Film Review: Psycho II (1983)

Release Date: June 3rd, 1983
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Written by: Tom Holland
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Robert Alan Browne, Claudia Bryar, Lee Garlington, Tom Holland

Oak Industries, Universal Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Mary, I’m becoming confused again, aren’t I?” – Norman Bates

I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel to a Hitchcock classic. Plus, this came out 23 years after the original, was made by a different studio and had a completely different vibe that embraced more of the slasher side than the classic suspense side.

The thing is, this also did a fine job of building suspense and ultimately, it was a damn good story, kept me guessing and wasn’t something that had an obvious outcome.

I really liked the script, I liked the curveballs and I loved that Norman Bates was actually reformed, even if circumstances pushed his buttons and made his resistance to his killer urges weaken over time. But is he the killer in this picture? You would be safe to assume so but the answer to that question isn’t a simple one.

Now I do feel like the ending of the film was a bit sloppy, after such a good story and great build up towards the finale. The ending felt like something that wasn’t decided upon until production had already started and the producers ended up meddling with things. I don’t know if that happened, it’s just a guess, but it had that kind of weird execution in the third act of the story.

The movie was written by Tom Holland, who would later direct Fright Night and Child’s Play. Kudos to Holland for penning a really compelling, smart script that really gave respect to the original movie while also showing respect to the audience. He also had a lot of layers to his story and explored what happens when a once insane man is clinically cured but has to later deal with the social repercussions of his past actions. How will he handle the hatred; how will he respond when pushed against a wall?

Another person I have to give major kudos to is Vera Mills. She really kills it in this, pun intended. Also, she truly committed to this picture and the slasher style killings. She does get taken out in this and that moment is one of the best in the film. Vera goes out like a friggin’ champ and it was cool to see her do that scene.

Meg Tilly was adorable in the film and it was hard to not crush on her character, just as Norman did. She is not who she seems to be at first glance but she develops mutual feelings for Norman and wants to genuinely support him. Sadly, she gets pulled into his chaotic orbit.

Even though a few things I’ve said here may be seen as spoilers, they are very minor ones, as Holland’s script isn’t as simple as it may first seem on the surface. Plus, just because someone dies in this, doesn’t mean that they’re just some victim. In fact, this feels more like a Clue whodunit mystery than a straight up serial killer thriller. And just when you think you’ve got the answers, you realize that you don’t.

It was great seeing Anthony Perkins return to his most famous role. Even within the context of his past crimes, Perkins is so good in this role that you feel for him emotionally. You know he did horrible things but you also get the sense that he is trying his damnedest to move forward and to truly be a good person. When he’s poked and prodded, you get angry for him. I just don’t think anyone else could have made this work quite like Perkins did.

On paper, Psycho II is a film that should have never been made. The original should have been left alone. But this is a very rare gem, as it’s better than it has a right to be.

The film isn’t as good as it’s predecessor because really, Psycho is a perfect film. But this is a damn good examination of psychological rehabilitation and it somehow makes you care for a man that was once a cold blooded murderer.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Unbreakable (2000)

Also known as: No Ordinary Man (working title)
Release Date: November 14th, 2000 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Barry Mendel Productions, Limited Edition Productions Inc., Buena Vista Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“It’s alright to be afraid, David, because this part won’t be like a comic book. Real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.” – Elijah Price/Mr. Glass

There was a time when seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s name on movie poster generated excitement. This came out during that time and fresh off the heels of The Sixth Sense, just a year earlier and also starring Bruce Willis.

When the film starts, you really have no idea as to where this story is going to go. In the end, it is a superhero origin story where one character becomes a hero and another character becomes something else. While there is a big twist to what that is, being that this film has been out for nearly two decades, that twist has been spoiled for anyone who has just talked about this movie with someone else who’s seen it.

Also, this is tied into the 2016 movie Split, as well as an upcoming sequel to both films called Mr. Glass. That comes out in January 2019 and it is the film I am most anticipating, right now. It’s also why I wanted to revisit this one, because I haven’t seen it in so long.

The story is a slow but satisfying burn. When you get to the seminal moment of the picture, where the hero has to decide if he’s going to be a hero, it’s comes with such emotional weight and impact that everything that inched towards that scene was well worth it.

Shyamalan, at this point in his career, knew how to build tension, emotion and narrative in every single scene. It was something that he lost, as time went on, but he seems to have found his mojo again with 2016’s Split. And frankly, I’m glad, because he had the makings of a great filmmaker but sort of just slid into a weird place for quite awhile.

This film and Split are my two favorites in Shyamalan’s filmography, with The Sixth Sense being right there with them.

The atmosphere in this film is incredible. The story is powerful while being very subtle. This is a superhero origin story that is so much better than most of the films that deal with the same sort of narrative. Comic book movies don’t need to be grandiose spectacles and this proves that. Oddly, it proved it about eight years before grandiose comic book movies became the norm. And while this isn’t based off of a comic book, I’m surprised this universe hasn’t spawned it’s own comic series. Maybe it will after the third film, next year.

Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson have done several films together and it is a treat, every. single. time. that they share the screen with one another. This is no different and to be honest, it’s my favorite of their collaborations. I want more of these two characters. Luckily, years later, we are going to get just that.

In the meantime, if you want to see Mr. Glass, you owe it to yourself to watch this and Split first.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequels: Split and the upcoming Mr. Glass.

Film Review: Nightmare (1981)

Also known as: Blood Splash, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (alternate titles), Schizo (Australia)
Release Date: October 16th, 1981 (New York City sneak preview)
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Written by: Romano Sacvolini
Music by: Jack Eric Williams
Cast: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. Cooke, Mike Cribben, Danny Ronan

21st Century Film Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Now Paul, you… you believed in these drugs. And, you rebuilt this man. And you did put him back out on the street. But now, he’s out there killing people. And we can’t have that. Now you find him… and you fix it” – Man with Cigar

Nightmare is an Italian slasher film shot mostly on the Florida Space Coast. Sadly, this isn’t a slasher picture that takes place at NASA but how cool would that have been in the ’80s? Like SpaceCamp meets Friday the 13th. I would’ve loved that shit.

Anyway, this primarily takes place on Cocoa Beach but there are a few New York City scenes as well.

The story follows a psycho that has been released to the public, he goes down to Florida and tries to fight his killer tendencies but he can’t. This all ties back to a horrific event from his childhood.

The film is far from spectacular but it is a good example of extensive gore used in a way that has some actual artistic merit to it. The gory scenes are very well done and as tasteful as they can possibly be. Yes, it is absolutely gratuitous but it feels like there is actual purpose behind it and it serves to have meaning to the plot and to character development. You’ll see what I mean when you get to the big reveal (a predictable one) at the end.

I can name dozens of slasher films that are better than this one and there isn’t a ton of killing but for whatever reason, this one does stick with you and it stands out, as it doesn’t try to emulate or blatantly ripoff other films in the genre, it explores different territory making it fairly unique. Also, I’m a Florida boy and I love the setting.

Strangely, being that this is an Italian film with a slasher premise, it doesn’t tap into the giallo style too much. The only thing remotely giallo, besides narrative similarities to that style and slasher films, is the vivid look of the blood once it really starts flowing. I think the director was more interested in trying to make something much more American feeling than replicating other, more famous, Italian horror directors. Kudos to him for that.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Don’t Go In the HouseBlood RagePieces and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker.

Film Review: Scene of the Crime (1949)

Release Date: July 28th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Rowland
Written by: Charles Schnee
Based on: the article Smashing the Bookie Gang Marauders by John Barltow Martin
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Van Johnson, Arlene Dahl, Gloria DeHaven, Tom Drake

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I’m no Humphrey Bogart. He gets slugged and he’s ready for action; I get slugged and I’m ready for pickling.” – P.J. Pontiac

I like Van Johnson. Seeing him in a film-noir is a treat. Although, this was his only one, as MGM put him back into comedies and musicals because they didn’t feel that the public could buy Johnson as a harder, more serious character. Honestly, I don’t think that he’s unconvincing here but this really isn’t his normal forte.

Additionally, being that this was put out by MGM, was a rare thing, as they didn’t really care about making crime pictures like a lot of the other studios. However, in 1949, after a change of the guard, MGM went crime heavy and thus, created some memorable films that embody the noir style.

While this fits within the stlye, it is less noir and more like a simple police crime drama. It lacks the gravitas of most noir pictures and the ride isn’t as turbulent or shocking. But it was still a good attempt at MGM trying to contribute to a trend that they tried to work around for the majority of the ’40s.

This film deals with a detective investigating the death of a fellow detective, who was apparently working security for a bookie on the side. He uncovers that something larger is afoot, as all the bookies in town are being robbed. He must traverse through the noir styled twists and turns of the criminal underworld while trying to balance his personal life.

I thought that the film was pretty average overall. It’s far from incredible and hardly memorable in a vast sea of 1940s film-noir and crime dramas but it was still entertaining and engaging.

The acting was mostly good, the direction was above par but the cinematography and look of the film were pretty standard.

Still, it was cool seeing a great talent like Van Johnson get to stretch his legs and do something else for 94 minutes.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: He Walked by NightRaw DealSide Street and T-Men.

Film Review: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Release Date: September 28th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall, Catherine Turney (uncredited)
Based on: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“If you take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Because you feel like killing yourself, I gotta get pneumonia.” – Policeman on Pier

Mildred Pierce is one of the most critically acclaimed film-noir motion pictures of all-time. But when you put master director Michael Curtiz with acting legend Joan Crawford, a magical concoction is ensured. It was a fantastic pairing that lead to Crawford winning the Academy Award for her performance. Curtiz wasn’t nominated but he probably should have been.

Ann Blyth and Eve Arden both got nominations for Best Supporting Actress but lost out to Anne Revere for her role in National Velvet. The film also received nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

This is also considered one of Crawford’s best performances. Honestly, she has hit it out of the park with every single performance I have seen from this era. She was one of the most capable actresses of her time, or any time, and she elevated not just the picture but the other actors around her. She had to carry many scenes but she was able to pull some of the best work out of her co-stars that they have ever showcased. I can’t ignore Curtiz’s direction in this either but if you go back and watch Crawford, especially in the ’40s, you’ll see how she elevates the performances of those around her.

The story is mostly told through flashback. It focuses on Mildred Pierce, a mother that has been through some rocky relationships but is willing to give all she can to make her materialistic and ungrateful daughter whatever she wants. The film taps into this heavily and definitely makes you question Mildred’s character and her motivations. The reason being, her ex-husband has been murdered and Mildred is the focal point of the police investigation. But this is a noir and there must be twists and surprises. All I’ll say is that I never saw the ending coming.

That being said, this was a well orchestrated plot and the screenwriters and director did a fantastic job of moving this story along, dropping in little hints and some suggestive nuances. I won’t say whether they are red herrings or not but it’s pretty entertaining watching this all unfold.

I thought that the Max Steiner score was really good. I also loved the cinematography by Ernest Haller, who was involved in Gone with the Wind and also worked a lot with Crawford, as well as Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman.

This is just a really good story, plotted out wonderfully, well directed and superbly acted. Plus everything looks and sounds great. This is a motion picture comprised of nothing other than strong positives.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures with Joan Crawford: Humoresque, Possessed and Sudden Fear.

Film Review: The Prowler (1981)

Also known as: Most Likely to Die (working title), Pitchfork Massacre (reissue title), Rosemary’s Killer, The Graduation (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 6th, 1981
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Neal Barbera, Glenn Leopold
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Christopher Goutman

Graduation Films, Sandhurst, 89 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“I want you to be my date, Rose.” – The Prowler

I haven’t watched The Prowler in a long time but I did like it enough to rent with some regularity when I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. I also thought that “The Prowler” had a really cool look. The best slashers always have a cool outfit and a unique gimmick. This is the same reason why I love the bad guy in My Bloody Valentine. Like that movie, this is a film that isn’t spectacular but is made better by having a cool killer.

The film starts with a prologue that takes place in the 1940s. It is used to setup a connection between that time and modern times (or 1981 when the movie was released).

As is typical, someone is murdering young hot girls. It’s a big mystery and the murders are gruesome. You’ve probably seen this all before, maybe dozens of times, and there isn’t much to set this movie apart from its competition but slashers are rarely great and fans of these films don’t watch them expecting to experience a masterpiece like Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho.

Compared to some other films in the slasher genre, this one is a bit tame. Yes, there’s stabbings and gruesome murders but this is nowhere near as gory as some of the harder stuff out there. It certainly can’t compete with something like the Spanish slasher Pieces.

Surprisingly, this was a one and done slasher picture and didn’t churn out a bunch of sequels. But I guess that this early in the genre, studios were more into just making slasher pictures in general and not developing franchises. Friday the 13th only had one movie when this was made and A Nightmare On Elm Street was still three years away. The early ’80s were full of these one and done slasher pictures.

There isn’t much else to point out with this movie other than mentioning that it had two classic film-noir actors in it: Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney. Modern film fans probably know Tierney best as Joe Cabot, the mob boss, from Reservoir Dogs.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’80s slashers: The BurningPiecesMy Bloody ValnetineTerror TrainNew Year’s Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, The Mutilator, Sleepaway Camp, The House on Sorority Row, The Initiation, etc.

TV Review: Broadchurch (2013-2017)

Original Run: March 4th, 2013 – April 17th, 2017
Created by: Chris Chinball
Directed by: James Strong, Euros Lyn, various
Written by: Chris Chinball, Louise Fox
Music by: Ólafur Arnalds, Arnór Dan
Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Arthur Darvill, Andrew Buchan, Carolyn Pickles, Charlotte Beaumont, Charlotte Rampling, Eve Myles

Kudos Film and Television, Shine Group, Imaginary Friends, ITV, 24 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

ITV’s Broadchurch is one of the top five shows I have watched in recent memory. A bold statement, sure, but in a world full of crime dramas, this show is a big step above what is currently on television.

The showrunners must be big Doctor Who fans, as it features David Tennant in the lead role as DI Alec Hardy, Arthur Darvill as Rev. Paul Coates and Olivia Colman (who appeared in one episode of Doctor Who) as the other lead, DS Ellie Miller. Eve Myles from the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood shows up as a regular in the second series. (Updated note: Jodie Whittaker would go on to be the first female version of the Doctor after this show.)

Jodie Whittaker (Attack The Block) plays the mother of a murdered boy. Solving the mystery of the boy’s murder is what drives the plot of series one, while the trial of the murderer drives some of the plot of series two. Series two also focuses on a case that Hardy was unable to solve before he moved to Broadchurch.

This show, unlike many other crime dramas, is not predictable. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns and while that is a typical formula of these shows, the execution of it on Broadchurch is not only stellar, it is refreshing.

The show is also beautiful to look at. Filmed in Dorset, many shots are full of the iconic coastal cliffs, grassy hills and beaches of that area. The geography of the show enhances the tone greatly and while it feels warm and inviting at first, it is also cold and in someways, desolate.

The acting is top notch and this may be David Tennant’s greatest work, even considering his run as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who and his role as the villainous Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. Olivia Colman has never been better and she is an actress that I have loved since first seeing her work with Mitchel and Webb in their sketch comedy shows, as well as Peep Show. The rest of the cast is equally fantastic.

There is a lot of shit on television today but Broadchurch is the antithesis of that norm.

Each series is also only eight episodes, which allow this masterpiece to be binge watched quite quickly.

Both of the series to date are now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Doctor Who and Torchwood for all the shared actors, the American remake Gracepoint and the BBC crime show Luther.