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: The Initiation (1984)

Release Date: December 7th, 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane (uncredited/fired)
Written by: Charles Pratt Jr.
Music by: Gabriel Black, Lance Ong
Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Hunter Tylo

Georgian Bay Productions, Initiation Associates, New World Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the nightmare ends with this stranger coming in and fighting with my father. And the strange man ends up catching on fire and burning to death. It’s always the same; the last image is of his whole body engulfed in flames.” – Kelly Fairchild, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there; mom, dad, fire, strange men…” – Peter

The Initiation was better film in my memory than it was revisiting it for the first time in a couple of decades. It’s one of those great midnight movies I loved watching as a kid in the ’80s and I sort of had a thing for Daphne Zuniga when I first saw her in Spaceballs, a few years after this came out.

The coolest thing about this movie is the setting in the second half. While this is really a typical slasher with some mystery and a twist, the plot is pretty pedestrian and the twist isn’t shocking in the least. Still, the finale is kind of neat and pretty fun.

The setting is supposed to be inside of a large department store but the script was written and the filmmakers couldn’t find a suitable department store in the Dallas area to shoot. So they actually shot this in the massive and tomb-like Dallas Market Center. It doesn’t look anything like a department store but it houses hundreds of showrooms for anything and everything you could possibly throw money away on. It’s also fifteen stories tall and looks like the interior of a modern pyramid hollowed out and adorned with all the flags in the world. The corridors look more like a corporate office building with windows full of consumer goods. It really is a strange and unique setting and I’ve always wanted to see this place in person. Sadly, it’s not open to the public.

The film’s plot surrounds a sorority. The pledges are forced to sneak into a department store after hours to steal a security guard’s uniform. Kelly’s (Zuniga) father has keys to the store so she takes them and plans on just stealing a uniform from the inventory of spare ones. The queen bitch of the sorority has her own plans and sneaks in with some frat bros to scare the pledges on their mission. Of course, there is a slasher on the loose and people get murdered.

I liked that Zuniga’s parents were played by veterans Vera Miles and Clu Gulager, as it added a sense of legitimacy to this canned slasher picture. Vera Miles did some strange movies in the ’80s and Gulager would do just about anything thrown his way, which is why I’ve always loved and respected the guy.

As an ’80s slasher picture, I’d say this is a hair bit above average but it isn’t anything special once you take away the unique location. It has a lot in common with The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which also had Zuniga in it. But college based slasher pictures were a dime a dozen circa 1984. In fact, it feels like there was probably a new slasher movie every week in the mid ’80s, as I never seem like I’ve run out of ones to watch and still discover new ones all the time. But it was the peak of the genre and this film was just capitalizing off of the trend.

I still really like The Initiation but it isn’t a film that I want to revisit too often, unless I’m having a marathon or trying to pair up a few movies for a get-together.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Chopping MallThe Dorm That Dripped BloodFinal ExamThe MutilatorGraduation DayThe Prowler and Night School.

Film Review: Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Release Date: December 28th, 1982 (TV)
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by: Tom Lazarus
Based on: Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe
Music by: Hagood Hardy
Cast: Tom Hanks, Wendy Crewson, David Wallace, Chris Makepeace, Vera Miles, Murray Hamilton, Kevin Peter Hall, Susan Strasberg

McDermott Productions, Proctor & Gamble Productions, CBS, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Jay Jay, that was really stupid, jumping into the pit without using your sonar first!” – Kate Finch

This film is categorized as drama and fantasy, officially. There really isn’t any fantasy in it and the fact that it considers itself a fantasy movie is misleading and disappointing for someone expecting to see the film come alive in that way. The only fantasy elements in the movie are the fact that the four main characters are playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons and that one player hallucinates and sees monsters and other wacky shit.

Once it hit VHS, this was sold as a Tom Hanks movie, even though he starred in it when he was a virtual nobody. Not to knock Hanks, he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, but this is definitely below his level of talent and being dragged into this muck even made his performance pretty terrible. Luckily he found Splash and Bachelor Party, two years later.

In all fairness, this was a “made for television” movie. It was also based on a novel that was trying to demonize the culture of the kids who played games like Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe the author was a religious nut or she had a son who was obsessed with killing make believe goblins. But the way the culture is represented in this story, is laughable. This is really a tale about mental illness and not being obsessed with D&D.

Come to think of it, maybe my mum watched this movie because she was pretty adamant that I couldn’t play Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins. My mum also believed all the religious propaganda about pop culture when I was a young lad, so I wasn’t even allowed to look at a picture of Ozzy Osbourne in a magazine because he bit heads off of bats and fornicated with demons every time he was on stage. Now my mum is all into Harry Potter, so go figure.

This film looks horrible and it hasn’t aged well but it was a bad movie to begin with, so how else would it age? The cinematography and camera work look like this is a bad soap opera. The music is equally atrocious and doesn’t, in any way, reflect what college kids in 1982 were jamming out to. It’s 1982 but this movie sounds like a television ad for tampons in 1972. They couldn’t throw some Devo in the party scene?

Mazes and Monsters has nothing going right for it. So as is customary with shitty movies, I must run this boring turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Nothing really. It’s an odd and pretty terrible film.

 

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.

Film Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1962
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Based on: a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murrary, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef

Paramount Pictures, 123 Minutes

the_man_who_shot_liberty_valanceReview:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is regarded as one of John Wayne’s best westerns. It is hard to argue against that point because truthfully, I think just about every John Wayne western is one of his best, as making bad films was something he never seemed to do. Okay, maybe there are a few.

In this movie, he’s teamed up with legends James Stewart and Lee Marvin, as well as Lee Van Cleef and John Carradine in minor roles. That’s a lot of bad asses to share one screen and it is almost like an Expendables film for its era, except for the fact that it’s actually a good movie.

This is one of my favorites when it comes to the role John Wayne plays. As usual, he is the suave manly man but this time he plays somewhat of a protector to James Stewart’s pacifist lawyer character. This is one of my favorite James Stewart performances, outside of his work with Hitchcock, and he almost steals this picture away from John Wayne. Lee Marvin is also at the top of his game here, as he plays a classic black-wearing western villain that you can’t not love to hate.

This film has a lot of layers to it and it isn’t just a straightforward cookie cutter western film. That is why it stands above most of the westerns of that time. There are a handful of John Wayne films I like better but not by much. This is a stupendous movie and it shows off the acting mastery of three greats.

There is a bigger message with this movie than just being a shoot ’em up affair or a typical western revenge flick. There are multiple social commentary threads running through this film and they are all well executed and presented. While light-hearted at times, this film also comes with a very dark vibe, as the evil and corruption that must be overcome feel very real and very threatening.