Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Psycho (and its sequels)
Psycho is an interesting movie to talk about because of how much it plays with your expectations. Director Alfred Hitchcock didn’t know he would give birth to the slasher genre in a big way with this one. Its funny considering how many run ins he had with the censors to tone down the violence and sensuality that is considered tame today. Heck, they even had a problem showing a toilet in one scene. I kid you not. This was the first movie to actually show a toilet on the big-screen. But aside form that, Psycho is a milestone in horror history because of two things. The infamous twist and its the start of “humanizing” serial killers.
Janet Leigh stars as Marrion Crane who makes off with a suitcase of money and finds herself under guilt. But that is just the start as she keeps evading the police and trying to be one step ahead all the way. Its not long till she comes across the Bates Motel and its caretaker Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The first scene they share together in his office is chilling and well done. I like how Perkin’s delivery of his lines have this questionable feel. Its warm and inviting but you can’t help but feel something doesn’t feel right. He keeps talking on about his mother and how much she means to him. And less I talk about that, the better.
But as soon as Marrion over thinks her decision and plans to return the cash, she gets killed while showering by Norman’s mother. This scene has a been a memorable moment in film history for a variety of reasons. One is how tight and quick the editing is to convey the tense moment. Two is the score by Bernard Herrmann who heightens the moment with a bit of music that complements the killing. Three is that unexpectedly our main character is killed off midway in the movie. No film has ever attempted the idea of slicing off their protagonist at such a crucial point. This movie knows how to take risks.
I’d go further and talk about many things but I feel that would be doing a disservice to Alfred Hitchcock. He wanted this to be such a surprise for folks that he did everything in his power to make sure some of the big plot points weren’t spoiled or that viewers would come in late during the film past Janet Leigh’s death scene. His view was that Psycho had to be seen from start to finish and equipped theaters with heavy promotion advising that viewers can’t see the movie unless when scheduled. Once the doors were closed and you missed your chance to get in, you had to wait till the next screening. The result of this marketing campaign was genius. Dare I say, I think this is arguably the first blockbuster considering how much talk and successful it was. Film critics were less enthusiastic back then and it got a mixed reception but I feel that was because of the fact they HAD to see this with an audience to avoid spilling the good stuff. Over time, it has been regarded as Hitchcock’s crowning masterpiece and I couldn’t agree more. If you like a gripping mystery, go out and see why this movie really is a true classic.
Oddly enough, one would think that no sequel would exist seeing how tightly wrapped Psycho is. But as it turns out, Psycho II does exist and surprisingly its in my opinion better than the first film. Don’t get me wrong. I like what Hitchcock did but viewing the sequel on its own terms and the liberties it takes, its impressive to see just what it can do. Instead of demystifying Norman Bates, it goes a whole lot deeper in. Anthony Perkins returns as the infamous Norman who returns home to try and fix up the old motel and start a new after the events of the first film. Unfortunately, the past has an interesting way of catching up to him as he tries to remain “sane” in hopes that “Mother” is out of his head.
Meg Tilly plays Mary Samuels, a girl who works in a nearby diner and sees some sympathy in Norman. Again like its predecessor, it really plays around with characters you think you know but then later on you start to see their true colors. Mary is a great example of that as we are curious to think if she is tempting Norman into his old ways or if she is trying to help him. She innocent enough to consider how much she appreciates him even if she’s at the hands of someone possibly unstable. A good example is a scene where Norman is making her a sandwich and is nervous to cut it. The way he slices the bread in half and the sound effect that goes with it is perfect irony and foreshadows past memories from the previous film.
I would go into this movie and explain what makes it so good but like Psycho, I would be ruining a lot of really good twists and turns. In fact, that’s what makes this sequel so good. Instead of copying what the first one did, it becomes its own entry and goes into deeper aspects with the Norman character that makes him sympathetic and frightening at the same time. Aside from being a box-office hit, its reputation has been a bit rocky. Critics were mixed over the idea of there being a sequel to the first film and viewers were dead split as well. But since then, Psycho II has grown a cult following and given a great Blu-Ray treatment courtesy of the Scream Factory. I say Psycho II works as a stand-alone film and a follow up to its classic. Its one of my all-time favorite sequels and I couldn’t be more happy with it.
You think I would stop there but I guess I have to talk about Psycho III. What makes this one interesting is that not only Anthony Perkins reprises his role but also directs it. To be fair, he knows how to make a movie and make it well shot and here is where my positive views stop. Not because its a movie I can’t talk about in detail but that its possibly one of the most bizarre sequels I have ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The whole movie tries to pay homage to Hitchcock in every way from its opening shot of a nun falling off a bell tower almost reminiscent of Vertigo.
Norman this times meets up with Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) who is trying to get away from her life as a nun and has suicidal tendencies. The two meet off and it feels really odd to be honest. The idea of someone in the hands of another who is more mental unstable just doesn’t feel right. Its hard to explain and the chemistry between Perkins and Scarwid is actually good but it feels overpowered but other things that go on. It also doesn’t help that Maureen’s initials are MC and resembles Marrion Crane a bit so Norman cracks back to his old habits again.
Jeff Fahey plays a jerk of all trades that is hired by Norman and right away, we know what we are in for. Earlier in the movie as Maureen is hitchhiking, she gets picked up by him and he tries to roughly take advantage of her. Great way to show how big of an arse he is and it doesn’t help he wants to turn the Bates Motel in a sleaze fest. Something that was done in Psycho II but taken care of quickly. In short, he’s a character you really hate but not in a good way. He’s too douche to be appreciated.
I feel bad seeing there was so much potential here but yet nothing really comes together. We have Norman looking after a suicidal girl, a sex-crazed guitarist and on top of that “Mother” is trying to mess with his mind. There is too much going on here and I haven’t even to talk about the nosy news-reporter that is trying to dig up dirt on Norman for an article on serial killers that are back in society. The overall feel of this movie is just awkward. While Psycho II was straight up horror and mystery, Psycho III comes off as an unintentional comedy. One infamous scene is when a patron is killed and her body is in this ice bin. The sheriff starts picking about and for no reason takes a handful of ice cubes from where the body is obviously buried and he puts a bloody soaked ice cube in his mouth. The timing and pacing had to been comedic. Even weirder is Norman putting poising in bird seed so he can start his taxidermy again. If you see it as a dark comedy, you will be safe. But in my opinion, there’s just too much awkwardness and weird that not only demystifies the Norman Bates character but paints him as a comedic figure. Norman to me is always scary and not an object of comedy and that is were Psycho III fails.
I’m also aware of the TV movie Pyscho IV: The Beginning which acts as a prequel by showing Norman in his younger years but I decided against seeing it for a variety of reasons. One being interest and that I wanted to focus on the theatrically released movies. I wanted to play fair to films that got to be seen on a big screen and adored while giving audiences a fright. Psycho has gone from a Hitchcock classic to such a pop culture phenomenon that my own words can’t do much justice. If you are curious, I say see the first film and if you are hungry for more, pop in Psycho II. A double billing like that is sure not to disappoint. Not even “Mother.”
Posted on October 11, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Blockbuster, Classic, Horror, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Janet Leigh, Norman Bates, Psycho, Psycho II, Psycho III, Slasher, Trilogy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.