Today: February 29, 2024

Psycho Killer

By Edward Boff – With this month’s release of Hitchcock, what better time to look back at the movie who’s making the film chronicles – and it’s legacy. Join Edward Boff as he pulls back the shower curtain and peers into the bloodied bathtub that is … the Psycho Franchise …

By Edward Boff

With
this month’s release of Hitchcock, what better time to look back at the movie
who’s making the film chronicles – and it’s legacy. Join Edward Boff as he pulls back the shower curtain and
peers into the bloodied bathtub that is … the Psycho Franchise …

Psycho
It’s well recorded what a risky,
unconventional project Psycho was for Alfred
Hitchcock
– a film made in black & white using the crew from his TV
series. However, it went on to be
a runaway success, largely in part to the marketing’s focus on maintaining the
film’s big surprises. As the man
himself said “please don’t give away the ending; it’s the only one we’ve
got!” Based on a novel by
horror writer Robert Bloch, Pycho
tells the tale of Marian Crane (Janet
Leigh
), a secretary who, in a moment of desperation and temptation, steals
$40,000 from her employers and goes on the run. She stops off on her way at a small motel, the Bates Motel,
run by Norman (Anthony Perkins), a
young man dominated by his Mother, and that’s when her troubles really begin…

Hitchcock was already known as “The
Master of Suspense” and Psycho showed that he could manage full-scale
horror just as well. The film does
have its problems in the final act, such as a really awkward exposition scene
to explain what’s come before (and the big surprises and twists have become as
commonly known as what Rosebud is)
but it still holds up remarkably well.
Even if you’ve never seen the film, chances are you know its most
celebrated and parodied moment: the shower scene. The centre-piece of the film, it’s the moment that shocked
audiences everywhere back in the day.
It’s a triumph of editing and storytelling, all hung on Bernard Herrman’s instantly
recognisable music. For the shower
scene alone, Psycho is legendary but the rest of the film, with fantastic
performances and touches of Hitchcock’s trademark dry humour, stands strong
too.

Psycho
II

Psycho II came at the time the slasher
movie was having its first big boom period, so many people worried that this
would basically turn Hitchcock’s vision into another stalking horny teenagers
movie. Thankfully, despite a few
minor concessions to the change in cinematic tastes, Psycho II is a worthy
follow-up to the original that’s well thought out and directed by Australian Richard Franklin. The story follows Norman who, after
over twenty years in the asylum, is finally released and allowed to return
home, despite the objections of many.
But almost as soon as he opens up the old home, odd things, including
messages from Mother, start turning up. Was Norman not really cured at all, or
is there something else going on?

With a smart script from future Child’s Play and Fright Night director Tom Holland,
this is no mere retread of the old ground, but a very organic addition to the
original story. This production
has learned many of the right lessons from Hitchcock (and even finds a clever
way to give him a posthumous cameo).
The storyline keeps the audience guessing all the way through and in
many individual scenes the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife
(pun fully intended). At the
centre of it all though is Anthony Perkins’ triumphant return as Norman Bates.
The first film may have meant he was typecast for most of his career, but
Perkins creates a legendary character; someone who one can feel both terror of,
and enormous pity for. Psycho II
is a great continuation of the series, and it’ll make you wish that all horror
sequels had this much thought and care put into them.

Psycho
III

Hot on the heels of II, Perkins not
only returned to play Bates once more, but also took the reigns as director,
from a script by Charles Edward Pogue
(co-writer of David Cronenberg’s The Fly). After an opening that pays tribute to
Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the story
follows Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid),
a nun wrestling with both her faith and suicidal depression. A journey to find herself takes her –
where else – to the Bates Motel, where Norman is still coming to terms of the
events of last film. What
especially complicates matters is that Maureen really reminds Norman of Marian
Crane …

There is a very slight sense of
diminishing returns this time which, when one has spent so long in this world
is inevitable, but it’s still a superior sequel. Perkins as an actor is mesmerising as ever, showing Bates’
true depths and the tragedy that he cannot escape. As a director, he’s far from shabby too, with much of the
film lit and photographed to empathise the mood, and it has many a great
tension building moments, including one fantastic gag involving a hidden body
Alfred himself would be proud of.
The script carries on the series’ high standard too, with aspects involving
the nature of sin, forgiveness and second chances. Throw in solid acting all round and a tragic end, and Psycho
III is a more than decent follow-up. And considering the batting averages of
horror sequels, that’s better than most.

Psycho
IV: The Beginning

Oh dear, and we were doing so well
until now. Original writer Joseph Stefano returned to scribe this
made-for-TV production directed by Mick
Garris
. Radio host Fran
Ambrose (C C H Pounder) is doing a
show discussing the issue of matricide, when she receives a call from someone
calling themselves Ed (a not-too subtle shout out to the inspiration of the
whole series, Ed Gein). Guess who!
He wants to discuss his past, his own act of matricide, and another
murder he’s considering … Much
of this film takes place as a prequel, showing young Bates’ life (played by Henry Thomas in flashbacks) with Mother
(Olivia Hussey). The basic idea was presumably to gain a
new insight into Bates’ character. The thing is, it really doesn’t work on
multiple levels, and in retrospect actually hurts his characterisation. Norman worked best when we only had his
vague word on what Mother used to be like, so showing these scenes takes away
the previous ambiguity. What’s
more, these scenes also mean there’s none of the “where are we going with
this” tension to be found in the previous three movies. There is an interesting new idea that’s
brought up towards the end, but it really doesn’t fit the storyline and, as all
the character development and scenes that should lead up to it effectively
happen off screen, it’s really hard to care.

This film’s a mess. It has a good cast
(including an extended cameo by director John
Landis
) but they’re given not much to work with. Also, even though the production values are probably about
the same as the original, the film feels cheap and lifeless, with none of the
sardonically humorous touches of the previous three.

Psycho
(Remake)

Remakes of classic horror films nearly
always attract a lot of controversy but it’s unlikely that there’ll ever be
another one that will attract a furore like Gus Van Sant’s infamous update. There’s no point discussing the
plot, because it’s exactly the same as the original. In fact, pretty much EVERYTHING is exactly the same as the
original. It’s shot for shot near
identical, bar being in colour and one major, utterly tasteless, change for one
scene (thank you Gus, we really needed to see THAT). It has a decent cast (although, Vince Vaughn as Norman?
Really?) but they’re all basically doing impressions of the original
cast so one can’t really judge their performances fairly, especially since more
than a few do seem a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. This has to rank as one of the most
spectacularly pointless and unnecessary remakes of all time. If you’re just
going to photocopy the original and change nothing, why bother? It’s still debated what exactly the
point of the exercise was, or what Van Sant was trying to achieve with this. Still, it has lead to someone trying
the amusing experiment of simultaneously showing both at the same time, as
Psycho vs. Psycho.

And still the franchise staggers on
with a prequel TV series, Bates Motel, in
development. However, perhaps, sometimes enough really is enough?

Hitchcock
hits UK cinemas on 8th February.

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