Like all of the franchise breakdowns I’m doing this week (but to a far harsher degree here) tracking Norman Bates’ filmic demise only gets worse as time goes on. We start with a masterful film, and end up with one of the most ridiculed movies of all time. And so it is and so it goes. (Note: I have not seen, nor plan to see, the ‘80s TV movie, Bates Motel.)
I’ve spoken at length about the masterpiece that is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, namely in my top 10 films of all time list (where it ranks seventh). But also in my best male performances of all time list, and my best looking black and white films list. So… you get it. I’m a fan. Point in fact, I’m not sure there is a film I've seen more times than this one. Yet every time I watch it, there’s something new. I know every spoken line and fluid camera movement by heart, but it never ceases to amaze.
My praise for Psycho is limitless. It is the incarnation of suspense, terror, and, quite frankly, all that is great about the moving picture. In the film, Norman Bates tells us that a hobby is supposed to pass the time, not fill it. Sorry, pal, I disagree. Psycho can fill my time whenever it damn well pleases. A+
Psycho II (1983)
Here’s the thing about Psycho II, from a technical stand point, it’s actually a well-made film. The look, the score, the dread – it all works. Hell, even Anthony Perkins does a fine job reprising his infamous role 20 plus years later. In short, Psycho II manages to pull off what no one thought it could. That is, until it can’t.
Once the film steps away from the simplicity of Norman readjusting to the real world, it becomes an absurd wash. Receiving notes and phone calls from his long since lost Mother, Norman fears that his mask of sanity is about to slip. Despite the efforts of a kind, young waitress who takes a shine to him, our favorite psycho can’t help but think he’ll never be okay. So, is Psycho II a worthy follow up to Psycho? No, of course not. But they could’ve done a hell of a lot worse. D+
Psycho III (1986)
A hell of a lot worse being Psycho III. There isn’t a kind thing I can possibly think to say here. A true disaster from frame one, this Anthony Perkins-directed catastrophe has Norman befriending a faith-tested nun, while trying to keep Mother at bay. Everyone’s favorite Lawnmower Man, Jeff Fahey, shows up as a douchebag wannabe rocker, and decides to fuck with Norman just cause. Or something.
Not much makes sense here, but what’s clear is that Psycho III is one of the most egregious cases of a person(s) attempting to capitalize off the fame and fortune of something great, thereby belittling their careers.
Toward the end of this movie, you get to see Anthony Perkins speak on camera in Mother’s voice, which is something I was always curious to see. And having seen it, I can tell you that part of the magic trick has irreversibly been revealed. Shame. F
Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)
Well, I’ll give it to Perkins, the man has got tenacity if nothing else. Diving once more into the foray of Norman Bates, Psycho IV has Norman describing his life story to a radio DJ who is doing a program on matricide (the killing of mothers by their children).
Through the film, Norman tells the tale of his mother and her demented ways, which we are privy to via flashback. We see their borderline incestuous relationship, her violent mood swings, and her ultimate, fatal decision to begin dating an abusive man.
To sum the film up succinctly, Psycho IV works when in flashback. Everything in the present, however, fails miserably. In addition to talking at length to the radio personality, Norman has plans to murder his pregnant wife as a means of keeping the Bates sickness in the dark forever. The Beginning is only half worth it. At best. D+
One of the best courses I took in college was Hitchcock Reexamined, in which we watched every film Hitchcock ever helmed, and discussed them at great length. The class had no tests or quizzes, only one single paper. The final (and only) assignment of the class was to write a paper about the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The only rule was that it had to be good. I chose to examine, in laborious detail, Hitchcock’s Psycho against Gus Van Sant’s supposed shot-for-shot remake. And in doing so, the strangest thing happened: I found myself appreciating Van Sant’s version when, up until that point, I had only thought to mock it.
On the director’s commentary for the film, Van Sant said he remade Psycho for one reason. He wanted kids of the time to discover Hitchcock’s masterpiece. He feared that many kids of the day wouldn’t sit down and watch a black and white film from the ‘60s, and that his remake might in some way inspire them to go back and check the original out. Skewed logic, perhaps, but I understand what he’s getting at. (Later, Van Sant famously said that he remade Psycho so that, “No one else would have to.” Fair enough.)
Look, is Vince Vaughn anywhere near as interesting and iconic as Anthony Perkins? No. No one could be. But I like William H. Macy’s pompous take on Arbogast, and Julianne Moore’s moderately sexualized version of Marion Crane’s sister (Van Sant instructed Moore to play the part as a lesbian). There are aspects of this Psycho that I am willing to call decent. Please, don’t get me wrong, this is about as unnecessary a film as there’s ever been, but I’ve certainly seen worse in this franchise. D+
Halloween Horror Marathon Posts: