Film Review: Bates Motel (1987)

Release Date: July 5th, 1987 (TV)
Directed by: Richard Rothstein
Written by: Richard Rothstein
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty, Moses Gunn, Gregg Henry, Khrystyne Haje, Jason Bateman, Kerrie Keane, Robert Picardo, Buck Flower, Carmen Filpi

Universal Television, NBC, 90 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to the urn] Oh that’s not saki, that’s Norman.” – Alex West

Let me start off by saying that this television movie is terrible. However, I still kind of dug it and felt that it had some good seeds planted in what could have been a solid television series had this feature length pilot been picked up by NBC and developed into a full series. Granted, it needed some time and experimentation to find its footing but I think it could’ve gotten there.

The main thing I liked about this was the top three members of the cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty and Moses Gunn.

Also, it was a really cool take and reinvention of the Psycho film franchise that could have stood on its own, given enough time to grow and find its groove.

What hurts this pilot “movie” the most is its editing and pacing. It’s clearly a mish mash of two episodes that don’t work when wedged together. On their own, they probably would’ve been fine but it ruins the three act structure and narrative flow.

I guess this is how it had to be presented though, as the show wasn’t picked up by NBC but they probably wanted to make their money back, so they stitched it together and sold it as a “movie of the week” release. Which, probably worked out, as Psycho fever was pretty strong in the ’80s once Anthony Perkins turned the classic film into a four movie franchise starting with 1983’s Psycho II.

I have always liked Bud Cort and I always thought Lori Petty was just a really cool chick. This didn’t change my opinion of either actor and I enjoyed their scenes and thought they had a fun chemistry.

In the end, this really is a dud but it is still worth a watch for those who love the Psycho franchise and haven’t seen it. It’s pretty rare and mostly forgotten but it is on YouTube, at least for the moment. Although, that version is a crappy VHS rip. I still found it watchable but I also have a high tolerance for thirty-plus year old VHS tapes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: the ’80s Psycho sequels and anthology horror/sci-fi television shows of the era.

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.

TV Review: Bates Motel (2013-2017)

Original Run: March 18th, 2013 – April 24th, 2017
Created by: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, Anthony Cipriano
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Chris Bacon
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz, Nestor Carbonell, Kenny Johnson

American Genre, Cuse Productions, Kerry Ehrin Productions, Universal Television, NBC, A&E, 50 Episodes, 40-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Psycho is a movie that I adore. I didn’t watch some of the sequels until just recently but Psycho II was far better than I thought it would be. Psycho III fell off and I’ve yet to find Psycho IV streaming anywhere. But this show has been floating around in my Netflix queue for a long time, so I thought I’d finally give it a watch, fresh off of watching the first two Psycho sequels.

Sadly, I could not get into this show. I watched the first half of season one and threw my hands up in the air and just quit. I don’t usually just quit a show but I have a lot of stuff I need to power through and the five hours I spent on this were a dreadful bore where I didn’t care for a single character (well, except Olivia Cooke’s Emma Decody).

The show just doesn’t work for me on any level, really. It takes the Norman Bates character and wants to give him an origin story. But this is bogged down by a bunch of characters and the town is made to feel much larger than the desolate place it was in the original movie.

Another issue for me, is that the show takes place in modern times. Now Norman, his mother and their rundown house and hotel look like they’re straight out of the 1950s but everything around them looks like an episode of Gilmore Girls with iPhones.

This is more of a high school teen show trying to be edgy. It feels like something that I wouldn’t watch on The CW.

One thing that really made me want to give this is a shot was that I heard about how good the acting was, especially from Vera Farmiga. I don’t know what the hell people are talking about, though, as her performance seemed incredibly forced and over the top in just about every scene where she was bossing her sons around.

This is also bogged down by too many characters but mainly Norman’s brother, who was created just for this show. He’s some sort of poor man’s Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. I’m not sure how or if he evolves over the course of the show but from what I saw, he’s just a douche and takes a job protecting a marijuana field.

I was initially glad to see Nestor Carbonell in this, as I have loved him since Lost, but even his performance was weird and his character felt really inconsistent.

But the show, at least, looks good and has nice cinematography for something on cable.

I can’t quite say that this is bad. It’s just not what I want and it doesn’t feel like it belongs in the Psycho universe.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The original Psycho for context and it’s sequels, as this also doesn’t live up to the greatness of the original Hitchcock masterpiece.

Film Review: Psycho III (1986)

Release Date: May, 1986 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Anthony Perkins
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Donovan Scott

Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Conservative clothes never go out of style.” – Norman Bates

As impressed and surprised as I was by Psycho II, I was kind of hoping that the magic would sustain into the third film in the series. Also, considering that this one was directed by Anthony Perkins, a man who knew Norman Bates better than anyone on the planet, I was hoping that he’d bring some real depth to the character and story.

Well, this doesn’t live up to the quality of Psycho II and it’s nowhere near as clever but it works alright as an ’80s slasher picture, as long as you aren’t looking for a massive body count or an overabundance of gore.

The film benefits greatly from the performances of Perkins, as well as Jeff Fahey, who has been a favorite of mine for years and who always brings a little something extra to every movie that he’s in.

Although, apart from the two male leads, the rest of the cast is pretty damn weak.

Also, the story just isn’t there for me. It’s kind of like a rehash of elements from part II but mostly comes off as a fairly mindless slasher movie. It lacks the psychological terror of the first two pictures and Perkins doesn’t seem to have the acumen, behind the camera, to really propel this story forward visually or from narrative standpoint.

The script, however, is pretty terrible and it doesn’t seem to understand some of the things that worked so well before. For instance, it has always been assumed, at least by me, that Norman was actually speaking to himself in his mother’s voice. Here, it’s as if his mother’s voice is in his head because we often times see Norman reacting to the horror of her requests as she talks to him off screen. It takes the magic away and there’s just something more batshit about Norman speaking, as his mother, to himself. The film also cuts to shots of Norman’s dead mother pointing and changing her position from shot to shot without his assistance. Maybe the film is trying to take some sort of artistic liberty in trying to show these moments through Norman’s eyes but it doesn’t work.

Where you weren’t sure if Norman was the killer in part II, that mystery is gone here, as he’s pretty much just a slasher, cutting his way through some ladies. But he still has that good side in him and doesn’t necessarily want to do evil but the ending of the second film set him off and there are certain moments in this one that pull the triggers to propel Norman to murder, once again.

This isn’t a waste of time, if you like the Norman Bates character, but this chapter in the original string of films is weak. I can’t speak yet for the fourth and final film, as I haven’t seen it and I actually can’t find it streaming anywhere.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

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: 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.

Rating: 10/10