Saturday, August 17, 2013

PSYCHO

Following through on the idea I had last week, I sat down and re-watched the three Psycho sequels for the first time in a long time. My brief thoughts on each one:

Psycho II (1983): Australian born director and long-time student of Hitchcock,
Richard Franklin was handed the unenviable task of following-up one of horror/suspense cinema’s all-time revered classics (not to mention a ground breaking piece of filmmaking in its own right). Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles return from the original, with Perkins having an instant grip on the character he had last played over two decades earlier. There’s some scares and a couple of good twists, and it’s the sequel that most captures the mood of the original, but the initially clever screenplay loses its way in the middle and rapidly unravels. Characters like Denis Franz’s scuzzy motel manager are pretty clich√©, though Meg Tilly is wonderful and watching her you can’t help but wonder why she didn’t go on to have a more important/prolific career. Psycho II certainly doesn’t smear the name of the original, but I think Franklin’s earlier Patrick (1978) and Roadgames (1981) were more effective thrillers and more enjoyable homages to the Master of Suspense.

Psycho III (1986): Perkins agreed to return only if he was also able to direct. What he delivered was a direct follow-on from Psycho II that veered into slasher territory and started to establish Norman Bates as a Jason Vorhees/Michael Myers type specter. It’s also the sleaziest, most generic and least interesting entry in the series. Like the casting of Meg Tilly in Psycho II, Diane Scarwid (as an unstable nun who winds up at the Bates Motel) is an unconventional but pleasing choice as female lead.

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990): Made for cable television, Psycho IV features a screenplay by original Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, and sees the return of Bernard Hermann’s classic music cues. Both a sequel and prequel in nature, the film ignores many of the plot points of the previous two films, with the freed Norman Bates living in a nice house and married to his former nurse. Cooking dinner while waiting for his wife to come home one night, Norman calls in to a female disc jockey (C C H Pounder), who is discussing the topic of killer kids. Illustrated through a series of flashback sequences (with young Bates being played by Henry ‘E.T.’ Thomas), Norman tells the DJ about the key events of his youth which led to his murderous career, and indicates that he may not be completely cured after all. Olivia Hussey plays Norman’s hysterical and sexually unbalanced mother. With a bit more polish on the screenplay and a theatrical budget, this could have been a much better film, but even as is it is the most interesting of the three sequels, and watching it I got the sense that Anthony Perkins knew he was saying a final goodbye to his most infamous character (he died of complications from AIDS two years later).