glass is visible in every shot, sustaining this air of menace. So there's this psychic woman who relays questions from audience members to their relatives in the afterlife, and soon she's got Sam's mom on the horn. Before you know it, her eyes are bugged out (WAY out) and cloudy, and she is shrieking "My killer is in this hall!" Then everyone turns--but the shadow is gone.

Then Sam lends the psychic woman her raincoat because she has to walk home, and she has a car (and could have offered her a ride? Also: it's not raining). The psychic has sustained no apparent damage by having her eyes bug out massively and go white, leading us to surmise that she has particularly flexible eyeballs. Anyway, her route home takes her through a fairground--and again, we know she'll be killed simply because we have diverted to follow her--where sledgehammers are lying conveniently about. She gets sledgehammered--AND run over. Some days it just doesn't pay to get mixed up in others' dead-relative business.

Sam is more upset over the death of this psychic she just met than she was over longtime friend Leonard, but you know, she's under a lot of pressure right now. She and Beth have an idea, which is that Beth will go have a chat with this Uncle Bill fellow, and see what's up. Sam is upstairs when poor Mrs. Wallace gets a knitting needle through the back of the head and out the eye. I thought something was peculiar about Mrs. Wallace, but I never would have guessed that she had no skull.

Meanwhile, Beth has found that Uncle Bill is not at home, so she goes into his room and starts snooping. She finds the bloody machete and the broken bottle, and so of course she holds them both in her hands, ensuring that her fingerprints are on both and Uncle Bill's are smudged away. No one said Beth was the sharpest tack. Well, do I even need to tell you who arrives home just at that moment? They have a bit of a struggle, and Beth escapes. Somewhere in here, we have had a significant shot of Alan putting on gloves, which amounts to nothing, but it is the first hint that the killer might NOT be Uncle Bill. Sam also has reason to suspect that Alan and Beth are exchanging fluids.

Beth tells Sam about the attack, but curiously, Sam sends Beth to the police alone. She stays home and cleans up the blood left by Mrs. Wallace. As she's doing so, Mrs. Wallace's corpse comes a'poppin' out of the closet... quite remarkable, as her body was propped up against the adjacent wall. Fucking corpses just don't lie still nowadays. Around now you're like: "Wait a minute--is SAM the killer?"

She goes to some garment factory, and who should menace her there, but Uncle Bill. He calls her Jean, which is apparently her real name, and now we have another flashback, which is similar to the one earlier, only this time young Sam catches Mom and Bill, and SHE has the knife and SHE repeatedly stabs Mom to her death. You will notice that Bill just stands there during the multiple stabbing murder and does absolutely nothing. Back in the present, he reveals that he left the bloody machete and broken bottle and other knicknacks around in order to gently prod Sam back to awareness of her murderous past. You see, Uncle Bill is SO thoughtful. He wants to shake Sam out of her schzoid personality split, but without jarring her too greatly. So much better to just terrorize her for a week. Anyway, the only thanks he gets for all his efforts on her behalf is an impalement on some kind of heavy machinery. Kids these days are so ungrateful!

So it looks like Bill was the psycho, and Sam is off free. We get some hint that husband Alan is next on her kill list, and they depart for their honeymoon, Beth's yelling of "Goodbye, Alan!" having a double meaning.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was good. Not quite as good as The Comeback, but still good. It has delightfully 70s British characters, some decent creeps, a good overall setup, some trauma-inducing interior decor, a psychic brotherhood, and then an unexpected twist. The downside? Some of the spooks get repetitive, the murders are okay but not over the top, the whole thing seems to meander for quite a while... Still, it remains intriguing and watchable to the end, which is more than I can say for numerous other movies I stop halfway through and then lose all motivation to finish. If you like a good British murder thriller, this will more than fill the bill in a pinch.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, although I would watch The Comeback first.