Film Review: Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Graeme Revell, Bernard Herrmann (original themes)
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey, C. C. H. Pounder, Warren Frost, John Landis, Kurt Paul, Sharen Camille

Smart Money Productions, Universal Pictures, NBC, Showtime, 96 Minutes

Review:

“All that faith and no potatoes.” – Norman Bates

For being a made-for-TV movie and the third sequel in a series, Psycho IV isn’t half bad. Hell, I even like it a bit more than the third film, even if it is missing Jeff Fahey, who killed it in that picture.

The cast in this one is really well-rounded though between the returning Anthony Perkins, as well as Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey and C. C. H. Pounder. Honestly, this is a really well acted picture that saw its main players give it their all with really solid and compelling results.

The picture starts with Norman Bates being cured but we’ve seen that in the two previous pictures until events pushed him over the edge and back towards his serial killing slasher self.

What’s different and unique about this picture is it involves Norman calling a radio show discussing boys who have murdered their mothers. He uses the name “Ed” while on the air but he talks through his past, primarily his early years, in an effort to fight off his killer tendencies from returning.

With that, this film serves as both a sequel and a prequel. It takes place after Psycho III but it spends a great deal of time flashing back to his life before the events of the original Psycho. It delves into his bizarre relationship with his mother and how it shaped him into the man he became.

Henry Thomas, most famous for playing Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, shows that he was a good actor and he creates a young Norman that is sympathetic yet disturbed.

However, his performance is enhanced by the talent of Olivia Hussey, who plays his mother Norma Bates. The film examines the sexual tension between mother and son and it’s really the plot of this movie that gave birth to the concept that became the Bates Motel television series. And honestly, I prefer this version of a Psycho prequel.

Adult Norman, still played by Perkins, who really committed his life to this role and who always delivers an A-plus performance, shared most of his scenes with the always good C. C. H. Pounder. While the scenes they share are over the phone, as both act out their scenes in different rooms separate from each other, the two had perfect chemistry and their discussions are emotional and believable.

But giving credit where credit is due, a lot of this also probably has to do with the quality of the editing and the overall film direction. These two actors were on completely different sets, probably filming on completely different days but their combined efforts worked and it carries the picture at its most important parts.

What’s fantastic to me, is that I never expected much from Psycho sequels. The first one is perfection and anything else, I thought, would diminish it. But I was wrong. While none of the sequels are as good as the original Hitchcock film, each is still good in their own way and every chapter feels like it enhances the larger story that is Norman Bates’ complete life.

I hope that Anthony Perkins was pleased with the end result of all these films.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (complete title), From Among the Dead, Illicit Darkening (working titles)
Release Date: May 9th, 1958 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor
Based on: D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” – Madeleine

This is the only one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’50s and ’60s “masterpieces” that I have never seen. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it over the years, as I’ve seen all the other films from this era multiple times. However, I wanted to save this one for a rainy day so what better time is there than just before a hurricane?

Having now seen it though, I’d say that it is probably my least favorite of the films considered at the top of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

The reason being, is I just can’t buy into the plot. There are multiple things that make the plot kind of messy and for a film with a twist, I was able to figure it all out with a half hour to spare. It was kind of disappointing though, because I expected more than what I thought was the ending. But it ended, as I suspected, without any extra flair to put the end result ahead of my expectations.

The problem could be my own, however, as I’ve seen so many Hitchcock films, multiple times, that I can kind of see the tropes from top to bottom and thus, am able to get a pretty accurate sense of where the story is going. I may have had a different view of the film had I seen it a few decades ago like I did most of Hitchcock’s work.

Additionally, the film’s title and it’s plot revolves around a gimmick. The centerpiece of the film is James Stewart’s fear of heights but this is shown through what was a new technique at the time, the dolly zoom. While it’s a shot that has been used to death since this film, it’s a technique that has lost its effect on modern audiences. But that’s certainly not Hitchcock’s fault in 1958.

Apart from all that though, this is still a finely acted film. James Stewart was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading men and for good reason. The two made magic together. And while this isn’t my favorite film of their pairings, it certainly isn’t a picture that is hindered by anything that Stewart did or the direction of Hitchcock for that matter.

Now while I mostly always love Kim Novak in film-noir, she did feel like she was out of her depth here. Not to knock her, she’s a good actress, but she lacked that extra something special that Hitchcock’s female leads usually bring to a film. She also didn’t have as good of a chemistry with Stewart as Grace Kelly or Doris Day.

One thing that did keep this movie very energetic and also assisted in keeping it well above water was the dynamite score of Bernard Hermann. It fit well with the tone of the picture, especially in that fantastically shot opening scene.

Vertigo is definitely a competent film, technically speaking, but the plot was too wonky. I guess you could get away with faking a death from a fall off of a tower in the late ’50s but I’m pretty sure they’d need to go deeper than a few eye witnesses to identify the body, even back then. Maybe I’m wrong but this just felt sort of thin and a bit daft.

Still, this is pretty enjoyable and even if the mystery fell flat, it was a fun ride until it wasn’t.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Hitchcock’s other thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s.

Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.

Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Cape Fear (1962)

Also known as: The Executioners (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Miami premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: James R. Webb
Based on: The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas

Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!” – Max Cady

I had to rectify a grave injustice that I have committed against myself for decades. That injustice was never seeing the original version of Cape Fear. Strangely, I love both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, plus this has Telly Savalas in it. That alone should have had me on board for this years ago but alas, I didn’t see this wonderful picture until 2018. In my defense, if I had already seen every classic, I wouldn’t be able to be wowed by them the first time.

This is, far and away, better than the remake done by Martin Scorsese and I am a big fan of that picture. That version got in my head when I was a young teen and it never really released its grip. I do need to go back and watch that one too, in the near future.

Anyway, Robert Mitchum is one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen. When Mitchum decides to delve into darker roles though, the audience is in for a treat. Well, if they consider terror as a treat. He’s just so damn good playing such an evil bastard. Between this movie and The Night of the Hunter, he really exists on an evil level in a way that other actors don’t. If you want to see a master of their craft at work, this is a prime example of Robert Mitchum transcending his craft and having a presence that reaches through the screen and haunts your imagination.

Gregory Peck was perfection as the other side of this coin. He represents good and is a solid moral character that believes in law and justice. He is pushed to his limit and almost crosses over to the dark side a few times but ultimately, he keeps his soul clean and pure. If this was made in modern times, the ending would have looked like an obvious attempt at leaving things open for a sequel. But in 1962, goodness prevails without evil being mortally wiped out. Plus, in 2018, they would have had the hero blast a dozen holes into the bad guy while the audience cheered.

This is just a classic tale of good versus evil and that’s why it works so well. There are no bones about how terrible of a person Mitchum’s Max Cady is and the same can be said about the goodness of Peck’s Sam Bowden.

What was surprising about this, at least for me, is that a motion picture from 1962 could cross the lines that this one did. There were the threats of rape and pedophilia, which are disturbing now but imagine seeing this unfold through the eyes of someone in 1962 when film’s were censored by the morality police and the rating system wouldn’t exist for another 6 years.

Cape Fear is near perfect as a straight up thriller. It gives you an immediate sense of danger and dread and slowly simmers for 90 minutes before its nerve wracking climax.

Every actor in this was superb.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: PsychoThe Night of the Hunter and the 1991 Cape Fear remake.

Film Review: On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Release Date: December 17th, 1951
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino (uncredited)
Written by: A.I. Bezzerides, Nicholas Ray
Based on: Mad with Much Heart by Gerald Butler
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, Ed Begley

RKO Radio Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk! I’m gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why?” – Jim Wilson

What an opening score! The theme by Bernard Hermann over the opening credits really gets the energy in this film flowing from the get-go. And to be honest, this is one of my favorite scores he’s done alongside Psycho and Citizen Kane. The rest of the film lives up to the great score but the music has a lot to do with the energetic pulse that this classic film-noir has. In fact, part of this score was used as the opening theme to the hit television show Have Gun Will Travel in 1957.

This was directed by Nicholas Ray whose work I really loved in the pictures In A Lonely Place and They Live by Night. Like those films, this noir has a lot of spirit and a talented cast that gives it real gravitas.

It is also been said that Ida Lupino directed some of this picture, which is probably true as she went on the be very good behind the camera when she wasn’t stealing men’s hearts on the silver screen.

Along with Ida Lupino, the film stars Robert Ryan and Ward Bond. Ed Begley Sr. even has a brief role, as a police chief.

Ryan plays a mean New York City cop, Jim Wilson. After hurting a man he was questioning and having a history of losing his cool on the job, his chief sends him upstate to catch a murderer in a small town. He is sent to cool off, literally, as the place is covered in snow and even referred to condescendingly as “Siberia”.

While there, Wilson teams up with Walter Brent (Ward Bond), the father of the victim who was murdered. The two quickly find the killer but he runs off towards a house. When the two men get there, they meet the blind Mary Malden (Ida Lupino). It is revealed that she is the sister of the murderer and we also learn that her brother, the killer, is a young boy that is mentally challenged. Wilson feels for the boy and he develops romantic feelings for Mary. He is pitted against Brent, who is bloodthirsty and on the hunt for justice.

The dark and brooding New York City and the snowy countryside have a very strong contrast to one another and it is in that bright countryside where Wilson finds himself and becomes a changed man.

The outdoor scenes are majestic and well shot. Visually, this falls into the noir style while also giving a fresh spin on it with the snowy environment. It looks familiar but it also looks fresh.

One thing that makes this picture stand above most film-noir is just how emotionally touching it is. Ray also accomplished this in his other noirs, most specifically In A Lonely Place. Initially, you don’t like Jim Wilson but as the film rolls on, you connect with him and alongside him, fall for the sweet and soft Mary. You begin rooting for Jim and you want to see Mary find real piece of mind and to feel safe.

On Dangerous Ground was a nice surprise. I didn’t expect anything exceptional but I should’ve known better with Ray behind the camera, as I haven’t seen a film of his that has disappointed me yet.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Psycho (1960)

Release Date: July 16th, 1960 (DeMille Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh

Shamley Productions, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

psychoReview:

I’m a pretty big Alfred Hitchcock fan but it has been quite some time since I have watched Psycho. As a teenager, I watched it a lot, along with many of his other classics. Revisiting it now, I think I have grown to appreciate it even more.

Psycho is a masterpiece of suspense, maybe even more so than Hitchcock’s other work. Suspense is what he was known for, other than being an incredible artist. With Psycho, the suspense just builds and builds until that climactic moment and the big reveal. Even then, it delves even further as things are further explained and the real backstory is uncovered.

Alfred Hitchcock was absolutely meticulous in the creation of this motion picture. Every shot is damn near perfection, the editing is astounding, the sound is pristine, the music is magnificent and the acting is superb.

Every single scene that features Anthony Perkins is a delight. The scene where Perkin’s Norman Bates talks to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is a playful and unsettling back-and-forth that most other filmmakers will never come close to eclipsing. The conversation between Bates and the inspector, played by Martin Balsam, is equally as good even though it has a completely different dynamic. Watching it now, even though I have seen it dozens of times, makes me feel like Anthony Perkins was grossly underutilized throughout his long acting career.

The rest of the cast was spectacular too. And frankly, I’m not sure how anyone other than Janet Leigh wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. The fact that Perkins or Miles weren’t nominated is baffling to me. At least Hitchcock was nominated as director, but he didn’t win. Alfred Hitchcock not receiving the respect of the Academy was something that plagued him his entire career.

Psycho also features one of the most iconic scores in motion picture history. However, Bernard Hermann also got the Oscar snub. Looking back at 1960, how many people remember the music of the Oscar winning Song Without End? Furthermore, how many people remember the music of the other nominees: Bells Are RingingCan-CanPepe and Let’s Make Love?

It is quite possible that Psycho was ahead of its time. Before the film, there were very few great horror pictures. Horror has always been considered a lowbrow genre of film, maybe even more so in 1960 when studios were opposed to Hitchcock even making this picture. However, he bucked the trend and created a scary movie that became legendary. He also paved the way for other filmmakers with real talent to try their hand at horror.

Psycho is one of the greatest movies ever made. It deserves its later accolades and it certainly deserves the accolades that it didn’t get at the time it was released. It is better than the film of the year, The Apartment. And honestly, I really like The Apartment.