Latest Entries »

Meltdown - Seabatesmotelmeltdownson 2, Episode 8 – original air date 4/21/2014

You really have to feel for the Bates family.  (I would consider Dylan a Bates family member, even though he has a different last name.)  Any time it looks like things might be going well for one of them, you can be sure that disaster is waiting around the corner.

The writers have done a good job of building tension over the last couple of episodes, as the finale of season two draws closer.  This may be the best episode of the second season to date.

First off, Nick Ford is one serious dude.  There is no doubt that he means what he says.  Norma must be regretting that she ever struck up a conversation with him.  He wants Zane dead.  Who doesn’t?  It seems like even Zane’s own sister is tacitly signing off on getting rid of him.  So why in hell did she put him in charge in the first place?  She had to know what an idiot and a hothead he is.  So it would seem that there is a simple resolution here:  Dylan kills Zane, everyone is happy.  Of course nothing will resolve itself that easily on this show.

Sheriff Romero tries to get Norman to talk about what happened at Miss Watson’s house the night she died.  Norman’s shock about having sex with Miss Watson is not feigned, because of course he blacked out that night.   When will all the truths of that night be revealed?  Hopefully we will not have to wait until season three.

And let’s not forget that Norma’s crazy comes back with a vengeance.  Norma leaves her dinner date with George, partly because she feels so out of place, but also because she feels bad for Norman.  Then, when Norman coolly brushes her off, she becomes enraged, ultimately flying back to George’s arms, and barely managing to keep her panties on until she gets in the door.  What would a psychologist say about her behavior?  How much blame do we lay at Norma’s door for Norman’s condition today?  Did she trigger it?  She certainly exacerbates it.  And what of her own mental state?  The next two episodes should be good.  Here is hoping for some resolution.  Don’t leave us hanging for a year!

batesmotelpresumed1

Presumed Innocent - Season 2, Episode 7 – original air date 4/14/2014

This episode briefly becomes a police procedural, as Norman is taken in for questioning, photographed, and swabbed for DNA.  Considering how many people did in this quaint seaside town, one would  think the police would be rather blase at this point.   Cody’s dad was just killed by falling down a flight of stairs.  It’s not like he was set on fire, or shot in the head,  etc.  But of course our Norman is connected with this death.  Norman feels guilty.  If he had not confronted Cody, her dad would still be alive.   That is certainly a true statement, but Cody’s father was set up to fall.  He was mentioned off screen at first, then heard off screen in another episode, and is only seen for the first time when he is about to die.  By the time we see him, we know he’s a jerk.

Most of this episode deals with Norman’s time in jail, as he is questioned by Sheriff Romero.  How do the people in Norman’s circle react?  Well of course Norma is on the scene, and won’t leave.  Yet what are Norma’s motives?  Obviously Norma loves her son, and wants to protect him from harm.  But is keeping his blackouts a secret really helping him?  Is pressuring other people not to mention them helping him?  Emma is the only character who fully supports Norman in his predicament, with no motives of her own.   There is much tension between mother and son when they go home from the police station, as would be expected.  Cody and Norman say their farewells, as she goes off to live with the obligatory aunt in a faraway state.

Zane demonstrates that he may be a little bit smarter than suspected.  Not much, but a little.  He confronts Dylan, who then has to make a choice.  His choice may be his downfall.  How about a quick mention of Remo (Ian Tracey), Dylan’s partner in the drug business.  He has quietly made the most of his limited screentime.  If you are going to work in the illicit drug trade, you could certainly do worse in the coworker department.

There are only three episodes left in this season, and we can maybe see how the threads are coming together.  There is the drug war, with the Bates family having a connection with each side of the warring faction.  There is Norman’s blackouts,  and the consequences of them.  And there is the big reveal at the end of this episode, as Sheriff Romero learns the results of Norman’s DNA test and where his bodily fluids were found.  Not a surprise really, but I’m still not convinced that this particular aspect of the story is as clear cut as it seems.  The biggest question at this point is…how on earth will they stretch this out for another season?

Plunge - Seasbatesmotelplunge2on 2, Episode 6 – original air date 4/7/2014

Poor Norman.  There he is, sitting behind the wheel of the family car, about to take his driver’s test, a significant rite of passage, when up storms his mom and rats him out to the driving instructor.  Says that he has been blacking out.  Under the circumstances, Norma is doing the right thing, but the timing of it makes it seem like a major betrayal.  But what led up to this moment?

Norman blacks out a second time in Cody’s presence.  Then they take a trip to the “swimming hole.”  While they are making out, Emma shows up with her pot-slinging boyfriend, and at Cody’s insistence they decide to hang out together.  First Emma’s guy jumps in the water on the rope swing, then Norman follows, and finally Emma.   The end results here were so predictable that I was really hoping the storyline would go in a different direction.  Emma has a scare in the water, Norman overreacts.  It is obvious that Norman has feelings for Emma, but are they romantic feelings?  It feels like any opportunity they had to become a couple has long since passed.  Like they are both above and beyond that kind of relationship.  Perhaps not.   When Cody shares with Emma that Norman has been blacking out, and we see the conflicted look on Emma’s face, there is no doubt that she is going to tell Norma.

Norma meanwhile has severed her ties with Nick Ford, after the councilman that she called a dick conveniently dies in a car accident.  Then Norma pursues the council seat for herself!  Hard to believe that would sit well with Nick Ford, but it would appear that he had something to do with her getting the council seat.  Norma has another encounter with George (Michael Vartan), and one has to believe a potential hookup is in the near future.  But the writers are also building the potential for a relationship with Romero and Norma.

Of course the writers had to throw in another one of those awkward hugs, that is just a little to affectionate for a son of Norman’s age to be having with his mother.  We seem to get one of these obligatory cringe-worthy moments every other episode.   It’s also cool to see Norman stuffing a crow.  In the movie Psycho, the room behind the office was filled with birds.

And Dylan is hooking up with the boss lady (Kathleen Robertson.)  Nothing good ever comes from that, does it?

batesmotelplunge1And the episode ends with a moment of violence that seems to have Norman in hot water again.  How will this situation resolve itself?  Congrats to the show being renewed for a third season.  The ratings took a small dive but are now holding steady at around 2.25 million a week.  Not too shabby.

 

batesseason2epi5The Escape Artist - Season 2, Episode 5 – original air date 3/31/2014

This episode follows the separate narrative threads of several different characters, something we have seen in past episodes.   The narrative structure works better here than it did in the first season, simply because the characters are all more fully developed.  So, strand one involves Norman getting closer to his new friend Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski.)  When Norman tells her “you’re not like any girl I’ve ever met”, I had the feeling he had used those exact same words before with Bradley and Emma, which simply means that Norman hadn’t really met any girls before, except of course for momma.  This relationship actually seems to make sense, because both have troubles at home, so they can relate to each other.

Norma meets up with Nick Ford (Michael O’Neill), about stopping the bypass, and he seems eager to support Norma, but only behind the scenes.  Meanwhile Sheriff Romero has taken up residence at the Bates Motel, since his house was torched.  Norma and Romero are very tentative in their scenes here, for two people who have such a shared history.  After all, Romero shot and killed Abernathy, potentially saving Norma’s life, and binding them together in a secret.  There is a hint in this new episode that there may be a potential attraction.   In the episode’s best scene, Romero confronts Zane (Michael Eklund), and wallops the crap out of him.  Moments like this I really love Sheriff Romero.

Dylan, still reeling frobatesseason2epi5twom the news about his uncle daddy, comes off of a massive bender, only to be invited to lunch with Zane.  He then proceeds to save Zane’s life when there is a drive-by shooting attempt.  He should have let him die.  The big reveal at the end of the episode is who the real kingpin is in the drug operation.   And let’s not forget Emma, who is important enough now to have her own narrative thread away from the Bates’ family problems.  She hooks up for the first time, with the dude staying at the motel.  It remains to be seen what the ramifications of that will be.  Good for Emma anyway, for pursuing her own happiness.

 

 

batesseason2epi4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check-Out - Season 2, Episode 4 – Original air date 3/24/2014

This week’s episode opens, refreshingly, with a shot of Emma.  Granted, she is an ancillary character, but she is just so darned sweet, and provides a bit of a break from the Bates family drama.  Emma’s eyes are asking the same question that we are:  did she sleep with the stoner dude, who happens to be lying next to her?  Knowing Emma as we do, we know the answer to that question.

The real core of the story this week is the Bates family coming to terms with the shocker about Norma’s brother.   Dylan is understandably having a tough time with this one, and he confronts Caleb, only to get a slightly different, and evasive, version of events.  He also gets his money back.  So just what the hell did Caleb go to White Pine Bay for?  What did he hope to accomplish by visiting his sister?  Did he really think that all would be forgiven?   Dylan and Norma have a heartbreaking scene at the end,  and it seems as if Dylan realizes Norma is telling the truth, but it’s all too much for him, and he storms away, saying that he is moving out.

Sheriff Romero gives Major Douche (Zane) a polite warning to stay in line.  Is there anyone who thinks Zane will survive to the end of the season?  Is there anyone who wants him to?

And then there is Norman.  First of all, we have a very creepy scene where Norman lies down next to his mother on her bed to comfort her.  What makes it truly unsettling is a long, lingering close-up on Norman’s face, which displays emotions that are not exactly what one expects to see on a child’s face.  Norma goes on a date with George, (the guy she met in the last episode), at the insistence of his sister, who all but drags Norma out the door.  We probably haven’t seen the last of George.

And at the end Norman confronts Caleb, a man he doesn’t even know, and finally we see the first glimpse of the specific mental condition which plagues the Norman Bates of Hitchcock’s Psycho.   It is a frightening moment to watch, as well as being a bit of an “aha!” moment for fans of the movie.

The second season has almost reached the halfway point, (4 episodes down, 5 to go), and up to this point it is on par with the first season.  Will the show be renewed for a third season?  The first episode of season 2 had an audience of over 3 million, more than any episode of the first season.  That was down to 1.84 million by episode 3.  Fans of the show can only keep watching, and hope that they are not left hanging mid-story line.

 

batesseason2epi3

Caleb - Season Two, episode 3 – original air date 3/17/2014

The third episode of Bates Motel is very solid overall, and the writers deserve a shout out.  However, it must be said up front:  when Norma’s brother  Caleb (played by Kenny Johnson) arrived at the motel, and he and Dylan approached each other awkwardly, and stood talking, was there anyone who did not immediately realize that Caleb was Dylan’s daddy?   It was rather obvious from the first moment, apparently to everybody except Dylan.  I thought maybe even he might have had a suspicion, but it was clear from the look of shock on his face in the last scene that he did not.   So that last-minute reveal was no reveal at all, and now this series has taken a left turn into Chinatown.  He’s your uncle.  He’s your father.  He’s your uncle and your father.    Holy crap!  Poor Norma; it is amazing the amount of shit she has had to deal with, and the way she continually tries to find a way to provide a “normal” life for her children is admirable, as is the performance of Vera Farmiga.  She simply couldn’t be better.

This episode focuses on several characters meeting new people, creating new relationships.  And the episode is bookended by the reminders of the past, in Norma’s brother Caleb, the past that she just can’t seem to outrun.    Of course Norma did not get the lead in the play, as a matter of fact she got no part at all.   That’s small town politics for you.  Especially this small town.  The play’s director Christine (Rebecca Creskoff) quits in protest, and befriends Norma.   When she invites Norma to her garden party, we are worried for Norma.  Dear God, how is her crazy going to manifest itself this time?   But that is not the case.  Norma is very nervous, but handles herself well.  She is engaging, charming, and funny.  She even hits it off with Christine’s brother, George.  We almost certainly haven’t seen the last of him.

Meanwhile Norman befriends a girl named Cody, that we first saw as a grocery store cashier in this season’s first episode.  She is working as a tech on the play, and convinces Norman to join as well.  It is clear that there is some mutual attraction here, and Norman handles himself with a confidence that we have not yet seen.   It would appear that Emma is tired of waiting for Norman to notice her, for she cozies up to the guy that her gave her the pot-laced cupcakes in season one.   Emma is just feeling guilty over Bradley’s “death”, which we know was faked.  Emma’s honesty is disarming, as she admits that she feels guilt because she still doesn’t like Bradley even though she is dead.  We probably haven’t seen the last of Bradley either.

And Dylan is bonding with his Uncle Daddy, foolishly giving him all of his saved cash.   Dylan is probably the most balanced member of the Bates family, and considering he is the result of rape and incest, that is saying something.  He has a good heart, and a sharp wit.  When Major Douche (aka Zane) asks him what his next move would be in the escalating drug war, he takes the time to think about it, and then gives the perfect response.  He would do nothing.  It is a zero-sum game.  Bravo.

Just when things seemed to be going so well for all of the Bates, everything collapses in the final scene, and now they have another mess to face.  Norma seems equipped to deal with anything.  Bring it on.

bates season 2 ep 2

Shadow of a Doubt - Season Two, Episode Two – original air date 3/10/2014

Season Two of Bates Motel got off to a pretty good start in the first episode of the new season, picking up right where season one left off.  The story lines are intriguing, the characters interesting.   I wonder now, just as I wondered when this show began, just how long will this show be able to sustain any intensity, and a dramatic arc, when we already know there is no happy ending in store for anyone in the Bates family.   I thought about this a lot during this newest episode of season two, which was far less satisfying to me than the first episode.

As far as storylines go, there are several threads at work.  Bradley is hiding in the basement, having killed the drug kingpin Gil, who she believes is responsible for her father’s death.   Norman buys Bradley a bus ticket, and is going to drive her to the bus station in an adjacent town.  Just where Bradley is planning to go and what she is planning to do is never made clear.   But she lays low, waiting for her time of departure.

Meanwhile, in the drug world, Gil’s replacement arrives, and this is a character that is designed to be disliked by everyone.  He screams “major douche”, from his hairstyle, to his dress, to his manner of speech.  It’s hard to believe a guy like this could have climbed to middle management in the drug world without being killed by someone.  So it turns out that White Pine Bay has not only one, but two families in the drug trade?  And Major Douche decides that the other family must have offed Gil, so he kidnaps someone from the other crew, and kills him, in front of Dylan.  Is this going to turn into a Hatfield v. McCoy standoff?  Seems a little far-fetched.  And I’m not sure if Sheriff Romero is intriguing and enigmatic, or just poorly written.  He was pretty badass when he took care of Abernathy in season one.  Now at times he seems to be a lackey for the druglords.   Hopefully there will be some resolution with his character.

And finally we have the mother/son relationship with Norma and Norman, by far the most interesting storyline in this episode.  Ultimately, this harkens back to what Psycho was all about.  It can be by turns creepy, humorous, and touching.  Who else but Norma Bates would ask her doctor about her son during a gynecological exam?  Norma also has one of her strongest moments in the series, when she sings “Maybe This Time” at an audition for the local community theater, pouring all of her emotions into her performance, and stunning everyone, Norman included.

The episode ends with Dylan taking Bradley to the bus stop, first asking her to compose a suicide note.  And the Bates family tree expands with the arrival of Norma’s brother.  I’m assuming this is the same brother that used to abuse her, so he probably won’t be welcomed with open arms.

 

 

bates season 2 ep 1

 Gone But Not Forgotten - Season Two, Episode 1 – original airdate 3/3/2014

My oh my, the time sure passes quickly.  It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that we  were watching the conclusion to season one of Bates Motel, which ended with Norman experiencing one of the most messed-up days in his messed-up life.

Remember that day?  Remember how his mom  told him that she had been raped by her brother when she was younger?  Remember Norman going to the dance with Emma, but staring at Bradley?  Remember Emma leaving, Norman getting punched in the face, walking home in the rain, being picked up by Miss Watson?  Oh yeah, Miss Watson…

Season Two picks up right where the first season left off, with the death of Miss Watson.  Norman is very distraught by her death, maybe a little too distraught?  And whose pearls are those he is toying with?

Meanwhile, Bradley is driving drunk, takes a dive off a bridge (if she wanted to kill herself, why did she swerve out of the way of the truck in the scene just before she jumped off the bridge?)  She survives the attempt, but spends a few months in a mental facility.  When she gets out, she is obsessed with finding out who killed her father.  And of course Norman is still obsessed with her, even though Emma is right there in front of him, wanting only to be loved.

Meanwhile, business is booming at the Bates Motel.  We see lots of happy customers, while a Haim song plays on the soundtrack (nice choice!)   But there is a big problem looming:  the highway bypass, which will divert all the traffic away from the motel.  Yes, this is the bypass, the one referenced in Hitchcock’s Psycho movie.  The bypass that will be the undoing of the Bates Motel.  Norma goes to a city council meeting, in an attempt to thwart the planned start of construction on the bypass, but she is treated rather rudely, and out comes her crazy.    We get these glimpses of the strong, successful woman Norma could have been, if life had treated her a little better.  She brings up the fact that the massive pot fields drive the towns’ economy, something that everyone knows but nobody wants to talk about.  Bravo!  But the deck is stacked against her in this battle.  Vera Farmiga sure is owning this role, at this point.

Every time we see Norma and Norman in a scene together now, there is a cringe-worthy element.  A simple driving lesson becomes very tense, and mother and son both explode.  Are they arguing about driving, or something more?  And in the tender moments, such as when Norma drapes her arm lovingly over Norman’s chest as she stands behind him, how can we not be creeped out by that?

Also,  Dylan reconnects with Bradley, and gives her some information that may help her find out what happened to Daddy, and it involves Gil, the head honcho of all the illegal goings on.  And the body count goes up.

Meanwhile Sheriff Romero and Norma both begin to suspect that Norman may have had something to do with Miss Watson’s death.  Finally Norman tells his mom that he was in her house, and that he blacked out.  Am I the only one who thinks its just a little too obvious that Norman killed Miss Watson?  We all know where Norman is headed;  he certainly is a killer.  And he has Miss Watson’s pearls.  Is there a slight possibility that someone else was involved in her death, or is it really that simple?

PSYCHO (1998 remake): Why?

psycho1998one

 PSYCHO (1998) – Universal – Rating: 1/10

Color – 104 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Principal cast:  Vince Vaughn (Norman Bates), Anne Heche (Marion Crane), Julianne Moore (Lila Crane), Viggo Mortensen (Sam Loomis), William H. Macy (Milton Arbogast), Philip Baker Hall (Sheriff Chambers), Robert Forster (Dr. Simon).

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano

Cinematography:  Christopher Doyle

Music by Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman

Why?  That is the question that echoed in my head as I watched this pointless remake, and the question I continue to ask.  I respect Gus Van Sant as a filmmaker.  And I have nothing against remakes; there have been several good ones.   Even Alfred Hitchcock did a remake of one of his own movies (The Man Who Knew Too Much, original 1934, remake 1956.)  But there has to be an artistic reason to attempt a remake;  usually a desire to do a “modern take” on something that worked well in an earlier era.  Unfortunately, this film is in no way a modern take.   This film is often described as a shot-for-shot remake. That is not true.  It does come close to that, but there is probably a 5% variance between the two films, and none of that 5% makes the least bit of sense.

Van Sant claimed that he wanted to make Psycho appeal to a younger audience.  Perhaps if he would have done a completely new version of the film, he could have succeeded in that goal.  I can’t imagine a “young” person watching his version and finding it anything other than stilted, awkward and anachronistic.  Hitchcock’s original seems more fresh and modern in comparison.

If Van Sant had chosen to make a literal shot-for-shot remake, his film would have been slightly better, although still stultifyingly boring and completely unnecessary.   But the few arbitrary changes that were made only serve to make his remake seem more out of place.   The late, great Roger Ebert said of this movie “it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless; genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted.”

In choosing to make this movie, Gus Van Sant not only makes it impossible to avoid comparison with Hitchcock’s original film, but actively invites comparison in virtually every scene.   Maybe that is the saving grace of this remake:  it reaffirms, through comparison, how good the original Psycho was.  So, since it seemingly serves no other purpose, let’s compare.

Vince Vaughn – Poor Vince.  He doesn’t have the widest range as an actor, but within his limited range he is very good.   He is the best schlub in the business.  I’m not even sure what a schlub is, but when I hear the word, I immediately picture Vince Vaughn.  Old School…Wedding Crashers…I can’t imagine any other actor playing those parts as well as he did.  But he is so totally wrong for the part of Norman Bates.  He lacks…well, everything that Anthony Perkins had.

psycho1998two

Vaughn’s Norman is not sympathetic in the least;  he is creepy and repulsive, and more of a caricature than a character.  Vaughn so painfully tried to make Norman his own, but the affectations he chose to use (the lip pursing, the mad cackle at the end of sentences) are comical and pathetic.   This whole movie hangs on the performance of Norman Bates; Vaughn’s failure is the movie’s failure.

Anne Heche – Relax Vince, at least you didn’t have the worst performance in the movie.   The difference between Janet Leigh and Anne Heche in the role of Marion Crane is the difference between good acting and bad.   Much of Marion’s performance is internal;  she has several scenes where she is alone on screen.  Where Janet Leigh conveyed her thoughts through a subtle and believable internal struggle, Anne Heche uses broad, over-emphasized facial expressions and eye movements.  To call it caricature would be generous.  Her broad pantomime is unintentionally funny, and out of place everywhere except a 1920′s silent film.  I kept expecting to see title cards on the screen:  WHAT WILL I DO? CRIED OUR DAMSEL IN DISTRESS.  Her single worst acting moment in this movie (and there are plenty of bad ones) is the exaggerated roll of the eyes after the guy buying the house hits on her, then walks away from her desk.  Marion would have dealt with dozens of men like that;  he would have been forgotten before he took two steps, not treated to an eye roll that would make a 15 year-old girl say OMG.

Julianne Moore – She chose to take Lila in a different direction, making her more angry, which actually works well.  I still give the nod to Vera Miles.

Viggo Mortensen – I never thought I would say this, but where is John Gavin when you need him?

Willliam H. Macy – Good job.  He plays Arbogast straight, in a nod to Martin Balsam’s performance.  Not bad.

Philip Baker Hall – Here is the one performance that actually improves upon the original.  Granted, he is only in one scene (two in the original film), but Hall makes a very believable sheriff.

Robert Forster – Great actor, wasted on an unnecessary scene.

psycho1998four


 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Random observations to Gus Van Sant:
  • When Marion encounters the highway patrolman, why would you eliminate her dialogue asking if she acts like something is wrong, and his response “Frankly, yes.”  That was essential to the exchange, and certainly not dated.  Unlike Marion having her vehicle registration in her purse (!), and the cop taking it to the front of the vehicle to stare at the license plate, both anachronisms in 1998.
  •  

    Thanks for showing us Viggo Mortensen’s ass.  Sure haven’t seen enough of that.

  •  The reason Patricia Hitchcock’s line “He must have seen my wedding ring” was so funny in the original movie is because Janet Leigh’s character was far more attractive.  In your version, Rita Wilson is arguably more attractive than Anne Heche, thereby rendering the entire exchange meaningless.
  • Why in the hell does Anne Heche have a parasol when she gets out of the car at the dealership?  Is that supposed to be appropriate to ’98?  Maybe if you’re talking about 1898.  Why not dress her in a ruffled skirt and lace petticoat?
  • Why did you show Norman Bates whacking off to Marion?  So inappropriate, and a clear indication of how little you understood the character.  Norman was most likely impotent; his sexual satisfaction would have come from the act of murder.  Beyond the psychological implications,the scene was filmed and acted in such a way that it could only inspire laughter.  Which it does.
  • You changed Arbogast’s line from “If it don’t gel it ain’t aspic” to ” if it don’t gel, it ain’t jello”? Sure, that’s something the kids were all saying in 1998.  Way to modernize the dialogue.
  • The changes in the cellar scene?  First off, all those different species of bird would never roost that way.  And Norman says himself “I don’t know anything about birds.  My hobby is stuffing things.”  There is no logic to your scene on any level.
  • The shower scene…do you  not understand why Hitchcock’s montage was so effective?  Your subliminal shots of roiling clouds deflate the emotional intensity of the scene.  Complete failure.
  • Ditto the subliminal shots in Arbogast’s murder scene.
William H. Macy asks himself "What the hell am I doing here?"

William H. Macy asks himself “What the hell am I doing here?”

 

 

 

 

psycho2When one thinks of Alfred Hitchcock one does not think of sequels.  And while he never directed any sequels himself, his 1960 release Psycho has generated quite a legacy on film, television and in print.  There are three feature-length sequels, all with Anthony Perkins reprising his role as Norman Bates.  There are two television shows, one that never made it past the pilot episode, and one that has just concluded its first successful season.  Robert Bloch also wrote two sequels to his original novel, something he arguably would not have done had the movie not been such a success.  There is an excellent non-fiction book by Stephen Rebello about the making of the original film.  There is a movie based loosely on Rebello’s book.  And there is also a remake directed by Gus Van Sant.   (I should note that Alfred Hitchcock had nothing to do with any of these projects; they all were released after his death in 1980).

psychoII

Psycho II (1983) – Universal – Rating: 4/10

 Color – 113 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Richard Franklin

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Loomis), Meg Tilly (Mary Samuels), Robert Loggia (Dr. Bill Raymond), Dennis Franz (Warren Toomey).

Written by Tom Holland

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

 First off, let’s acknowledge that Psycho did not need a sequel.  But the horror genre was experiencing a massive popularity burst in the early 80′s, thanks in large part to movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.  And Universal Pictures owned the rights to the original movie, which meant they could use its characters, or even steal scenes from it.  They also still had the Psycho house standing on their backlot.  (The motel building had been torn down, and had to be rebuilt.)  And the most important piece of the puzzle:  Anthony Perkins, who somewhat reluctantly agreed to reprise his role as Norman Bates.

This movie is in trouble from the very first moment.  It begins with the shower scene from the original Psycho, but in edited form!  How can you edit one of the most iconic scenes in movie history?  Either let it play out,  or don’t use it at all.  The set-up for the film is actually quite good, and the tagline on the movie poster sums it up as well as anybody could:  “It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home.”   Norman is released from the mental facility where he has spent over two decades, and returns to his childhood home to find the Bates Motel being run by an obnoxious sleazebag played by Dennis Franz (this is before Franz made the switch from obnoxious sleazebags to endearing sleazebags.)  Within five seconds of meeting Franz’s character we know he is going to die, and this points to the movie’s biggest problem; the script sucks.  There is just no subtlety to be found, either in plot or dialogue.

Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles are both very believable in the roles they had initiated over 20 years earlier.  It’s quite plausible that Lila Loomis would have married Sam after the death of Marion.  It’s also believable that Lila would hate Norman Bates, and do anything to get him locked up for good.  It is a bit of a stretch, however, to believe that she would use her daughter as a pawn in a potentially deadly game.  Robert Loggia is very solid in the role of Robert Loggia.  (That is not meant as a slight; he is a good character actor, who helps keep this movie from going completely off the rails.)  Meg Tilly is, well, annoying at best.  Rumor has it that Anthony Perkins did not get along with her, and asked for her to be replaced at some point during filming.  Honestly though, you could put any other actress in that role and it would not have been enough to save the rest of the movie.

Did Jerry Goldsmith really compose the score?  The same man who scored Chinatown, Alien, and Star Trek: TMP?  He had the choice of echoing Bernard Herrmann’s score in some way, or going in a different direction.  He chose the latter.  But its just so movie-of-the-week sounding, that to me it weakens the films already shaky credibility.

So, people are stabbed to death, Norman questions his sanity, and let’s not forget about the surpsise ending.  There is an absolutely ludicrous plot twist that seems to undermine the logic of the original movie.  I can’t really fault the director Richard Franklin, who was a student of Hitchcock, no less, but a stronger script may have helped this be something more than what it is.

Psycho_3_poster

 PSYCHO III (1986) – Universal – Rating:  5/10

Color – 92 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Anthony Perkins

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Diana Scarwid (Maureen Coyle), Jeff Fahey (Duane Duke), Roberta Maxwell (Tracy Venable), Hugh Gillin (Sheriff John Hunt).

Written by Charles Edward Pogue

Music by Carter Burwell

The third chapter in the Psycho series is somewhat better than its predecessor,  but is still miles away from being a truly good film.   Norman is back to his crazy ways, having installed Mother 2.0 in the bed where he kept the first model.  Norman has a love interest again, this time a nun who has been kicked out of her convent.  She caused a mother superior to fall to her death, in a scene that deliberately (and quite effectively) evokes Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  She ends up at the Bates Motel, along with Jeff Fahey’s character Duane, a drifter looking to make a score, and make it with every woman who crosses his path.   Hugh Gillin reprises his role from the last installment as Sheriff Hunt, a man who sympathizes with Norman Bates and wishes everyone would just leave him alone.

So, this being a Psycho movie, you can be assured that people will die violent deaths, and Norman will wage his mental battle with Mother.  And that is what really drives this movie, and makes it worth watching.  Anthony Perkins still makes Norman Bates a sympathetic character.  We watch him perform acts of evil, and yet still root for him to somehow overcome in this struggle with his dead mother, who is the real source of evil.

Anthony Perkins directed this movie, and did an admirable job, considering it was the first (and only) time he sat in the director’s chair in his career.   He overcame his initial nervousness about directing, and won over everyone on the set.  Several cast and crew members remarked that Perkins was a pleasure to work with as a director.

Psycho III throws in a plot twist at the end, regarding Norman’s family tree, that seemingly attempts to untwist the twist at the end of Psycho II.  Once again, ludicrous!  But if you’re watching this movie, you’re not doing so for plot points.  You’re doing it because you just can’t get enough Norman Bates.

PsychoIV

Psycho IV: The Beginning  (1990)- Universal – Rating: 5/10

Color – 96 minutes – 1.78:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Mick Garris

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Henry Thomas (Young Norman Bates), Olivia Hussey (Norma Bates), C.C.H. Pounder (Fran Ambrose).

Written by Joseph Stefano

Music by Graeme Revell

When a horror movie franchise reaches part 4, you know its time for the inevitable flashback motif to show up, if it hasn’t already.  And so a good part of this film is the older Norman Bates recounting his teenage years.  For the first time we see Norma Bates in the flesh, and we see how Norman became who he became.  This movie was written by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s original 1960 Psycho.  Stefano does a pretty decent job; I would say the screenplay is definitely better than the last two movies in the series.  Some have said that it is highly improbable Norman Bates would have been released from the insane asylum a second time, and that is certainly true.  But Joseph Stefano wrote this as a follow-up to his original movie, more-or-less ignoring the existence of Parts II and III altogether.  If you take that into consideration, the plot of this film makes a little more sense, although its probably a little too late to introduce sense into this movie franchise, considering how senseless the last two screenplays were.

Anthony Perkins initially expressed interest in directing this installment as well, but Universal nixed that idea, based on the poor box office of the Perkins-directed part III.  As it turns out, the potential box office of part IV was not a factor, because it was never released in theaters, but instead went straight to video, premiering exclusively on the Showtime cable TV network in 1990.

The set-up here is pretty good.  Norman Bates calls in to a radio talk show hosted by Fran Ambrose.  Fran is played quite believably by C.C.H. Pounder.  Norman admits that he has killed, and says he is going to kill again.  While on the phone with Fran, Norman talks about his childhood, and we get to see several flashback sequences showing Norman in his teenage years.  The young Norman is played well by Henry Thomas of ET fame.  He does not try to copy Anthony Perkins’ mannerisms in any way, which was a good decision.  And young Norman’s mother is played in creepily good fashion by Olivia Hussey.

Norman’s present-day situation, and the reason that he feels he may have to kill again, is both surprising and disturbing.  And the film’s resolution seems to imply that the Bates family saga has finally come to a conclusion.  This movie is better than the cable TV movie-of-the-week status to which it was relegated.  It is interesting to observe the ease with which Anthony Perkins now slips in the skin of Norman Bates.  And while the quality of the movies definitely declined, Perkins’ performance is a marvel; he stayed true to the character, and made his atrocities believable from first to last.  (When Psycho IV was being filmed, Anthony Perkins had already been diagnosed as HIV positive, and was receiving treatment during filming.  This was one of the last projects he completed before his death.)

perkins

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156 other followers

%d bloggers like this: