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.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 1’ by Roy Thomas

Man, this was a really cool book to read. Any fan of the ’70s Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics should love this, as it gives deep insight into every one of the first 51 issues.

The best part, is all this insight is given by Roy Thomas, the man who wrote and managed the creation of each of these issues.

Each chapter in this book covers a single issue. Each chapter is also typically four-to-five pages, which really is a lot when looking at the bigger picture. In fact, I’m surprised that Roy Thomas was even able to remember so many details, even with the help of his own notes.

I mean, I’m in a field where I create art every day and even on the biggest brands I’ve designed, I can’t remember all the reasons why I made certain creative choices. And I’m a lot younger than Thomas and my work wasn’t done decades ago.

This is a fun and impressive read. It gives you Thomas’ point-of-view on the character, the mythos and how to stay as true as possible to Robert E. Howard’s vision when there isn’t enough material to use over a lengthy amount of time creating monthly Conan stories.

Also, this book is labeled as a “volume one”. So I guess there is more coming. I hope so, because this was so enjoyable. But I also hope that I don’t have to wait too long for “volume two”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Comic Review: Avengers, Issue #6 – First Appearance of Baron Zemo & The Masters of Evil

Published: July 8th, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Chic Stone

Marvel Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

I recently read Avengers issue #8, the first appearance of Kang the Conqueror and I really enjoyed it. And since I actually now own a high quality original issue of this comic, the first appearance of the original Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil, I figured that I’d read this one too.

Granted, the comic I own is graded and slabbed, so I read this digitally. It’s actually free for Comixology Unlimited members.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this issue immensely. Even more so than the Kang issue.

This was a pretty high energy issue that was mostly action, as the Avengers didn’t fight one big villain but instead, fought a group of villains that were very aware of each hero’s weakness.

The story also ties back to the death of Bucky and how personal that tragedy was for Captain America. We learn that Zemo was behind Bucky’s death and that gives some added emotional weight to the story, cementing him, immediately, as one of Cap’s greatest rivals.

I loved Stan Lee’s writing here, especially his dialogue. I also appreciated the extra layers added to the plot that called back to past events that existed before Stan was even writing comics.

This is, of course, all enhanced by the stupendous artwork of Jack Kirby, who is still my favorite person ever to draw Captain America. He also really gives Zemo a presence and style that no one else has been able to replicate with the same sort of impact.

For those of you that just like old school comics when stories were told over just one issue, this is a great representation of that bygone narrative style.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era Marvel stuff, especially The Avengers and Fantastic Four.

Film Review: River of Death (1989)

Also known as: Alistair MacLean’s River of Death (Germany)
Release Date: May 15th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson
Based on: River of Death by Alistair MacLean
Music by: Sasha Matson
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, L. Q. Jones

Breton Film Productions, Cannon International, Pathe Communications, 107 Minutes

Review:

I’m a pretty avid fan of the movies that Michael Dudikoff made for Cannon Films. So I figured that this would be a hidden gem because of that. Plus, it had an interesting premise that saw Dudikoff go to the Amazon to hunt for treasure and Nazis. Honestly, it sounded like a Cannon Films version of an Indiana Jones movie.

I should have been weary though, as Cannon already attempted such a thing with those two Allan Quatermain pictures from the mid-’80s. Neither of them were terrible but they weren’t awesome either.

Maybe Dudikoff is just at his best when Steve James is by his side and he’s either fighting ninjas or guys in weird costumes that hide in the bayou? Whatever the case, this movie is a total fucking dud.

What’s even more sad about the whole thing is that this also featured Robert Vaughn and Donald Pleasence. Two great character actors with solid chops and really long resumes.

Honestly, though, this movie is pretty damn boring for a film that’s premise promised some pretty cool things. While it has action, none of it is very memorable and we’ve seen much better efforts by Cannon Films four dozen times over by the time this rolled around in ’89.

It’s poorly acted, the script is bird cage liner and the direction and fight choreography don’t measure up to the reasonable low standards of Cannon.

For a Cannon Films or Dudikoff completist, I guess this is worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find your new favorite film of the lot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Michael Dudikoff action films, as well as other action movies from Cannon.

Film Review: Girls Town (1959)

Also known as: The Innocent and the Damned (reissue title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1959
Directed by: Charles F. Haas
Written by: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Smith
Music by: Van Alexander, Paul Anka
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Paul Anka, James Mitchum, The Platters

Albert Zugsmith Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 89 Minutes

Review:

“This is Chip’s father.” – Michael Clyde, “You killed my son!” – Mr. Gardener, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Gardener, but you’re dialing the wrong number.” – Silver Morgan

This movie was the focal point of the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s sixth season, the first full season to star Mike Nelson. It was also the last episode that I needed to cover for that season, as I had watched and reviewed the rest of the pictures from that lot. In fact, I have one episode left in season four and then a handful or so in season five.

So on this journey of reviewing every film featured on MST3K, I have come across a lot of ’50s delinquent movies. While this one is equal to the quality of the rest of the lot, which doesn’t say much, this may be the most star-studded of them, as it features rising star Mamie Van Doren, as well as musicians Mel Tormé, Paul Anka and The Platters. It also has James Mitchum in it but James’ career never rose to the heights that his father’s did.

Sadly, despite the musical flourish, Girls Town is a pretty boring movie.

The story follows Van Doren’s Silver Morgan, who is sent to a Catholic reform school, where she doesn’t quite fit in. Additionally, Silver has been accused of killing a rapist but the girl that actually did the killing was Silver’s sister. The sister is then blackmailed by a creep who is into “hands-off drag racing”. The same creep has plans of selling the sister off to some Tijuana slave traders.

Yes, that’s really the plot. I didn’t pull any of that out of my ass. It’s fucking insane, I know.

And well, the film itself is just a baffling mess that deals with heavy subjects like rape, sex slavery and swooning over Paul f’n Anka. That’s pretty hardcore shit for 1959!

Anyway, there’s nothing all that noteworthy about the film, other than its cast and how nuts the story is.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent movies featured on MST3K.

Video Game Review: Lifeforce (NES)

Despite incredibly similar graphics, gameplay, game mechanics and developer, I never really knew that LIfeforce was a spinoff sequel to Gradius, especially since there were numbered sequels to Gradius.

It wasn’t until the ’90s or so that I pretty much figured it was either a sequel or designed by the same team, building a new game off of the Gradius model.

Well, in Japan it was called Salamander. For whatever reason, they re-titled it Lifeforce in the U.S. But some of the changes and gameplay additions ended up being adopted by future Gradius titles. Salamander itself wouldn’t get a direct sequel for a whole decade.

This was originally designed for the arcade but was quickly ported to several systems. I’ll probably check out the arcade version soon, just to compare the two.

Lifeforce is fast paced, intense and one of those games where you can find yourself completely overwhelmed in the blink of an eye. That being said, most people, myself included, probably can’t beat this game without the Konami Code. Like its use in Contra, the Code here gives the player 30 lives.

Unlike Contra, however, this game feels short on levels with only six. And honestly, that’s about my only complaint about the game. It’s so much fun, I just wish it were longer; at least an extra two levels to bring it up to eight like Contra.

What’s really unique about Lifeforce, though, is that it is both a side scroller and a vertical scroller. Odd numbered levels are sideways and even numbered levels are vertical.

The boss fights are all pretty fun too. Granted, most of the bosses are a cakewalk if you are able to upgrade your weapons quickly and then maintain them by not dying. The more suped up you are, however, the easier it is to survive and thrive.

I really love the weapon enhancements in this game. They just make you feel more badass and they make the game more fun and action heavy.

Lastly, for a simple 8-bit scrolling shooter, this has pretty solid level design. There isn’t a dull stage and some of them are kind of breathtaking. I especially love the level with the fire and flares, as well as the Egyptian-looking one.

Lifeforce is a great game for its era and for its genre. Also, it had some of the best box art in Nintendo history.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other games in the Gradius series, as well as other 8-bit Konami action shooters.

Comic Review: Detective Comics, Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal

Published: September 11th, 2018
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Alvaro Martinez

DC Comics, 151 Pages

Review:

After the previous volume, I was really hyped for this one, as it was the last of Tynion’s lengthy and mostly solid run on Detective Comics.

While this started off with a bang, it fizzled out about a third of the way through and kind of went out with a whimper, focusing on a new plot thread that I didn’t find interesting, especially when the larger arc of Tynion’s complete run didn’t feel like it was properly resolved.

It’s not that this was a bad story, I just felt like I was left holding my dick in the cold wind on top of a mountain. I climbed all the way to the summit and there was nothing there to greet me. No party, no fanfare, just cold wind, thin air and no sense of real reward.

Honestly, there’s not much else to say, really.

I wanted certain plot threads closed and followed up on and everything just sort of splintered off into different directions with no clear path to follow.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other collections of James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics.