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Video Vices Franchise Frenzy: Psycho

Psycho

Tag Line:A new and altogether different screen excitement.
Release Date:1960
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Joseph Stefano (screenplay), Robert Bloch (novel).
Cast:  Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam.
Running Time:1 hour and 49 minutes.

What is there to say about this masterpiece from one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived? From the iconic often replicated, never duplicated shower scene to the last shot of Norman with his mother’s skull morphing into his face, the movie is an ingenious murder mystery especially to those who saw it cold when it first premiered in 1960. Psycho is so infamous and has been parodied and replicated so many times the film doesn’t and couldn’t have the same impact on its audience as it did back then. Hitchcock, himself, even pleaded with theater owners at the time not to allow patrons in after the film had started to preserve the mind-bending twists.

Many of the recognized film critics at the time had no compunction about ruining the film though.

In their original review of the film, the Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Maybe it’s not cricket to give away the ending, but since hardly anyone plays cricket and since the picture’s playing here you might as well know that Perkins’ psychotic split has him assuming the dual roles of himself and his mother. And, as Hitchcock says, the mother is a homicidal maniac.”

A critic from Variety also gave away too much: “Hitchcock uses the old plea that nobody give out the ending — “It’s the only one we have.” This will be abided by here, but it must be said that the central force throughout the feature is a mother who is a homicidal maniac. This is unusual because she happens to be physically defunct, has been for some years. But she lives on in the person of her son.”

The critic from The Guardian didn’t even stay to watch the entire movie, no surprise there and why they were permitted to review the movie after not seeing the entire film is beyond me.

“I couldn’t give away the ending if I wanted to, for the simple reason that I grew so sick and tired of the whole beastly business that I didn’t stop to see it. Your edict may keep me out of the theatre, my dear Hitchcock, but I’m hanged if it will keep me in,” they wrote.

Again, what is there to say about this masterpiece from one of the greatest filmmakers, ever? Hitchcock’s bird motif with Norman being a taxidermist and his victim bearing the name “Marion Crane” as well as his next film being “The Birds” has been discussed to death. The licence plate on Crane’s car reads NFB 418, which stands for “Norman Francis Bates” was deciphered eons ago.

As time has passed, Psycho’s legacy, the unforgettable shower scene, the pitch perfect performance of Anthony Perkins as the unhinged motel manager, the sweeping and beautifully violent score by Bernard Herrmann and of course the stylings of the master Hitchcock himself, remains intact after all these years making it one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

GravestonesbodybagssmThe worst shower ever.
bodybagssmStabbed, falls down the stairs and is stabbed again.
Naughty Bits plucked_penguin None.
Memorable DialoguedialoguesmNorman Bates: Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.
dialoguesmNorman Bates: I think I must have one of those faces you can’t help believing.
dialoguesmNorman Bates: Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!
dialoguesmMarion Crane: A man should have a hobby.
dialoguesmMarion Crane: I stepped into a private trap back there. I’d like to go back and try to pull myself out of it before it’s too late for me too.
Pints of Blood  / 5bloodsm
Rating five

Psycho II

Tag Line:It is 22 Years Later and Norman Bates Is Coming Home
Release Date:1983
Director: Richard Franklin.
Written By:Screenplay: Tom Holland. Characters by: Robert Bloch.
Cast:Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz.
Running Time:1 hour and 53 minutes.

The original Psycho was a cinematic magnum opus and as such there is no comparing it to any of the sequels. Any sequel, spin-off, is bound to fall short when put side by side with the masterpiece.

If you go into Psycho II with that frame of mind, Richard Franklin and Tom Holland’s follow-up stands on its own as the entertaining, cutting black comedy that it is. What helps things along is that director Franklin was an actual student of Hitchcock’s and writer Holland was a true horror fan who would go on to both write and direct Fight Night, Child’s Play and Thinner.

In the film, Norman Bates is portrayed as more of a victim. He was never convicted of the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast by reason of insanity and since he has been declared sane once again, he is released back into society. Vera Miles returns as Marion’s sister Lila who fights Norman’s release to no avail despite having 743 people signing a petition to keep Norman locked up.

Norman finds returning to a normal life a challenge. A slime ball named Warren Toomey is now managing the Bates Motel and he has let it fall into disrepair. Teenagers and druggies use the family residence and the hotel as flop houses. Patrons and the owner of the diner Norman works at as a short order cook don’t trust him completely and to top it all off, someone is either trying to drive Norman insane once again or he is just slowly losing his mind, falling back into his old ways. Norman thinks he sees a woman in the window of the Bates home. He receives telephone calls from Mother. Mother is leaving him notes taunting and mocking him. What could it all mean?

Norman finds solace in another lost soul in the vulnerable Mary (Meg Tilly). A waitress at the restaurant, Mary is beset by man troubles and when her beau gives her the boot she has no place to crash so Norman offers her one of the spare bedrooms in the Bates house. That’s not a good idea for either of them and Norman is told so by his doctor, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia).

Psycho II is as hilarious as it is terrifying with many moments of sly humour such as Norman’s hand hovering over the key to cabin one when he invites Mary to stay there. He thinks better of it giving her another room instead. In another scene, Mary asks Norman for a knife so she can cut a sandwich. Of course, the only one left in the drawer is a shiny, glinting butcher knife which makes Norman hesitate…and rightly so.

Unfortunately, none of the murders are as stylish as Hitchcock’s although the knife-through-the-mouth scene is very effective and so too is the abrupt final kill. The set-up to get everything flowing and going is also a bit lengthy. Those who have patience though are rewarded with another clever Psycho murder mystery.

Gravestonesbodybagssm A recycling of the worst shower ever.
bodybagssm Shovel to the head.
bodybagssm Two people are stabbed to death.
bodybagssmButcher knife through the mouth, neck.
bodybagssm Stabbed in the chest then falls on the knife impaling themselves.
bodybagssm One person is shot.
Naughty Bitsplucked_penguinNaked female takes a shower. We see her boobs and butt.
Memorable DialoguedialoguesmNorman Bates: I don’t kill people anymore.
dialoguesmLila Loomis: That’s just legal hocus pocus and when he murders again you will be directly responsible.
dialoguesmNorman Bates: What kind of motel are you running here?
dialoguesm Norman Bates: No, Mother. I won’t do that. You can’t make me kill her.
Pints of Blood  / 5bloodsmbloodsm
Rating 4couches

Psycho III

Tag Line:Norman Bates is back to normal but Mother is off her rocker again.
Release Date:1986
Director:Anthony Perkins.
Written By: Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue. Characters: Robert Bloch.
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin.
Running Time:1 hour and 33 minutes.

Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins makes his directorial debut and the results are like a performance by a first year high school band. Although Perkins’ camera skills are adequate, much of Psycho III is off-key, awkward and doesn’t hit the notes that it should.

Diana Scarwid, stars as Maureen Coyle, Norman’s Marion Crane stand-in. Not only does she have the same initials but she bears a striking resemblance to her. Maureen is a, ex-nun on the run. The naïve, suicidal sister sent one of the other sisters for a fatal tumble and with her faith shaken, she has abandoned the order.

Wandering in a rain storm with all her worldly belongings in a suitcase Maureen crosses paths with scum bag Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). He is a rock star wannabe who uses and abuses the women who are unfortunate enough to be charmed by his good looks and banter.

It doesn’t take long for all three main characters to converge at the Bates Motel. Norman is still operating the pit stop for weary travelers and is living with the new corpse that subs for Mother. The events of Psycho II have caused him to become unhinged once again.

Norman hires Duke as a temporary assistant manager and falls in love with Maureen. Her resemblance to Marion has his heart fluttering in his chest and his brain doing cartwheels in his head. Mother though is not pleased and battles for control of Norman and thankfully for us slasher fans she wins occasionally.

There is an unnecessary and inane subplot that introduces a reporter from Los Angeles (Roberta Maxwell as Tracy Venable) who claims to sympathize with Norman and his plight. Tracy bounces in and out of the film just enough so she can figure into the big finale.

Other forgettable characters are shuffled in as well to raise the body count and nothing more. They are so transparent that they might as well be carrying signs reading…Kill Me, Norma.

Even the kills themselves are nothing special except for one decent throat slashing. It is just one stabbing after another with no style or cleverness to them.

Charles Edward Pogue (The Fly, Dragonheart, Kull the Conqueror) fails at his attempts to continue the black humour in Psycho II. The jokes just fall flat and unlike Psycho II really don’t mesh well with the tone of the film.

Part of the reason why Psycho and its sequel worked so well is that the scenes between Mother and Norman, their interactions, were so few and far between and the kills were abrupt and scarce. It is what set them apart from all of the other slasher films at the time. Psycho III should be special but it isn’t. It is just a run-of-the-mill slasher film and not a very good one at that.

Gravestonesbodybagssm A really bad fall from a bell tower.
bodybagssm Stabbed to death.
bodybagssm Throat slashed, stomach stabbed.
bodybagssm Beaten with a guitar and drowned.
bodybagssm Another fatal fall, impaled on a statue.
Naughty Bitsplucked_penguinLots of female and male nudity.
Memorable DialoguedialoguesmDuane Duke: Stupid bitch! You could have been comin’ instead of goin’!
dialoguesmNorman Bates: Don’t laugh at me, Mother! Don’t laugh at me!
dialoguesmNorman Bates: Mother! Oh God, Mother! Blood, blood!
dialoguesmNorman Bates: We all go a little mad sometimes.
dialoguesmDuane Duke: Watch the guitar.
dialoguesm Norman Bates: You remind me of someone.
dialoguesm Maureen Coyle: There is no God!
Pints of Blood  / 5bloodsmbloodsm
Rating  couches_3out5

Psycho IV: The New Beginning

Tag Line:Before The Terror Can End See How It All Began
Release Date:1990
Director:Mick Garris.
Written By:Script:  Joseph Stefano. Book: Robert Bloch 
Cast: Anthony Perkins, CCH Pounder, Olivia Hussey and Henry Thomas.
Running Time:1 hour and 36 minutes.

In this instance it is radio that killed the video star as Norman Bates becomes a spontaneous guest on a radio talk show.

In this made-for-TV effort that aired on Showtime, Norman is now married and living in domestic bliss. It is never explained how or why this happened considering his troubled past but it is Normy’s birthday so it is all swept under the carpet. It is the nineties and talk radio is all the rage so he calls into his favourite show hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder). Tonight’s subject matter is matricide which of course is near and dear to his heart.

When Norman casually mentions that is it a shame that he has to kill again Ambrose and her staff go on high alert with Ambrose keeping him on the line in an attempt to find out why he feels this way and to talk him out of committing another atrocity.

Through their chat Norman takes us back to his really messed up childhood, teenage years and his disturbing relationship with his Mother. In doing so, he reveals that Marion Crane wasn’t the first woman Mother ever killed. Mother is played by Olivia Hussey from Black Christmas fame and the teenage, young adult Norman is, in a casting stroke of genius, Henry Thomas who played Elliott in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Despite some truly cringe-worthy, over-the-top scenes and some atrociously bad, unconvincing dialogue both Hussey and Elliott rise above the material, are fantastic in their roles.

Perkins is the same in his last portrayal as Norman. As he has been before, he is both sympathetic and monstrous at times as Norman Bates, a role he was born to play. Sadly, he was diagnosed with HIV during the filming and passed away in 1992 from AIDS-related complications.

The fact that Joseph Stefano, who wrote the brilliant original Psycho screenplay, also penned Psycho IV: The New Beginning was a stunner for many. It not only pales, it absolutely disintegrates into dust like Nosferatu did in comparison to the original.

The New Beginning is worth watching for the performances alone but it is definitely a cut below the rest of the films in the franchise.

Gravestonesbodybagssm Stabbed to death.
bodybagssm Strangled with a rope and drowned.
bodybagssm Two people are poisoned.
Naughty Bitsplucked_penguinSome breasts and butts.
Memorable DialoguedialoguesmNorman Bates: Oh, I’ve killed before, and now I’m gonna have to do it again.
dialoguesmConnie Bates: No more blood, Norman! Please, no more blood.
dialoguesmNorman Bates: I know that in the cosmic scheme of things, little boys are small but some days they can be… some days little boys can be giants.
Pints of Blood  / 5bloodsm
Rating  2couches

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