Horror Film Review: Psycho II (dir by Richard Franklin)


Norman Bates is back!

No, I don’t mean Freddie Highmore from Bates Motel or Vince Vaughn from the odd Psycho remake that I keep seeing on Showtime.  No, I’m talking about the original Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins!

First released in 1983, Psycho II is a direct sequel to the classic shocker from Alfred Hitchcock.  The film opens with a replay of the original film’s famous shower scene and then immediately jumps forward 22 years.  Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norman Bates has been in a mental institution ever since he was arrested for the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arborgast.  However, Norman’s psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia, who was considered for the role of Sam Loomis in the original film), now feels that Norman has been cured and is no longer a danger to himself or others.  A judge agrees.  Marion Crane’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original) does not.  She presents the judge with a petition demanding that Norman not be released.  When the judge ignores her, Lila yells that Norman will murder again!

Now free, Norman returns to the Bates Motel and discovers that it’s now being run by the sleazy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz).  When Norman finds various party favors in the motel rooms and asks Warren what they are, Warren laughs and says, “They’re drugs, Norman.”  Norman’s not too happy about that.  As Dr. Raymond tells him, the world has changed considerably over the past two decades.

However, Norman has other issues to deal with.  For the most part, most of the people in town are not happy that their most famous resident has returned.  Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) gets Norman a job at a local diner because, in her words, she believes in forgiveness and second chances.  Norman gets to know the new waitress, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) and, when Mary tells him that she’s had a fight with her boyfriend, he invites her to stay at the hotel until she can get things together.

From the minute that he returns home, Norman is struggling to keep it together.  When he first reenters his former house, he hears his mother’s voice but he tells himself that she’s not really there.  But if his mother isn’t there, then who keeps calling him on the phone and yelling at him about the state of the motel?  Who keeps taunting him about his awkward (yet rather sweet) relationship with Mary?  And when two teenagers are attacked after breaking into the house, who else could it possibly be but Norman’s mother?

I was really surprised by Psycho II, which turned out to be a really entertaining little movie, an effective thriller with a healthy dash of dark humor.  It’s a very plot-heavy film, with almost every scene introducing a new twist to the story.  With the exception of the sleazy Warren Toomey, no one in this film turns out to be who you initially expected them to be, including Norman.  Meg Tilly does a good job in the somewhat oddly written role of Mary Samuels and even manages to make an awkward line like “Norman, you’re as mad as a hatter” sound natural.  Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Perkins’s performance as Norman Bates and what a great performance it is.  The best moments are the ones where Norman awkwardly tries to fit back in with society, nervously laughing at his own jokes and struggling to maintain eye contact with whoever he’s talking to.  You really can’t help but feel sorry for him, especially as the film progresses.

Wisely, Psycho II set out to establish it own identity as a film, as opposed to just trying to duplicate the shocks of Psycho.  (There is a shower scene that’s filmed similarly to the one from the first scene, with a key difference that I won’t spoil.)  It’s what a sequel should be, not a remake but a continuation of the original’s story.  This is definitely a film that’s far better than you may expect.

 

Horror on TV: The Veil 1.2 “Girl on the Road” (dir by George Waggner)


From 1958, it’s The Veil!

The Veil was a horror anthology series that, because of financial difficulties at Hal Roach Studios, were never actually aired on television.  10 episodes were filmed before production was abruptly canceled.  Each episode was hosted by (and often starred) Boris Karloff.  Karloff later stated that he was never actually paid for his work on the show but his work as the host did eventually lead to him being hired to host Thriller, a horror anthology series that eventually did air.

As for The Veil, the ten episodes that were produced were never actually sold to a network but, in the 60s, several episodes were edited together to create films that aired on late night television.  It wasn’t until the 90s that the episodes were actually released on video.  For that, we largely have Something Weird Video to thank.

Each episode of The Veil opened with Karloff promising the lift the veil on a strange, perhaps supernatural, event.  (Most of the stories were supposedly based on true stories.)  Karloff would also play a role in each episode.  For instance, in tonight’s episode, he plays Morgan Debs.

Tonight’s episode is called Girl on the Road.  It’s a nicely atmospheric tale about a man (Tod Andrews) who picks up a mysterious woman (Eve Brent) who is stranded on the side of the road.  What is the woman’s secret and why is she terrified of Morgan Debs?  Why does everyone in the town refuse to talk about her?  Watch to find out!

This episode was directed by George Waggner, who is perhaps best known for directing the original Wolf Man.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #152: Bad Company (1972, directed by Robert Benton)


Missouri during the Civil War.  All young men are being forcibly constricted into the Union army, leaving those who want to avoid service with only two options: they can either disguise themselves as a woman and hope that the soldiers are fooled or they can head out west.  Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) opts for the latter solution but his plans hit a snag when he’s robbed and pistol-whipped by Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges).  When Drew coincidentally meets Jake for a second time, he immediately attacks him.  Jake is so impressed that he insists that Drew join his gang of thieves.

Jake’s gang, which include two brothers (one of whom is played by John Savage) and a ten year-old boy, is hardly the wild bunch.  They spend most of their time robbing children and are, themselves, regularly robbed by other gangs, including the one run by Big Joe (David Huddleston).  Their attempt to rob a stagecoach goes hilariously wrong.  Less hilarious is what happens when they try to steal a pie from a window sill.

Bad Company was the directorial debut of Robert Benton and it has the same combination of comedy and fatalism that distinguished both his script for Bonnie and Clyde and several of the other revisionist westerns of the 1970s.  While the interplay between Drew and Jake may remind some of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film’s sudden bursts of violence feel like pure Peckinpah.  Fortunately, the combination of Robert Benton’s low-key direction and the excellent performances of Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown allows Bad Company to stand on its own.  Brown and Bridges make for an excellent team, with Bridges giving a charismatic, devil-may-care performance and the late Barry Brown holding his own as the more grounded Drew.  (Sadly, Brown, who appears to have had the talent to be a huge star, committed suicide six years after the release of Bad Company.)  This unjustly forgotten western is one of the best films of the 1970s.