Friday, November 28, 2014

Worth Mentioning - I Don't Kill People Anymore

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody and Priscilla check in at the Bates Motel again to catch up with Norman.

PSYCHO II (1983)

Inspired by the story of real life killer and grave robber Ed Gein, author Robert Bloch wrote a novel entitled Psycho, which was published in 1959. By the end of '59, Alfred Hitchcock was directing a cinematic adaptation of Bloch's novel that became an instant genre classic when it was released the following year. For more than twenty years, Psycho existed as a standalone story. But in the early '80s, Bloch found inspiration for a sequel in the flood of slasher movies that were being released. He wrote a novel entitled Psycho II, which found titular psycho Norman Bates escaping from a mental institution and heading out to Hollywood, where a movie called Crazy Lady is being made based on the crimes he committed at his childhood home and the motel he ran. His psychiatrist follows him west and becomes a technical adviser on Crazy Lady as people around the production start getting murdered. But there are more suspects than just Norman Bates...

Universal had the film rights to Psycho, but according to Bloch they didn't like the concept or style of his sequel and had no interest in adapting it. The author said that it wasn't until the book started getting positive reviews that Universal figured it was time to move forward on a sequel. But one that has nothing to do with the literary sequel.

Personally, I'm thankful for this, because I have read Bloch's Psycho II and the third in his trilogy, Psycho House, which was published in 1990, and I don't like them very much at all. I definitely prefer the direction Universal took.

I haven't read the book, but it doesn't sound like something that would've worked for me, or as a whole, better than part 2 actually did.

Australian director Richard Franklin, who had been a massive fan of Hitchcock's ever since watching Psycho  when he was 12 years old in 1960 and had later befriended his hero, was hired to direct from a script by actor-turned-screenwriter Tom Holland, who would go on to become a director himself and helm such movies as Fright Night and Child's Play.

Originally, the sequel was just going to be a made-for-cable movie. The decision to go theatrical came about when Anthony Perkins agreed to reprise the role of Norman Bates and the news of Perkins returning to his most famous role twenty-three years later got a lot of attention worldwide.

I don't see any other way for the sequel to work, had Perkins not agreed to revisit Norman, and I'm very glad he did. I'm also glad that they didn't decide to do a remake by then. Enough years had passed, and still the sequel worked perfectly. We didn't dodge the remake bullet altogether though, unfortunately.

Psycho II begins in black and white, with stock footage from the Hitchcock film. Reminding viewers of Norman Bates' murderous past by showing them the scene everyone remembers - Janet Leigh's Marion Crane getting stabbed to death in the shower of cabin 1 at the Bates Motel by Norman, in the guise of his long-dead mother.

The transition to color happens when the camera looks out the cabin window and up at the rundown Victorian house on the hill behind the motel, home to Norman and his mother's corpse. The title sequence plays out over the image of the house as the score by Jerry Goldsmith fills the soundtrack.

The opening, while having a totally different vibe than the first movie's, works just as well. Showing the house in that condition, over the change of light and time, with the almost sad score was definitely the way to go. It puts us right in the mood and makes you think about the house's history. About Norman's story.

There are violins in Goldsmith's score, but they don't shriek as much as Bernard Herrmann's did in the original. Psycho II has a more tranquil score, it seems in some ways darker. It's different than Herrmann's, but effective in its own way.

The film has moved ahead to then-present day by the end of the title sequence, and we're re-introduced to Norman Bates as he sits in a court room at a hearing that finds him being released back out into the world, having been deemed "Restored to Sanity" after more than twenty years in a mental institution.

This decision doesn't sit well with Marion Crane's sister Lila Loomis, who attends the court hearing with a petition, signed by 743 people, demanding that Norman remain locked away for the seven murders he committed.

They must have discovered another murder after the end of the original film, because there were only six victims mentioned in it: Norman's mother, her boyfriend, two young girls, Marion, and Arbogast.

Hrm. Are we forgetting someone?

Vera Miles reprises the role of Lila, who married her late sister's boyfriend Sam Loomis (now also deceased). It's nice to have her back, and her character is as intense as ever.

It's so cool that they didn't do any recasts. It genuinely helps the movie, having actors back in their roles. And even though it's understandable that Lila would be trying not to let Norman get out, she goes way too far, and she seems to forget that one way or the other, as dark as it may sound, it was because of Norman that she got her husband after all.

Lila's argument does no good, and Norman is taken home  to Fairvale, California by his psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond. Back home to his rundown house on the hill behind the Bates Motel, which is still open for business. The place is Norman's again, as the state no longer has any claim on him or his property.

Dr. Raymond offers to find Norman a different place to stay, but he's determined to remain there and face his fears... And strange things and troubles begin for him as soon as he arrives.

As he walks up the steps to the house, he sees movement in an upstairs window. In the room that used to be his mother's. He finds a note from his mother saying she'll "Be home late" under a phone, which kicks off a troubling flashback to when he poisoned his mother's tea. He hears her voice yelling at him, swearing revenge. He sees her dead hand fall to the floor.

We've only seen him free for a couple minutes and we're already doubting the court ruling. Releasing him from the mental institution doesn't seem to have been a very good idea.

An even worse idea was to bring him back to the house. Perkins is so good that you can see Norman's pain when he's looking around the old, dusty house. All the memories and trouble come flooding back, and it gets to him instantly. He should've moved somewhere else.

A job has been secured for Norman as the cook's helper at a tiny diner down the road, where his co-workers include kindly old lady Ms. Spool, who says she's the one who urged the owner/cook Mr. Statler to give Norman a chance, a less-than-friendly waitress named Myrna, and waitress Mary Samuels, who has only been working at the diner for four days herself.

Another wrong move. Giving him a job that involves knives and preparing food? Very questionable. They don't seem to remember that he poisoned and stabbed people. And Mr. Statler doesn't care about germs... he has Norman working right away, without even washing his hands. Hrm.

The diner is so cramped that people can barely move around in it, but its employees act like it's the busiest diner on the planet.

After work, Norman sees Mary having an argument with her boyfriend on a pay phone. As it turns out, she has been dumped and kicked out of her apartment. Mary is stand-offish at first, but Norman believes that co-workers should help each other out, and offers to let her stay at the motel, free of charge. Being from Portland, Oregon and having few options in Fairvale, Mary accepts.

Norman takes her to the motel and prepares to get her set up in a room. Looking at the board of room keys, Norman reaches for the key to cabin 1 but stops himself. He picks the key to cabin 5.

The plan for a motel stay goes south when Norman sees the condition his motel is in now. It's a rundown, filthy mess, but it's successful, because sleazeball manager Warren Toomey, who was hired by the hospital board, has turned it into a place where people come to party. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Norman does not approve. He fires Toomey on the spot, and in doing so makes himself a new enemy.

Toomey feels like a character from the remake. Dated clothes and sleaze all the way.

The motel is too trashy for Norman to let Mary stay in, so he invites her up to the house for the night.

It isn't just the condition of the motel that causes Norman to ask Mary to stay the night with him. The truth is, he's afraid of being in the house alone. He admits this to Mary as they talk over sandwiches and milk which neither has the appetite for. He also makes his fear obvious by how weirded out he gets over an out-of-place kitchen knife.

In opening up to Mary, he even goes so far as to tell her why he was put away, although he only confesses to one murder - he poisoned his mother when he was 12 because she had gone mad.

Saying that event occurred when Norman was 12 makes him a little too young, because he stayed on the property by himself and lived like a hermit after the death of his mother. They wouldn't let a 12 year old do that. Norman's mother died 10 years before the events of the first film, Perkins was 28 when Psycho was released, it would've made more sense to say he poisoned his mom when he was 17 or 18.

That is the only "mistake" part II makes. There is no way Norman would've been left alone, living by himself at that age. It would never add up to the first movie's events.

Mary agrees to spend the night, even forcing Norman to confront his fear of his mother's room by barging into it.

To give the late Hitchcock his trademark cameo, Franklin had a cut-out of the director's famous profile set up in mother's room so it casts a shadow on the wall when Norman and Mary enter. Unfortunately, this barely registers at all. I never would have noticed it if I hadn't seen it pointed out online.

I have never noticed it at all. 

Mary has her hidden fears about Norman, as any sensible person would, but she actually seems to become fond of him. With their first night together a success and their friendship established, Mary agrees to continue staying in the spare bedroom at the Bates house.

I love how the house starts to go back to life after Norman does some nice landscaping all around it and by giving the motel a nice, bright yellow paint job.

He has a friend, he starts fixing up the motel and working on getting his life together. But bad things continue to happen around Norman. He keeps finding notes from his mother, now expressing rage that he's letting this "whore"/"slut" stay in their house. He gets a phone call from his mother. He plainly sees her in her bedroom window. No one else sees her or these notes or hears these calls, so soon Norman is questioning his own sanity.

Toomey goes to the diner to torment Mary and a confrontation between him and Norman nearly turns violent, with the ex-manager attempting to goad the ex-psycho into coming at him with a kitchen knife. Norman keeps control, and if someone is playing mind games with him, Toomey would be the prime suspect.

Someone spies on Mary through a peep hole in the bathroom wall while she takes a shower, which is certainly something Toomey would do. Of course, Norman used to do the same thing.

The possibility that Toomey could be the one messing with Norman goes out the window when he becomes the first victim in the film. Someone stabs him to death with a large kitchen knife in the parlor of the motel office.

All we see of Toomey's murder is a knife slashing his cheek, reminiscent of the slash Arbogast got in the 1960 movie.

The mystery deepens with the second murder, which is committed in the fruit cellar of the house at a time when Norman has been led into the attic by the spectre of his mother and then locked in there.

The circumstances of the second murder are also indicative of the fact that this was a movie made in the '80s.

The "'80s-ness" surrounding this scene is extremely cool.

A teenage couple has apparently been sneaking into the Bates fruit cellar on a regular basis to smoke marijuana and have sex. Their latest tryst is interrupted by someone dressed as Mrs. Bates and wielding a knife that they use to stab the young boy to death while his girlfriend escapes out the window they came in through.

This set-up makes me wonder if it's the result of someone at the studio demanding that this horror movie needed at least one dead teenager in it.

Definitely. No doubt. I've always felt that way about it.

This murder brings the police to the Bates place, but there's no evidence of it left in the cellar. Although Norman is breaking down in fear that "It's starting again", Mary keeps him out of trouble by lying and saying she was with him at the time of the alleged murder.

Mary is a good friend to Norman. And yet there's a dark side to their relationship.

Exactly one hour into the film, there is a huge twist. It's revealed that Mary Samuels is actually Mary Loomis, and she is conspiring against Norman with her mother Lila. Norman really has been restored to sanity and they're the ones playing mind games with him in an effort to break him and get him re-committed.

In the course of doing what her mother wanted, Mary has come to care for Norman and believe in him.

The question remains - who is killing people? And it becomes obvious to Norman and Mary that people are being killed when a bloody towel is found clogging up a toilet.

Is Lila willing to go as far as murder to make sure Norman gets locked up again?

The twists and turns continue on the way to the film's conclusion, with Mary and Dr. Raymond struggling to help Norman keep his hold on sanity while Lila continues to try to drive him mad.

More people are murdered, bodies are dredged up from the swamp at the back of the Bates property, and the corpse of Norman's mother even gets a cameo appearance, twenty years further decomposed.

As the end nears, the idea that there could be another mysterious person lurking around the house becomes more and more of a certainty. Especially when Lila is taken out of the equation.

The fake head effects aren't exactly top-notch, but Lila's death is a pretty impressive slasher kill.

The effects could've been better. That is the only thing that should be up a couple levels.

Like the original film, the climactic moment of Psycho II happens in the house's fruit cellar.

That's followed by a scene at City Hall, where Fairvale's Sheriff John Hunt explains all the details of what was going on out at the Bates place with Mary and Lila Loomis. But unlike the psychiatrist at the end of first movie, this sheriff doesn't have all the information.

Secrets are fully revealed in an epilogue which finds Norman going home to sit and wait for the true killer to reveal themselves. And they do, along with secrets about Norman's youth - and his parentage - that he never knew. The closing minutes make it clear that the plan to drive Norman crazy has been a success.

It would be normal to expect a happy ending, after everything Norman goes through. The "obvious" way to end it would be having Norman and Mary end up together, and even though that sounds good in theory, it might not have worked all that well. The ending we got also allowed for more sequels, so I'm okay with it.

Sequelizing Psycho in the '80s could have been a complete disaster. Lesser filmmakers might have simply made Norman a purely evil character at the center of a gory slash-a-thon - and generally I like gory slash-a-thons, but that's not Psycho. In fact, a pure evil Norman is what Bloch wrote into his literary sequel, having the character escape from the mental institution by killing a nun and stealing her habit, and then once he's free he rapes and murders another nun.

That's simply not who Norman is. Getting the character right is what makes the sequels work, and what sets them apart from your basic "slasher".

The approach Tom Holland and Richard Franklin took is clever and classy. It's evident in the film that they have a reverence for the Hitchcock original, they cared about making something that could be seen as a respectable follow-up rather than the sullying of a classic. I believe they succeeded in that.

They did. Treating part 2 with respect while keeping in mind the huge shoes they had to fill paid off.

You can tell Franklin knew what iconic imagery he had at his disposal; he gets a lot out of the form of Mrs. Bates, shoots scenes like you'd imagine Hitchcock would, and the movie is full of epic shots of the house on the hill.

The shots from the top, and from the house and its surroundings are beautiful. The score tells Norman's story so well; it's sad and emotional without being too somber.

The amount of callbacks interspersed throughout the story is incredible, and they're done with a wonderful subtlety. The filmmakers don't hammer you over the head with "Remember this? Remember that?" moments, but if you know Psycho, you'll know there are references all over the place.

The way it's done shows that the attention to small and not-so-small things can make a lot of difference when making a movie that could've potentially been a disaster. Yet, it's great.

The name Mary Samuels is a play on Marie Samuels, the false name Marion Crane used when she checked into the Bates Motel. The diner was mentioned in the original. When Norman first takes Mary to his home, they're going to have "sandwiches and milk", just like he made for Marion. Norman knocking a suitcase down the stairs in the house is surely a nod to the tumble Arbogast took. The more obvious things like the shower peeping, the fruit cellar ending, the dredging of the swamp... It's like the script was built on moments and references from the original, but these things are worked in without it becoming a simple retread. Aside from the seven victims and 12-years-old lines, it's very apparent that Tom Holland did his homework before writing the script.

They took their time making sure this would've been done right, and it shows. The dedication to the story and the characters, the subtle callbacks and details are such pivotal components. Norman feels familiar and you're drawn into his life more and more as the movie plays.

Despite his deeds, Norman was always a sympathetic character in the 1960 film, and he continues to be so in this one. He's even more sympathetic this time, really. We're rooting for him, we want him to stay sane and be able to live a normal life. It's despicable what people do to him.

It breaks my heart to see what people do to him in this movie. Every time I watch it I feel mad at them. Sure, what he did years before was wrong, and it brings up a very serious subject... about whether or not criminally insane people should be given a second chance. Well, every case is different, obviously, but I think Norman deserved a second chance, and most of all... he deserved much better than what he got.

Norman is essentially being tortured in this movie, which gives Anthony Perkins a lot to work with in his performance. The filmmakers made the role worthy of his return.

We get further into the mind of Norman Bates in the sequel, and we start to care even more about him. Perkins' performance is remarkable. The look on his face when returning to the house after all those years... how overwhelmed Norman was feeling. The scene with Mary when he says "Don't lie to me! Not you!" is one of my favorites. He goes from scary to sweet and scared really fast. You believe it, you believe him.

One of the most emotional scenes is one in which Norman, teetering on the edge, is comforted by Mary and talks to her about the memories, or lack thereof, he has of his mother. The toasted cheese sandwiches she used to make him. I don't think telling a girl she smells like toasted cheese sandwiches is the best thing, but it's a touching scene nonetheless.

It is a great scene. Norman kept his certain charm from the first movie. That's how Mary becomes so captivated after a while.

Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, and Hugh Gillin do some good work in supporting roles, but the film is really carried by Perkins and Meg Tilly as Mary. There are some moments where I feel like Tilly is hovering right on the edge of giving a bad line reading, but I think she does well overall, and you really care about what's going on between her and Norman.

Tilly is very intense... almost annoying at times, but it works. Mary is mostly sweet and she can't help but start to care about Norman after getting to know him better. He's no longer the monster that her mother had her believe he was. I do believe that if things had been different, there might even be the possibility for a romantic connection between her and Norman. It's a shame how tragically things ended, but if not for that, there probably wouldn't have been any more sequels.

Psycho II could have been something terrible. Instead it's smart, respectful, and emotionally engaging. It's not quite on the level of the classic it follows, of course, but it is a very good, solid movie in its own right.

I feel like the focus is a pretty different one if you take the first movie and its sequel. But the atmosphere was somewhat kept, and the story feels real and very compelling. Rare are the times when I only watch the first Psycho... I always feel like watching its sequels, and part 2 is a great movie.

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