31 Days to Scare ~ Psycho II

psycho_ii

The Facts:

Synopsis: After twenty-two years of psychiatric care, Norman Bates attempts to return to a life of solitude, but the specters of his crimes – and his mother – continue to haunt him

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Lee Garlington, Claudia Bryar

Director: Richard Franklin

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 slow-burn thriller Psycho remains one of the most famous and famously recognizable movies.  With its iconic ‘shower scene’ and last minute twist, the movie was already interred in the Hollywood history books by the time 1982 rolled around.  That was the year that Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho was based on, had published a sequel that found escaped madman Norman Bates turning up on the Tinsel Town set of a movie based on his life and eventually getting back to his own tricks.  While this was a surprisingly meta take (and one the Scream sequels would steal) executives over at Universal Studios who owned the sequel rights weren’t thrilled about their town getting skewered and satirized.

Hiring screenwriter Todd Holland and director Richard Franklin, both having had recent successes with horror films of their own, Universal decided to beat Bloch to the punch and draft their own take on the further adventures of Norman Bates.  The resulting film was far removed from the original, more in the slasher vein which was enjoying peak popularity at the time.  That’s not to say it exists without merit because Psycho II is very much its own film, strong enough to withstand ornery critics who grumbled that it sullied Hitchcock’s memory.

Released from a mental hospital when he’s deemed to be harmless, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, wisely changing his mind and reprising his role before Christopher Walken could be seriously considered) has only one place to go.  Home.  The house he lived in still stands, as does the motel where guests checked in but didn’t check out…well, at least the ones that showered.  22 years after being apprehended dressed like his dead mother and speaking in her voice, the house brings back bad memories…and maybe his killer instincts.  Not long after he arrives people go missing, dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways.  Is it Norman brandishing the knife or is it someone else with their own motives?

Surprisingly, Psycho II is filled with decent twists and winds up to be quite entertaining.  I somehow get amnesia between viewings and always forget how the pieces fit together.   Aided by Jerry Goldsmith’s (Poltergeist) score that thankfully doesn’t even attempt to top Bernard Hermann’s string heavy orchestrations from Psycho, this has more than its share of spooky moments from toilets overflowing with blood all the way through it’s surprising finale.  Franklin doesn’t try to mimic Hitchcock’s style but cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween) does liberally lift familiar camera angles right from the previous film (not to mention Franklin taking a huge risk by recapping the first film in clips before the opening credits).  He even manages to work in a nice tip of the hat to Hitch – try to see if you can spot a recognizable shadow when looking around the room that used to belong to Norman’s mother.

Along with Perkins, Vera Miles (The Initiation) is a returning player from the original as the sister of Janet Leigh’s doomed character leading a one-woman crusade to keep Bates behind bars. Robert Loggia (Jagged Edge) is nicely sanguine as Norman’s psychiatrist and Meg Tilly’s (The Big Chill) waifish waitress cautiously befriends Norman and eventually takes up residence with him in the main house.  Character actors Dennis Franz, Lee Garlington, and Claudia Bryar are all standouts in the well-cast ensemble.

It wouldn’t have been possible to top Psycho but it could have been easy to drag its good name through the mud.  Thankfully Psycho II is elevated from cheap cash-in sequel to respectable continuation thanks to a cast and crew who obviously held the original film in high regard.  Now Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning…those are the sequels you should be worried about.

31 Days to Scare ~ Asylum

asylum

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young psychiatrist interviews four inmates in a mental asylum to satisfy a requirement for employment.

Stars: Sylvia Syms, Peter Cushing, Barry Morse, Ann Firbank, John Franklyn-Robbins, Britt Ekland, Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Geoffrey Bayldon, Robert Powell, Sylvia Marriott, Daniel Johns, Frank Forsyth, Tony Wall

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Rated: PG

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’ve reviewed anthology horror a bit in previous 31 Days to Scare entries (see From Beyond the Grave, After Midnight, & Cat’s Eye) so it’s only fitting to kick off another year with one of those forgotten gems from the 70s that were so popular.  Asylum is another product coming out of British based Amicus Productions, a company as synonymous with anthology horror as Hammer Studios was during the same era for its revisionist takes on legendary horror figures.

As is the case with all anthology films, this one has several short stories all weaved together by a thin framework.  For Asylum the set-up works better than the others thanks to a clever set-up finding a young doctor being challenged by his new colleague to figure out which of the patients he’s interviewing is really the recently committed former head of the mental ward they all work at.

Asylum was written by Robert Bloch who made a name for himself with the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho and he brings some of that same wicked sense of humor to the four tales that we’re treated to over the course of a very short 88 minutes.

The stories run the gamut from quite frightening (in the case of Frozen Fear, a revenge tale) to the ho-hum (the unfulfilled promise of the otherwise interesting The Weird Tailor) but none of the stories lack for substance or interest.  Even though it was made in 1972, the film holds up nicely today considering modern audiences unnatural bloodlust.

I’ve long hoped that anthology horror makes a nifty comeback and with the advent of shows like American Horror Story I think we’re inching closer to a revitalization.  Films like Asylum and its countless copycats have provided some textbook examples of how to make entertaining films that don’t waste your time or your brain cells.  They’re largely a lark but what fun it is to be scared!

In Praise of Teasers ~ Psycho (1998)

psycho

I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Psycho (1998)

Riding high off of a string of movies that were critical and box office successes, the (cinematic) world was director Gus Van Sant’s oyster.  So on one hand it was easy to imagine why Universal Studios would allow Van Sant to take on what was essentially a shot for shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1960 thriller.  On the other hand, why would any director even want to go near the property to begin with?  I remember being excited to see what Van Sant would do with the material and his starry ensemble cast…and also feeling a bit shell shocked leaving the theater after viewing the ultimately unwise finished film.  Hitchcock’s film still has an impact even 15 years after this bungled remake so in the end this head-scratcher exists merely as curiosity.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch, In the Line of Fire, The Game