Friday, October 21, 2016

Franchises: Psycho. Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

While I knew of Psycho II and III from a very young age thanks to our town's video rental store, it didn't have the VHS for this movie and so, up until around 1999 to 2000, I had no idea it even existed. I think the first time I heard about it was when I bought Creature Features by John Stanley around that time and looked up his reviews of the series and I learned more about it when I got the internet. The story, about Norman Bates calling in on a radio talk show, recounting his life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, sounded like an intriguing one, as was the idea that Anthony Perkins once again played the role. However, while the first two sequels would end up being among the very first DVDs I ever bought, I wouldn't see Psycho IV for a while afterward since it didn't get a DVD release until 2007 when it was put on that three-pack with the previous two (I did see the VHS at Media Play for a few years but I never got around to picking it up before that chain went out of business). I picked that pack up in the spring of 2009 and when I went into this film shortly after buying it, I was quite curious to see how it played out as well as to see Perkins' swan song as Norman. And when it was over, I came out of it thoroughly satisfied. It's not a perfect film, mind you, and I would still put the original and Psycho II above it, but that said, I think it's pretty well-made and acted, tells and intertwines both sides of its story quite successfully, and, if nothing else, is an improvement over the third film in many regards. I also like that it brings some well-deserved closure to Norman's story, especially given that Perkins died just two years after it, which is why I'm glad that they didn't do a proposed fifth film which would have undone everything.

D.J. Fran Ambrose is the host of a radio talk show that deals with controversial subjects, with the current one being about matricide: murdering one's mother. Her special guest is Dr. Leo Richmond, a specialist in the field who first became involved with it 30 years before when he examined a young man who'd murdered his mother and then turned himself into her psychologically, proceeding to kill more people as a result. After talking with another young man who'd recently killed his mother, the two of them get a call from a mysterious man who only identifies himself as "Ed" and claims to be a "senior member" of Dr. Richmond's sphere of mother killers. Little do they know that the man they're talking to is none other than Norman Bates, out of the asylum and living in a nice house near Fairvale. He reveals that he's killed many people before and now, he's going to have to do it again. He then proceeds to recount his past history, starting with the first person he killed after his mother's death in the 50's, his father's death and funeral, and, most significantly, his tortured and uncomfortably intimate relationship with his mother, who could unexpectedly swing from sweet and loving to emotionally and physically cruel the next. As the show goes on, Dr. Richmond suspects Norman's true identity as he's the psychiatrist who examined him after he murdered Marion Crane in 1960 and warns Fran and her coworkers that any threat by Norman shouldn't be taken lightly. Fran tells them to check and see if Norman has been released from another institution recently while she and Richmond keep him talking. Norman continues telling his story, but Richmond's antagonistic way of questioning him begins to threaten to make him hang up, prompting Fran to tell him not to talk anymore. Richmond then leaves in anger at the idea that Fran is going to try to talk a psychotic murderer with help from a professional, especially when someone's life is at stake. At the same time, Fran is told that the Bates Motel has been closed for years now and Norman, after letting his real name slip, tells her that he's now married to Connie, a woman who was his psychiatrist in the institution where he was taken after his most recent string of murders. She's the one he intends to murder, for she allowed herself to become pregnant, despite his desire to be the last of the "Bates line" and his fear that any child conceived by them would be mentally ill like himself. And just like the murder of his mother, this time, it will be with his own hands.

Psycho IV was one of the first directing credits for Mick Garris, who beforehand had only done one theatrical movie, Critters 2 (one of his few theatrical movies to this day, I might add), and some TV work like a movie called Fuzzbucket and some episodes of Amazing Stories and Freddy's Nightmares. Granted, Critters 2, which I do enjoy, is the only other of his directing credits I've ever seen but, given what I've heard about his other work like Sleepwalkers and what I've seen of his TV remake of The Shining, I think I can safely say that this is the best thing he's ever directed. He had some well-publicized difficulties with Anthony Perkins, whom he found to be very challenging and demanding, stopping shooting dead in its tracks to get into long discussions about a certain word or comment Garris had made. It's been suggested that Perkins wanted another shot at directing with the film but Universal wouldn't allow it after Psycho III's failure with audiences and critics (although I recently heard that Roger Ebert liked it, which I find shocking) and, as a result, he was going to have difficulties with whoever they picked instead, especially someone as young and inexperienced as Garris was at the time. I've also read that Perkins wanted Noel Black, whom he'd worked with on Pretty Poison, to direct it and had come up with an idea for the story with Psycho III screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue (a pitch that sounds like it would have been a truly outrageous black comedy) but Universal rejected that idea as well, possibly adding to Perkins' resentment and hard feelings. But, when it was all said and done, Perkins told Garris that he considered Psycho IV to be the best of the sequels, which he said made all of their difficulties worthwhile.

It's very fitting that in his final turn in the role, Anthony Perkins was able to bring Norman Bates full-circle. Here, we see that he's seemingly found the happiness and freedom that we'd always wanted for him: he's living in a nice suburban house and, what's more, is married to the woman who was his doctor in the asylum he was sent to after the last murders. However, there's still something sinister and unsettling about him, as when he first calls in to the Fran Ambrose's show, he admits that he's going to have to kill again soon. He doesn't reveal who or why until the beginning of the third act but it's obvious that Norman, despite the progress he has made, still hasn't quite put the past behind him. As he tells his story about his life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, we get our most detailed look into his complex feelings about her. He admits that she could be extremely cruel for no reason and the verbal and physical abuse she heaped on him was truly reprehensible but he also talks about the good memories he has of her and, all the while, you can see that he still has affection for her. Whenever Fran or someone else talks about how horrible a person his mother was, Norman is quick to defend her, saying that it wasn't her fault and that they can't say anything because they didn't know her the way he did. But, that said, reliving the more horrible memories of his relationship with her is very traumatizing for him, particularly when he talks about a time she locked him in her bedroom closet and left him in there. The memory of that leaves him lying on the floor, pleading with her as if it's actually happening to him again. One thing slowly becomes clear: in spite of all of this, he only thought about killing her until she brought home her new boyfriend, Chet, whom he still has a lot of hatred and resentment for, not only for the bad way he treated him but also because, as he says, "She didn't need him," or, "He didn't deserve her." This feeling of hatred and bitterness went to her when she threw him over for Chet, exemplified when, upon being asked how he killed her, Norman venomously replies, "Slowly." But, after he poisoned them both with strychnine, he says that when he saw her body in the casket, he felt a horrible feeling he describes as "soul cancer" and needed to have her back, in spite of what the poison had done to her, which led to him stealing her corpse, using his taxidermy skills to treat her body as best as he could, and eventually talking and speaking for her. And because this film reveals that his mother was still fairly young when he killed her, Norman explains that the reason she sounded like an old crone whenever he spoke in her voice was because, due to her death, she aged in his mind and he couldn't do her actual voice.

Throughout his story, the question on everyone's minds is who Norman is planning to kill and, most importantly, why he would risk losing the seemingly great life he now has? As it turns out, it's his wife, Connie, who he plans to murder, and there was a hint about that early on when she called him to tell him what's going on with his birthday cake (the main story takes place on his birthday) and his voice when he talked to her was rather empty and emotionless, in spite of some "good news" she'd given him earlier. His reason for killing her is a simple one: she let herself become pregnant, even though he made it clear before they were married that he didn't want any children for fear that they might inherit his psychosis. Now, it becomes apparent that Norman, as we've always known him to be, is actually a frightened, emotionally tortured man rather than a sinister murderer. Before he reveals his reason to Fran Ambrose, he tells her that after his most recent spate of murders several years before, he wanted to either be committed permanently or be executed in order to protect the world from, "This aging bad seed called Norman Bates." He believes in the theory that psychopathy is a genetic condition, which is why, when he tells Fran of Connie's pregnancy, he's almost brought to tears by it, saying that she didn't tell him that she'd stopped taking birth control pills because, "She didn't want me to stop making love to her. And that's what we called it: making love. But it wasn't meant to bring forth another monster." He's also afraid that he wouldn't be able to be a loving father to it, telling Fran, "I might be well now but I'm not cured. I'll never be cured," and asking Connie herself, "What if I can't love it?" When he tells her this, Fran suggests that he called in because he might unconsciously want her to stop him but Norman insists that his mind is made up, although he does tell her that talking with her has helped with the empty feeling he'd had before (maybe he just needed somebody objective to open up to). And he makes one other thing clear: this death will be by his hands alone, with no influence from his mother. With that, he hangs up on Fran, has Connie meet him at the motel and house, drags her inside the latter, and prepares to kill her with a knife he had stored in his mother's bedroom closet. However, he finds it difficult to do so, and when he finally does corner Connie in the cellar and attempts to stab her, she assures him that he's not the murderous person he once was, that she'll be the antithesis of Mrs. Bates to their baby, and that it will love him. This prompts Norman to drop the knife, get his wife out of the house, and get rid of the past once and for all by burning the house down, during which he purges his inner demons by powering through the tumultuous flashbacks he has. When it's all said and done, Norman can finally be assured that he's free and he heads off with his wife to truly begin the rest of his life. This is why I'm glad they never did a proposed fifth movie revolving around the child; it's satisfying to see Norman finally get closure and peace of mind.

As much as I do like Psycho IV, it's kind of hard for me to watch because of the scenes between the young Norman and his mother. You have that moment where, during his father's funeral, Mrs. Bates unexpectedly tickles little Norman's (Ryan Finnigan) side, causing him to giggle out loud and then she slaps him, admonishing him, "Don't you have any respect for the dead?!" And then, that's counterbalanced by a much happier scene between the two of them in the woods near the house where they go out to have a picnic and they have fun, even when it starts raining. Scenes like this, especially the part where they're twirling around while holding each other's hands, as the adult Norman remarks, "I know that in the cosmic scheme of things, little boys are small. But some days... little boys can be giants," makes the harsher, more abusive moments between them even more disturbing. This leads us to Henry Thomas' performance as the teenage Norman who, upon re-watching the film, doesn't have a lot of dialogue but does a superlative job regardless. He plays Norman in two different parts of his life: when his mother was alive and the first couple of years after he killed her. In the former, we see Norman as a dutiful son who more or less worships his mother and does love her, despite the horrible things she often does to him. However, it's made clear that, because she's the only female in his life, he's been developing rather... unorthodox feelings towards her as he's entered puberty. Those scenes are especially uncomfortable to watch, like when his mother forces him to get in bed with her and hold her when she's scared by a thunderstorm, after she's forced him to take off his wet clothes, leaving him in only his underwear. As he's sitting there with her, he realizes, as the adult Norman says, he's gotten a little too big for his britches and quickly ducks out of her room and into his own. Even worse is a moment where she makes him wipe orange-flower water on her because it's hot and, after she appears to be aroused by it, she rolls around on the floor with him, tickling him, and he ends up on top of her. That image itself is just wrong but it's made even worse when he gets aroused, which sets her off in a bad way. Watching him take her verbal and physical abuse, like when she makes him throw out some pornography she founds in his room while he's still in his underwear, saying that the rain might wash the dirt off him, and when she puts a dress on him and shoves him into the closet after she felt his erection, calling him a little girl and saying all his penis is good for is making "wee-wee," is very hard to watch, but Norman simply takes it until she brings home her boyfriend, Chet. Her ignoring him in favor of Chet, the both of them treating him like crap, and their endless marathons of sex push him over the edge to where he ultimately poisons them.

In the flashbacks that take place in the years following his mother's death, Henry Thomas is basically playing a younger and more reserved version of Anthony Perkins' portrayal in the original. We see Norman when he gets his first sexual kicks from a teenage girl who tries to get him in the sack, his timid nature and fear of what'll happen if his mother "catches" them in the house, and the first time her persona takes him over completely, making him stab the girl to death while wearing his mother's clothes and wig. It's suggested that he felt he might have been able to do it in the parlor behind the motel office, which he tried to get her to go into, and didn't want her to go up to the house because he was afraid that it would be easier for him to succumb to Mother up there, which is what does happen. Later in the film, you see a flashback of him in a car with an older woman and the two of them are making out very passionately. This gives us a rare glimpse of Norman being sexually aggressive; in fact, she says that he's got a tongue like an elephant's memory. For me, that scene and comment says that Norman truly wants to have normal, healthy relationships with women and doesn't want to hurt anybody but, because of the Mother persona, he's unable to do so. Sure enough, when Norman's making out with this woman, he makes an excuse to get out of the car by saying that he has to give his mother her meds, feeling his other persona beginning to go wild with jealousy. You can hear "them" arguing with each other up at the house and, after it stops, you see it's because Mother overruled Norman again and decided to get rid of the woman through him. This is the one instance in this film where you hear her voice (Alice Hirson) come out of Thomas' mouth and, as it was with Perkins before, it's more than a little unnerving.

This is the only time we ever get to see what Norma Bates was like when she was alive and, my God, did they hit the nail on the head when they got Olivia Hussey to play her! There's no other way to describe her performance than as the mother from hell. It's clear that she has a lot of mental illnesses, such as possibly schizophrenia and a type of personality disorder, and, as Norman himself tells Fran Ambrose and Dr. Richmond, what's scary about it is how
unpredictable she is. One minute, she's warm and loving and then the next, she's being incredibly
cruel for no reason (Hussey said she based her performance on a friend of hers who was similarly mentally ill). For instance, when she discovers that pornography in Norman's room, she smacks him with it, calling him a dirty little pig, and sends him out in the rain in his underwear to throw them in the garbage, continuing to call him a pig, even saying, "Dirty as your whole whore-mongering sex!" at one point... and then, after he throws them away, he turns around to see her standing there with a raincoat for him, her demeanor now softer and sweeter, saying, "Some day I'm going to wish I'd been firmer with you." As you might expect, anything she finds unclean or overly sexual really gets under Norma's skin. She's so sexually repressed (Norman says that she was very frigid towards his father), in fact, that she doesn't seem to realize that her more intimate interactions with her son are causing him to become aroused, which he can't help since she's the only woman in his entire life and which she horribly punishes him for. Like I said, that scene where she symbolically castrates him for getting a hard-on while he was lying on top of her by putting a dress on him, smearing lipstick on his face, calling him a little girl, and locking him in the closet, giving him a pitcher to pee in, as she says, "You're gonna stay locked in there until you learn not to say 'no' to your mother when she tells you you're a girl," is so hard to watch. However, the most appalling thing she does to Norman is when she becomes angry at the news that a new freeway is going to be built far away from the motel, which will cause them to lose business, and she takes it out on him. When he asks why she's hitting him with the newspaper when she comes storming out of the house while he's minding his own business, smacking dust out of a carpet, she yells, "Who else can I hit?!" and, after she rants about the road, proceeds to unleash some type of pent up resentment she's always felt towards him: "What the hell good are you if you can't show a little sympathy?", You just know how to cause trouble. Because of you, my bladder's damaged. I can't hold water. That's why I'm always running to the toilet! Did you know that?!", and, worst of all, "I was fine until I gave birth to you. You caused a lot of damage. I should have gotten rid of you the day I found out I was gonna have you. Not one thing you've ever said or done has made all I've gone through with you worthwhile! Not one blessed thing! I should have killed you in my womb. You sure as hell tried to kill me getting out of it!"

This apparent resentment can be seen under the surface in other scenes, like when she talks about how she's dying of the extreme heat and that, "You'll wish you'd been better to me," she asks him if her skin disgusts him when he's hesitant to use his fingers to rub water on her, and she says, "This is one morning you're not going to ruin for me." Her relationship with Chet Rudolph is infuriating for a couple of reasons. One is the way the two of them treat Norman, with Norma almost seeming to take pleasure in rubbing Chet in his face when she makes it clear that he's going to work at the motel and live in her house (the way she looks at Norman when Chet comes down into the kitchen and kisses her neck is one that's meant to irritate him), as well as when Chet belittles him, with the two of them laughing at him after Chet knocks Norman down during the boxing lesson. Her acting that way is possibly something else that could stem from her aforementioned resentment towards Norman. Even worse than that, though, is the sheer hypocrisy of it all: she gets on to Norman for his interests in sex, women, and the like, but it's okay for her to go out to a bar, meet Chet, take him home, and let him drill her constantly. Taking that into account, it's not hard to understand why this was what finally pushed Norman over the edge. And speaking of which, instead of being shocked, horrified, or hurt when he realizes her has poisoned the two of them, Norma's instant reaction is rage and she's obviously out for Norman's blood, in spit of her weakening condition. I think that action speaks volumes.

Speaking of Chet Rudolph (Thomas Schuster), he's just an asshole: a sex-hungry, sleazy former bartender who probably only got with Norma because she's hot as well as to get the better-paying job of running the motel. Norma says that they're planning to get married, which tells me how little Chet really knows about her. If he saw how crazy she is, there's no way in hell he'd be marrying her, no matter how sexy she is to him. One thing's for sure, though: he has no respect for Norman whatsoever. He's just an out-and-out bully towards him from the start, coming in wearing his father's robe, calling him "Normy," and when Norman demands he take it off, Chet has this little remark: "No underwear. You see, Norman, you only want to be naked around a lady when you're having sex with her. Any other time, it just ain't respectable." And that's to say nothing of their boxing lesson, where Chet taunts Norman, saying, "Your not a girl, are ya? Your mother swore to me you were a boy, and she even said you were well hung," and deliberately hitting him hard, eventually punching him right in the face, knocking him to the ground with a bleeding nose. His last crack about Norman delivering them room service makes his and Norma's slow, painful deaths all the more satisfying, as is the struggle between him and Norman during it where the latter finally manages to physically gain the upper hand on him.

At first glance, you may think that Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) continues talking with Norman as long as she does only so her show's ratings will go through the roof, especially after she learns who he actually is, but I think that's only half-true. I'm sure at first, she knows that this mysterious man who's referring to himself as "Ed" and is plotting to kill again soon will draw in a lot of listeners, but as the show goes on and Norman tells more and more of his story, you can see Fran's demeanor becoming more serious about it. When Dr. Richmond tells her that he believes Ed is actually Norman Bates, Fran asks her coworkers to get confirmation of Norman's whereabouts while she keeps him talking in an attempt to find out who he intends to kill. She also realizes that Richmond's blunt, antagonistic way of talking to him will more than likely cause him to hang up and she gradually pushes him out of the picture, suggesting during a break that she talk to Norman alone, although she does offer to let Richmond stay. However, when he accuses them of worrying more about ratings than saving someone's life, she insists that's not the case (despite what one of her coworkers says) and he ultimately storms out, leaving her to deal with the situation alone. As the conversation between her and Norman continues, you can see her empathizing with him as she tries to talk him out of committing his intended murder, telling him not to throw away the good life he's now made for himself when he does inevitably get caught. When he reveals that he plans to kill his wife because she allowed herself to become pregnant despite his protests, Fran, again, does sympathize with his feeling of having been betrayed by her and understands why he's scared of what she might give birth to but she continues trying to talk him out of killing her. As her show draws to its ending at 10:00, Fran tries to resolve the situation, even offering to continue talking with Norman even after the time is up, but he ultimately hangs up on her and she's not seen again for the rest of the movie.

Thirty years after he examined Norman after his first capture, we learn that the psychiatrist at the end of the original was Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost) and that he's since become something of an expert on matricide, having recently written a book on the subject. Throughout most of the show, he comes across as rather pompous and with a high opinion of himself, often sitting across from Fran with a smug sort of expression on his face. When Norman first calls in, Richmond is clearly suspicious from the get-go, especially since he'd just described Norman's case to Fran, and as he continues telling his story, it's obvious that Richmond is figuring out who it is from what he's hearing, the questions he's asking back, and also from the unmistakable contempt Norman has for him. After he tells Fran and her coworkers that he's certain it's Norman Bates and that any threat by him should be taken seriously, Richmond is adamant that they need his help in figuring out who he's planning on murdering. But, his direct, blunt ways of questioning prove to be more detrimental than helpful, as the others realize that he might cause Norman to hang up. It's also downright antagonistic, particularly when he asks him, "This abuse your mother heaped on you, you didn't mind it so long as it was just the two of you, isn't that what you're trying to say? As bad as it was, it was okay, perhaps even enjoyable, until she brought home a boyfriend? Could it be there was a little jealousy there, Ed?" While his implications aren't exactly wrong, Norman doesn't take them lightly, telling Fran, "If the doctor's trying to turn this into some kind of an incest tragedy, tell him to forget it, Fran." When Richmond's continued questioning really starts to get under Norman's skin, Fran goes to break and the two of them get into a heated argument about it. It gets especially heated when Fran tells Richmond to stay out of it from now on, saying that she'll find out who Norman plans to kill. When he asks how, Mike, the station manager, says that she'll just ask him outright, which doesn't sit well with him. He tells them that they can't question someone like Norman who professional assistance and says that it's either his way or there's... and he's dismissed, storming out of the station, accusing them of caring more about ratings than someone's life.

While she doesn't have much screentime until the third act, Norman's wife, Connie (Donna Mitchell), is the most significant character in the film, one, because she's allowed him the stable life he's always wanted, and two, because her deception has made Norman feel like his hand is being forced and that he has no choice but to do whatever he can to save the world from another psychopath, setting the story in motion. Her tricking him may have been a pretty rotten thing to do, no matter her reasons, but one thing is clear: she loves Norman, wants to have a family with him, and believes with every fiber of her being that he's capable of loving a child and that theirs won't turn out to be another killer. This deception almost gets her killed when Norman has her join him at his old house, where he tries to stab her, putting her faith to the ultimate test, but when he corners her in the fruit cellar and hesitates, as he did before, Connie knows it's because he's not the monster he once was. She tells Norman to look at himself in the blade of the knife and says, "That's not who you are anymore. You're not that person now, Norman. You're not a killer, Norman." She adds something else that's very true: "Our baby won't be a monster. Don't I count? I've never destroyed a child's sanity. I've never taken anyone's life. I love you. Our baby will love you. Give us a chance!" As Norman begins to come around, she tells him, "No more blood, Norman. Please, no more blood." This finally makes him drop the knife, embrace his wife, and ultimately free himself by burning down the house along with all the bad memories. The last shot of the two of them is Norman happily proclaiming himself to be free and they go off to live their lives and have their child (another reason why I'm glad this turned out to be the last one as far as the original series of films is concerned).

Several more characters worth mentioning are Raymond Linette (Kurt Paul), a convicted mother-killer who appears on the show at the beginning of the film to talk about his crime along with his maternal grandfather, George Emeric (Louis Crume). These two are notable for the fact that Linette is played by Anthony Perkins' stunt double in the previous sequels, who also played Norman himself in the Bates Motel TV movie (they probably wanted to give him something to do since Henry Thomas is the one who does all the killing here), and because Mr. Emeric saw to it that Raymond got paroled and is raising him in his own house, letting him sleep in his daughter's own bedroom, despite the fact that he murdered her. His reason? "She was a world class bitch who didn't deserve a boy like Raymond." Nice family. And finally, you have John Landis as Mike, the station manager (oddly enough, this was the same year where he appeared in Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion). He's really only noticeable for the fact that it's John Landis, as well as for the fact that Norman's call-ins mean big ratings for the show. One part I find darkly ironic is when Dr. Richmond says that they care more about ratings than someone's life and when Fran, "Ratings have nothing to do with this," Mike chimes in, "They do to me." So, not much has changed, huh, Landis? (I know that was horrible but that's what I thought the first time I watched the movie.)

Out of all the sequels, this is the one that feels
the closest to the original Psycho to me, which is understandable since they brought back Joseph Stefano to pen the script. He, in turn, decided to virtually ignore the two previous films, which he didn't like, and looked back to the original for inspiration. As a result, I think the movie has much more in common with it than Psycho II and III which, as much as I really like the former and feel that the latter does have its merits, felt more of the 80's time period and the slasher craze, particularly the latter. While the main story of this film is set in 1990, there's very little that really pins it to that time aside from the
phones, the more modern radio equipment in Fran's studio, and the like. Also, a good chunk of the film takes place in the two decades leading up to the original's timeframe, which is where it feels the closest to it. In those sections, I feel that the movie is just a few notches higher than the original's seedy feel, with the same notion of casual sexual activity and rather deviant behavior happening during this era that's often remembered as rather prim and proper; granted, here we actually see it, whereas it was mainly implied in the original, but the feeling is still the same, even when Chet and Norma are really going at it. Another connection between the two is the relative lack of graphic violence. This is definitely the least gory of the sequels, with the only really bloody part being the first murder we see young Norman commit, while the other killings are bloodless strangulations and poisonings. It's the same way in the original, with the shower scene being quite gruesome for the time and the only other murder being not nearly as graphic. And finally, instead of having Sheriff Hunt, Ralph Statler, or any of the surviving characters from the previous two films make a return appearance, the one returning character in the main story other than Norman, Dr. Richmond, is from the original. What's more, most of the story centers around characters who've been dead for a while but we've always known about (Norma Bates, her lover, and Norman's other implied victims before his murder of Marion Crane), Norman's attempt to bring his mother back to life that was detailed at the end of the original, and the locations of the house and motel leading up to the events of the first film.

My favorite callback is the way Stefano shows us that Cabin 1 in the motel had a lot of history to it long before Marion Crane spent her last, fatal night there. According to Norman, the hole in the back wall of the parlor was made by his father, no doubt to spy on women who stayed there (he's more than likely the source of Norman's own voyeuristic tendencies), and it's through that hole where Norman, after coming home from school early one day, sees his mother absolutely losing her mind and going on a destructive rampage for no reason. This is likely when Norman first understood how sick his mother was. More significantly, Cabin 1 is where he watches his mother have sex with Chet for the first time after she brings him home from the bar he used to work at. Speaking of the parlor, we learn that's the place where he tried to get intimate with Emily before he got distracted and she took the opportunity to sneak up to his house.

While most of the callbacks to the original are very inspired, there are times where, like Psycho III, where the movie is reminiscent of it a bit too much. Unlike that film, though, it's not as blatant and is mainly confined to lines of dialogue from the original that are recycled. The one that really stuck out to me is when Dr. Richmond repeats his line of matricide being the most unbearable crime of all, especially for the son who commits it, and later on, Norman says almost the exact same line. Another repeat from the original is when young Norman yells, "Mother! Oh, God, Mother! Blood! Blood!", after his first murder (which, after being heard in Psycho III as well, is really getting old), as well as when Norman mentions, "My trusty umbrella," when he meets up with Connie at the motel. It's an odd thing to do, too, because I think it had stopped raining by that point, meaning that Stefano only wrote for him to have it so he could repeat the line. The one that I find the strangest is when both young and adult Norman use the phrase, "Not inordinately," with the former saying it twice during the first scene with. What's strange about that line is, while it was said in the original, it was Marion Crane who said it, not Norman. Odd mistake considering that it's from the same writer as the original, although I cut him some slack since it had been 30 years. Like I said, not as egregious as the previous movie but still borderline to me.

Stefano's decision to almost completely ignore the events of the past two films, particularly the subplot with Ms. Spool, does make for a confusing continuity. There are hints that it's still acknowledging that the previous films did happen, as Norman mentions that he was recommitted after a more recent spate of murders, but the timeline doesn't add up, as he says the last murders took place four years ago. There were four years between the productions of Psycho III and IV but, in context, Psycho III takes place only a month after the events of II, which is set in 1982; therefore, Norman should have said that the last murders happened eight years ago. But, given Stefano's open dislike for the previous movies, I hardly think he paid that much attention to their details in the timeline when he wrote this script. Plus, isn't it a little hard to swallow that Norman would be released again after the people he killed upon being let out the first time, regardless of the pull his psychiatrist-turned-wife might have? As for Ms. Spool's part in the story, her having murdered Norman's father out of a jealous rage is completely ignored here and Norman instead tells Fran Ambrose and Dr. Richmond that he was stung to death by bees. You could argue that his already warped state of mind, combined with what he went through in the last two movies, Norman doesn't quite know what to believe anymore and is just going with what he wants to see as the truth, but still, the continuity here does have some apparent, confusing holes in it.

Like its predecessors, Psycho IV is very well-shot by Mick Garris and his cinematographer, Rodney Charters. Even though it was made for cable, it has the slick look of a nicely-budgeted studio movie, with some top notch set design and a very rich lighting and color palette. The scenes in Norman's kitchen are lit well and have a nice, orange color in the close-ups on his face, especially near the end when he becomes distraught as he tells Fran that his wife allowed herself to become pregnant, but my favorite shots take place in the flashbacks to the timeframe after he killed his mother. The first scene where you see Henry Thomas looks gorgeous, with the rich colors of the motel lights, bathing the scene in orange, pink, and blue, and the colors from the constantly bursting fireworks, which make Emily's murder look surprisingly beautiful. The same goes for Norman's later murder of the older woman, Gloria, which has deep red colors cast over it, most prominently, again, in the close-ups of his face. Something else that connects this movie firmly to the original is how, as in that film, all of the locations are normal, average-looking, everyday places, save for the Bates house, which, conversely, served as the main setting of the previous films. All of the sets look really good, like Norman's suburban house, the cold, gray-colored interiors of Fran's radio station and the asylum where Connie works, and, most interestingly of all, we get to see the Bates Motel and the house both when they were in their prime and as old, abandoned husks of buildings ready to be torn down. It's odd seeing the house with a fresh coat of paint on it (I never expected it to be yellow) and for the interiors to be full of life and then, at the end, seeing it rundown and abandoned, filled with cobwebs, dust, and cracks in the wood (the dark lighting in that sequence is very well-done too). And, like Cabin 1 and the motel parlor, I like that Stefano gives other parts of the house some history. Not only is Norma's bedroom where Norman poisoned her and Chet but it's also where he committed his first murder after he developed his split-personality, with the same closet that his mother locked him being where he kept the wig and butcher knife. I also like the idea that the fruit cellar where Norman kept his mother's corpse is also the place where she finally succumbed to the strychnine after he dragged her down there.

Garris also creates some noteworthy camera shots and movements and deals with the film's composition in an interesting way too. The opening credits are peppered with quick, random close-ups of various things like a knife being pulled out of a holder and being used to cut a tomato in half, Fran Ambrose lighting a cigarette, the equipment in the studio being turned on for the show, a clock in the studio ticking towards show-time, blood going down a sink drain that's very reminiscent of a shot in the shower scene (incidentally, this is the only sequel to not feature footage from it), a suture being sewn through white, dead flesh, and a birthday cake being decorated with the

signature, "Happy Birthday, Norman." After the opening credits end, the first thing we see is another close-up, this time of Raymond Linette's mouth as he described how he murdered his mother, and there are more significant ones throughout the film, most notably when a memory causes Norman to become so tense with anger that he cracks an apple clean in half with his hands. Some interesting camera movements include the introductory shot of Norman in his kitchen, where the camera slowly moves toward him as he has back to it and turns around right when it gets up to the back of his head, giving us a close-up of his face, and a shot where the camera goes around and around the characters as Dr. Richmond argues with the people at the radio station about ratings meaning more than lives. Most fascinating, though, is how Garris, like Anthony Perkins himself did in his direction of Psycho III, lets us get into Norman's mind so we can experience the flashbacks and his personal demons the way he does. There are times where the adult Norman is present in the flashbacks, like when he's standing behind his father's coffin during the funeral scene or appears to be standing in his mother's bedroom, watching her and Chet have wild sex, and when he remembers the good memory of the picnic he and his mother had in the woods near the house, the light in the kitchen changes and we see him looking out the window at the scene as it begins. It gets across that he's not just remembering them but rather reliving them, as is made clear when the flashback of young Norman being locked in the closet dissolves on a close-up of him looking through the crack of the door to him in the present laying on the floor, with Henry Thomas' pleading voice fading into Perkins' as he's saying the same thing. And finally, during the finale as he sets fire to the house, we get to literally see Norman purging himself of his inner demons as he sees visions of the people he murdered, including Chet and his mother, coming back to haunt him and he manages to get around them in various ways. The last one is the most significant, where he sees his mother's skeleton in a rocking chair in the fruit cellar and it bursts into flames before disappearing. And the film ends on a shot of that now empty rocking chair, as Norma's old crone voice can be heard yelling at Norman to let her out when the cellar doors slam shut, signifying that he's finally locked her away for good.

Like I said, the murders in Psycho IV are very akin to those in the original in that they're not very bloody and that the bloodiest one is the first one, where young Norman knifes Emily (Sharen Camille) to death in his mother's bedroom. Garris intended for it to be very similar to the shower scene, with a long buildup to it as Emily sneaks into Norman's house, he follows her after realizing what she's done, they end up in his bedroom where she gets naked and crawls into his bed, he fondles her a bit, and then, he goes to "check on" his mother. At this point, the other side of his personality wants her gone and demands that he kill her, which is when he takes one of her dresses out of the wardrobe (the exact same one used in Psycho III), walks into the closet as Emily sneaks into the room, feeling that he's alone in there, and mistakes Norma's corpse lying in bed as him feigning sleeping. As she tries to get a reaction out of the figure in the bed, Norman emerges from the closet in the dress and wig, brandishing the knife, and sneaks up behind her, getting to her right when the light from the fireworks outside reveal that the figure is a corpse. That's when she turns around to see Norman and screams as he attacks, stabbing her furiously, as the fireworks explode in the sky outside. Like the shower scene, it's done in very quick cuts, with reaction shots of her screaming, him stabbing, close-ups of the blood-covered knife, and the fireworks. Garris' one bit of deep meaning for the film comes here, as he says that this is a form of sexual release for Norman, with the blood standing in for the appropriate fluid that he can't produce. Interestingly, the fireworks and the lighting they create in the room make the scene feel like a dark take on the love scene between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief. And after it's all done, you see Emily's dead body with the knife sticking out of her, as young Norman yells, "Mother! Oh, God, Mother! Blood! Blood!" (Does he say that every time he kills someone?)

Aside from that fairly blood spectacle, there are also some other, minor makeup effects that manage to be wince-inducing themselves, like the aforementioned random shot of a complete white, dead section of flesh being sewn up. It might be onscreen for a fraction of a second but it's startling nevertheless and you see enough of it to make you go, "Ew," especially me since pale, lifeless skin like that of a corpse always makes my skin crawl. That's a lead-up to the shot of Norma's mummified corpse in the aforementioned scene, which is creepy in how emaciated and, worst of all, fresh it looks since it had been only a few years since Norman killed her at that point. Another one that gets me is when Norman, after he hangs following that flashback of his first post-Mother murder, ends up cutting his thumb open and has to put it in the running water of the sink, which is where that shot of the drips of blood running down the sink during the opening credits came from. You also see a shot of Norman's father's face during the funeral scene, although I don't remember the makeup effect meant to represent his being stung to death by bees being that disturbing, but there is another shot of Norman sewing up his mother's midsection after stealing her corpse and, while it's not graphic at all, the idea is creepy enough.

The second murder, that of Gloria (Bobbi Evors), the older woman who Norman is seen making out with in her car by the motel, is the most bloodless of them all. After a passionate bit of tongue-wrestling, Norman excuses himself to give his mother some medication, promising to take Gloria someplace private when he gets back. As she waits for him, Gloria gives herself a touchup and hears the sounds of Norman arguing with his mother but doesn't think anything about it... until he slips into the backseat of the car, throws a thin rope around her neck, pulls her head back, and, in his Mother voice, yells, "Drive, whore!" He has her drive to the swamp behind the motel and, after apparently killing her, drags her body out of the car and prepares to put her in the trunk, when she takes a breath and struggles to get away. Norman is forced to overpower her and strangle her again until she seems to expire. After checking for a pulse and appearing to find one, Norman puts Gloria's body in the trunk, closes it, and pushes it off into the water. But, as he watches it sink, pounding can be heard from inside the trunk as it becomes clear Gloria still isn't dead and she can be heard screaming as the car submerges completely, with Norman watching nervously. I'm not sure if that was meant to be real or something Norman imagined since he seemed confident she was dead before he put her in and appeared to thoroughly strangle her beforehand. Maybe he sucks at checking for a pulse? Either way, the idea of her still being alive and slowly drowning inside the trunk is more unsettling than any graphic murder could have been.

Like Emily's death, the buildup to Norman's poisoning Norma and Chet is very long and drawn out, managing to be quite suspenseful as Norman, hearing the two of them banging upstairs in Norma's bedroom, takes some strychnine out of one of the kitchen cabinets and pours a lot of it into the tea he's fixing for them along with a bit of vanilla, takes it up to them, and waits patiently by the door for them to drink it. Chet chugs quite a bit of it down right away before heading into the bathroom but Norma takes her sweet time, dancing with her glass to the sound of the music on the radio, brushing its cool outside against her face, and even pouring a bit of it on her neck a couple of times, as Norman watches tensely from the doorway. Finally, she drinks it, and not a moment too soon, as the poison hits Chet in the bathroom, who staggers out covered in sweat and vomiting, falling to his knees and telling Norma what's happened right before she begins to feel the pain as well. She then sees Norman in the doorway and tells him that he's dead, with Chet attacking him and pushing them out into the hallway, at the top of the stairs. Norman manages to knock Chet off of him, sending him tumbling down the stairs, which is when Norma tries to attack but, in her weakening state, she's not able to do much. When they get to the bottom of the stairs, Norman grabs her around the back of her head, putting his hand over her mouth, and holds her down to the floor until she throws up and appears to expire. Chet gets back up and tries to get at Norman again but immediately collapses back onto the floor. Thinking he's done it, he drags Norma's body down into the fruit cellar, when she suddenly takes a breath. He pulls her up onto a chair and she opens her eyes to see him standing in front of her as she slowly and painfully dies from the strychnine, with Norman wiping the little bits of vomit from around her mouth. She almost falls out of the chair due to the convulsions but he lifts her back into it and watches as she finally dies. Chet then suddenly jumps Norman from behind, tackling him to the floor and trying to strangle him, but his body gives out as he tries to do so and he collapses on top of Norman, dead. He moves Chet's body off of him and stands up, as the scene ends with him looking at his dead mother as he takes a piece of candy corn out of his pocket and pops it in his mouth.

The climax begins when Connie arrives at the motel to meet up with Norman, who appears acting very sinisterly and drags her forcefully by her arm up the stairs, into the house. After a little talk about whether or not Norman would be capable of loving a child, he drags her upstairs, into his mother's old bedroom. He lets go of her and tells her to stay, but when she tries to walk out, he grabs her and shoves her against the wall, commenting, "You don't trust me. All that faith, and no potatoes." (Is that some old-time saying I've never heard before?) He goes into the closet
and takes out the butcher knife he kept under the floor, horrifying Connie when she sees him brandishing it, as she realizes he means to kill her. He walks up to her with it, preparing to slice her throat, but struggles with himself and hesitates, giving Connie time to run out the door and down the stairs. He chases after her and a
little game of cat and mouse follows, as he looks out the door to see that she didn't go out (I don't know why she didn't) and searches the house for her. Connie is shown to have been hiding in a nearby hallway and she attempts to slip out the door that Norman left open, only for the wind to blow it shut, alerting him. She runs down into the fruit cellar and tries to slip out the storm doors leading outside, when Norman opens them up and corners Connie. Again, it looks like he's about to kill her but she manages to make him realize that he's not the killer he used to be and that their baby won't be one either because of how he's changed and who she is. He drops the knife and has a heartwarming embrace with his wife.

You wouldn't expect a Psycho movie to have a finale where someone's trying to escape a burning building, which feels more fitting for a big action movie, but that's exactly how Norman's story ends. Norman sends Connie down to the car and proceeds to get rid of the past by pouring gasoline in every corner of the house and setting it on fire. Fittingly, he ignites his mother's bedroom first and then does the same to his own bedroom, but Norman's old memories come back to haunt him as he goes through the house. To make matters worse, some burning beams fall from the ceiling downstairs and block the front door. Norman sees this as he heads down the stairs and is distracted by visions of Gloria and his mother walking up the stairs towards, the latter causing him to fall through the railing, hurting his leg. While Connie screams for Norman outside and frantically runs about the property, screaming for help, he tumbles down into the fruit cellar, where he's greeted by a vision of his mother's mummified corpse in a rocking chair, which falls on top of him. He tosses it aside and it bursts into flames before vanishing, giving him the chance to escape through the storm doors, where Connie runs to him and helps him get away from the house, which is now completely engulfed in flames. The movie ends with Norman and Connie standing on the steps leading up to the house's charred remains, with Norman proclaiming himself to be free after the two of them look back at it and they go off to live theirs lives.

Here's the most concrete connection between Psycho IV and the original: at least 50% of the music is Bernard Herrmann's original score, making this the only sequel to feature any of it, aside from Psycho II's opening recap of the shower scene. Herrmann's themes are used well and are placed in appropriate spots throughout the film, such as the main title theme for the opening and closing credits, the shower scene's screeching violins for two of the murders, the unsettling theme from the scene where Norman watches Marion Crane through the peephole for when he sees his mother bring Chet home and they go into Cabin 1, and so on. However, while it's nice to hear this classic music again, it sounds like it's been re-orchestrated, possibly by the composer of the film's new score, Graeme Revell. That's not uncommon, as Jerry Goldsmith had to do the same for Herrmann's music in the aforementioned recap of the shower scene in the first sequel, but I also think that this version of the music has ended up on the official soundtrack releases of the original movie's score. I bought that on CD when I was 15 and was surprised to hear that the main theme was much slower than the lightning-fast version that plays over the opening credits, as well as that the screeching violins during the shower scene were slowed down and the strings for the aftermath went by much quicker, which is the way they sound here. In any case, Revell's new music for the film attempts to stay in the same mold as Herrmann's, sounding bigger and grander than typical modern music, and it does work for the most part. None of the individual themes stuck out to me that much (which is sometimes the case with Revell's work) but they fit their scenes well, like the very quick, urgent piece that plays when Norma and Chet attack Norman upon realizing he poisoned them, the suspenseful music when Norman chases Connie through the house, heartwarming music for the good moments between little Norman and his mother, when he decides to put his faith in Connie and their child, and the moment between them after the house has burned, and an exciting theme when he's trying to escape the burning house.

Psycho IV: The Beginning may never reach classic status but I think it's most definitely an above-average sequel with a lot of good ingredients: great performances, especially from Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey, and Henry Thomas, inspired direction from Mick Garris, great cinematography, a fascinating and often disturbing look at Norman's life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, a welcome closeness between the film and the original in many ways, well-done and very subtle makeup effects, a good mix of Bernard Herrmann's legendary themes with some suitable new music, and, best of all, a nicely-crafted script that leads to a finale which brings Norman full-circle and makes for a satisfactory end to his story. There are some hiccups, like too many recycle lines of dialogue from the original, a confusing continuity with the previous sequels, and the new music by Graeme Revell not being that memorable, but, overall, it's one that I definitely would recommend as an improvement over the interesting but much more flawed Psycho III and a great swan song for Anthony Perkins in his most famous role.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bates Motel (1987)

When I decided that I would review the Psycho franchise this October, I hadn't originally intended on doing this, mainly because I had never seen it but also because it's not an actual part of the franchise but more of a strange, rarely mentioned offshoot of it. But, when a good friend of mine, Newt Cox (the man behind Double T's Blog of Reviews, who's also doing a review for it this month), asked me about it and I then discovered that it was on YouTube, though, I figured, "Why not?" and decided to include it as part of this marathon of reviews. I may not have actually seen this movie until just recently but I have had some knowledge of it since around 2000 when I got my first computer and internet and looked up the original Psycho. The website that I found used excerpts from Leonard Maltin's annual movie review books and at the end of his glowing review, he mentioned the three sequels as well as a TV "series" called Bates Motel. Imagine my surprise when I heard that there was a Psycho TV show and my bewilderment when nobody else seemed to know of it. After that, I didn't think any more about it until one Saturday when I was in high school when Sci-Fi Channel unexpectedly showed this. I saw a couple of glimpses of it (namely a bit of the opening credits, which I recognized as being from Psycho II, and a brief glimpse of the reading of Norman Bates' will) but I had other things to do so I didn't watch it, although I was confused that it was being touted as a TV movie in that month's cable guide book rather than as a series, which I always thought it was. I initially thought that it might have been something else but since the year listing in the book was 1987 and I remembered Maltin saying that the "series" was in the 80's, I figured this had to be it. It wasn't until years later when I learned that this was actually a pilot movie for a series that never got picked up, one that never got a DVD release and was very rarely played, making that showing on Sci-Fi even more of an anomaly. It eventually did get an official release on a four pack with the Psycho sequels, which I've seen at Wal-Mart a few times in recent years, but I never had any major inclination to pick it up and check it out, as well as because I didn't want to buy the sequels again when I already had the three-pack they originally came in along with Shout! Factory's Blu-Rays of Psycho II and III. And when I finally watched it on YouTube for the first time after I finished my review of Psycho II, I was very glad that I didn't drop any money to get this thing.

I had no real expectations when I went into this. I had learned of the basic story over the years (someone who befriend Norman Bates in the asylum is left the Bates Motel after his passing and reopens it) and that there wasn't much to it besides that, so I was expecting a mediocre TV horror movie that was about strange things happening when the motel reopens but wasn't suspenseful or scary in the slightest. Well, I didn't even get that; this isn't a horror film at all, let alone a psychological one as Wikipedia describes it. It's a hard to call it a horror film when nobody dies (except for Norman, who dies off-camera from natural causes) and it's even harder when the tone isn't even trying to be scary or moody. Instead, this is a cheap, silly movie that's more of a comedy than anything else, with not much happening for a good chunk of it, lame attempts at trying to make it feel as if the property is haunted, and a sudden veer into Twilight Zone territory during the third act, making it seem like a completely different movie. I debated about whether or not to make this an entry of Movies That Suck and I ultimately decided not to because there's nothing about this that made me angry but, that said, there's very little to this movie and it's not something I'll ever watch again once this review is finished. (Heads up, by the way: most of the images here will look like crap since they're from an old VHS rip.)

Following his arrest for his crimes in Fairville, California in 1960, Norman Bates is sent to the state mental hospital, which is also home to Alex West, a troubled child who murdered his horribly abusive stepfather. Dr. Goodman, deciding that he needs a friend, introduces him to Norman and the two of them become very close friends over the following 27 years, with Norman becoming the father Alex never had. Following Norman's death and cremation, Alex, who is going to be released soon, receives the urn full of his ashes and, during the reading of the will, is bequeathed the Bates Motel, with the hope that he will be able to make it into a thriving business again. After some reluctance on his part since the asylum is the only home he's ever known, Alex leaves for Fairville and, after some difficulty due to people claiming to have never heard of the place, makes his way to the rundown motel courtesy of Henry Watson, a handyman who once worked at the motel and knew Norman when he was a kid. As he settles in to living at the motel, Alex goes through the troubles of getting a loan to begin work on the place, having to deal with those who want to destroy the motel and house to turn the property into something else, and meets Willie, a young woman who's been living in the house for some time who agrees to stick around and help Alex, whether he likes it or not. Work begins smoothly enough but things turn sinister when Mrs. Bates' remains are uncovered during an accident with a bulldozer and Alex begins seeing a mysterious, female figure in black that no one else does along with other strange, seemingly supernatural, incidents. Has Mrs. Bates returned from the grave to haunt the property, as everyone in town believes? And when the motel opens for business, will Alex be able to make enough money in time to pay off the $10,000 loan he borrowed?

Bates Motel is one of only two directing credits, the other being a couple of episodes of an 80's TV series he created called Deadly Nightmares, of Richard Rothstein, who's primarily a writer. His most well-known credit is writing the story for the original Universal Soldier (he had nothing to do with the sequels) and before that, he'd written obscure horror films like Death Valley, a 1982 film that featured Peter Billingsley before he became legendary for playing Ralphie in A Christmas Story, and Invitation to Hell, a TV movie that Wes Craven directed right before he hit the big time with A Nightmare on Elm Street. According to IMDB, he hasn't been active that much since the 2000's rolled around, with his most recent credits being a producer on the 2004 TV series T.H.E.M. and Kitchen Trends 2005, a TV documentary that sounds absolutely fascinating doesn't it? (The guy is so obscure, I have no clue what he looks like and as a result, I didn't know where to begin with trying to find an image of him, especially since there are other people with that name.)

While I can understand why Robert Galluzo chose to focus only on the movies starring Anthony Perkins for the documentary, The Psycho Legacy, I kind of wish he would have delved into this too, if only for a special feature on the extras disc (there is a very small deleted bit on it that you can find on YouTube), because I'm very curious as to what the mindset behind it was. I'd like to know who thought a TV series based around the Bates Motel itself done in this way would have been successful and, moreover, why they thought it was a good idea to do it the year after Psycho III kind of took the wind out of the franchise's sails. They must have understood the latter since the story only acknowledges the original film (despite using Psycho II's opening at the beginning and end) but I would still like to know why they thought it would be successful regardless and why they decided to go in the direction they did. A television show based around the Bates Motel isn't a bad idea and neither is the general story of this but the way they went about it is mind-boggling to me. It would have been interesting to have someone who is as disturbed as Norman become the new caretaker of the motel and have to deal the property's troubled history becoming back to haunt it, whether they wanted to do that in a literal, supernatural way or take the psychological route, but instead, they decided to be so cheesy and tongue-in-cheek, as well as sappy with the friendship that developed between Norman and Alex, that it feels like they're mocking the source material. It gets especially bad when they suddenly begin telling a completely different story that feels more like a Twilight Zone wannabe during the third act, which I think we can view as a prelude to what the show would have been if the network decided to go with it. It's so bizarre and the fact that it was backed by Universal and shot on their backlot blows my mind even more. In that regard, it's weirdly fascinating but that's really the only reason to watch it.

Since I knew he was also from the mental asylum and had befriended Norman Bates, I was expecting the character of Alex West (Bud Cort) to be a much more sinister and creepy presence, as opposed to the reserved, harmless, and downright geeky fish out of water that he is. That said, though, Cort's performance is so likable that he's actually one of the few things about this movie that I can say is genuinely good. You learn about the horrible life Alex had with his abusive stepfather and how that pushed him to murder him at the beginning of the film and you then hear how the friendship and bond that formed between Alex and Norman really helped him to open up and become more sociable (I'll go into why I don't like that whole idea in and of itself later). At Norman's funeral, Alex mentions about what a great friend Norman was to him, keeping his ashes with him, and when he learns that he's been left the Bates Motel, he decides, despite his initial fear and hesitation about being released since life in the asylum is all he's ever known, to go and make it a thriving place again per Norman's wishes. After he goes through the typical routine of being somebody severely out of touch and not used to city life, he makes his way to the Bates Motel and begins the process of getting it back together. Despite the hurdles he goes through, like the difficulty in getting a loan, people trying to persuade him to tear the place down for something more profitable, the uncovering of both Mrs. Bates' and Jake Bates' (Norman's father) corpses on the property, and weird incidents that make others question his sanity, Alex never loses his determination to fulfill Norman's dream and, with help from his friends Willie and Henry Watson, he succeeds in opening the motel back up for business. He also uncovers a plot by Tom Fuller, the bank employer who gave him the loan, to chase him and everyone else off and he, along with his friends, manage to negotiate a more reasonable deadline to pay off the bank loan. The movie even ends with Alex breaking the fourth wall and inviting the viewers to come by if they ever need a rest, saying that he can't be sure what they'll find but, "That's what makes the world go round." In spite of all the problems I have with this story and its execution, Cort is what kept me going through it as he's just so damn likable and quirky (he's also one of the oddest-looking actors I've ever seen by far).

Back when I was looking for images for my review of the original Psycho, I would inadvertently stumble across some from Bates Motel, one of which was the scene where Alex first meets Willie (Lori Petty) in the house when she's dressed up in her chicken costume. Not knowing the context, my jaw dropped and I could only think, "What the fuck?!" Now having seen the movie, it's actually one of the most memorable things the character does; otherwise, she doesn't leave much of an impression. They try to make her up to be the tough-talking, street smart, tomboy type, one who's trying to make her career ambitions happen but is stuck in a dead-end side job of being a mascot for this fried chicken restaurant. In reality, she comes across as a little annoying, with how she doesn't care that the house legally belongs to Alex and refuses to leave even when he makes it clear he wants to do this by himself, and at times downright schizophrenic with how she'll suddenly lose it with him, suddenly blowing up at one point when he doesn't compliment her cooking and saying that he's the crazy one around there. Instances like that make it a little tough to like her, even when she manages to keep Alex from being suckered in by opportunists and uncovers the scheme by Tom Fuller to scare Alex and everyone else away, going as far as to trick him into making a confession that she records and threatens to ensure it falls into the "wrong hands" if he doesn't give Alex a more reasonable deadline to pay off the bank loan. And I also don't find myself really caring when she and Alex become genuine friends near the end of the second act. She should have just stayed in the chicken outfit, as far as I'm concerned.

The other true friend that Alex makes when he arrives in Fairville is Henry Watson (Moses Gunn), a local handyman who reveals that he used to work for the Bates family and knew Norman when he was a kid. From the beginning, Henry proves to be a gruff but kindly man who gives Alex back his Bates Motel postcard after he drops it and gives him a ride to the motel, telling him about its past, the local rumors that it's haunted, and his personal connection to it. He also makes it very clear that he has no love for Mrs. Bates and hates what she did to Norman, apparently trying to dissuade Alex from going there. Later on when Alex comes to him with the offer to hire him as a contractor, Henry, although grateful, is reluctant to take the job even though he's about to lose his house to development (that's a good scene and Gunn does a great acting job as he talks about the memories he's had living there and how he's never thought about where he would go if he needed to leave). He claims it's because it's too big of a job for him and because he's too old but it's obvious the main reason is because he's simply reluctant to go back there, possibly thinking it is haunted. However, Henry does take him up on the offer and remains loyal to him for the rest of the film, helping him and Willie expose Tom Fuller as the one who's been trying to scare everyone away by making them think that Mrs. Bates' ghost does haunt the property.

From his first scene, Tom Fuller (Gregg Henry), the bank official who gives Alex the loan to get started, comes across as a shady, untrustworthy individual. With a smarmy attitude and a big shit-eating grin on his face, he tries to convince Alex that simply reopening the motel is a bad idea and that the property itself would be worth a fortune if he put in a condo complex or something of the like instead but when Alex makes his case, he tells him to have his architect and contractor give him an estimate and he'll see what he can do. Alex does eventually get the loan, of course, but as the strange incidents begin to happen, Fuller seems only too happy to add to his anxieties, telling him a little more about the place's history and how Mrs. Bates eventually snapped after her husband, Jake, disappeared when she discovered he spent his time down at the motel making sure the customers were "satisfied." And by an amazing coincidence, when Fuller drops Alex off at the motel, a worker digs up a skeleton that turns out to be Jake and then comments that the place is a burial ground rather than a motel. Willie later discovers that said worker, who also tried to spook the other workers into quitting, is Fuller's brother-in-law, leading to the ending where they expose him as the one who's been dressing up as the deceased Mrs. Bates and been behind all the creepy stuff that's been happening in an attempt to drive Alex away so someone with bigger business ambitions would take control of it (which also explains why he gave Alex such an unreasonable payment deadline). In short, he's nothing more than a Scooby-Doo villain, and it's likely that he would have continued to try to cause them trouble in the show had it come to that.

Some very notable character actors make up the supporting cast. Robert Picardo has a brief role at the beginning as Dr. Goodman, the kindly psychiatrist at the mental institution who brings Norman and Alex together. He's nothing less than absolutely supportive and warm towards Alex, seeing that he needs a true friend when he first meets him and finding himself privileged to have witnessed the friendship between the two of them that blossomed. He recommends Alex's release shortly after Norman's funeral and when he's reluctant and scared about it, Goodman assures him that he'll be just fine and reminds him that it's what Norman always wanted for him. When Alex is still reluctant to leave after he learns that Norman gave him the legal rights to the Bates Motel, Goodman presses him to go, telling him that it's Norman's way of giving him an opportunity at a real life, which ultimately leads to him doing so. Lee de Broux (who you may remember from RoboCop as the rival crime lord who has a tense business meeting with Clarence Boddicker at a cocaine factory before Robocop drops by) appears briefly as the disbelieving sheriff who Alex calls after seeing an apparent vision of Jake Bates' murdered body and gives him an earful when he finds no trace of it. And finally, George Buck Flower (who appeared in a number of movies, including many directed by John Carpenter) and Carmen Filpi (who also had a filmography a mile long, with one of his most memorable roles being Reverend Jackson P. Sayer who gives Dr. Loomis a lift in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) appear as two vagrants Alex meets when he arrives in Los Angeles, with the latter trying to drink Norman's ashes as he thinks the urn is full of sake!

I know it sucks but it's the only image of Norman from this
film I could find.
I mentioned in my review of Psycho III that writer Charles Edward Pogue's reasoning behind undoing the Ms. Spool angle introduced at the end of Psycho II was because he found it to be disrespectful to the mythology of the original; I can only imagine what he would have thought of its treatment here. The idea of Norman Bates (who's only seen at the beginning and in some pictures with Alex, where he's portrayed by Kurt Paul, Anthony Perkins' double in the sequels) forming a bond with a kid at the asylum, becoming the father that he never had, and hoping for a better life for him if he ever got his freedom, telling him that it's important to learn to forgive and leaving him the motel so he can turn it into a welcoming, thriving business again, is absolutely ludicrous when you take into account the way he is at the end of the original Psycho, where Mother has complete control over his psyche. Yes, he may have been temporarily cured of his psychosis in the first sequel but that was after over two decades' worth of treatment, whereas this movie implies that he and Alex bonded as soon as they met. Go back and look at that final shot of Norman in the original movie: does that look at all like somebody who'd be able to become a friend to a troubled little kid? Despite his good intentions, this idea that Dr. Goodman took Alex to see Norman right after his conviction and arrival at the asylum makes him look like a complete idiot. They do acknowledge that Norman was a murderer but they ignore the fact that there was a lot more deranged stuff to him in addition, particularly his split-personality, the crossdressing, and his unhealthy, repressed sexuality. In fact, given that the Mother persona was in complete control of Norman at the end and we know what the actual person did to him when he was a kid, he was the absolute worst person you could introduce a troubled kid to!

This is the image I mentioned earlier that almost caused me to
drop my teeth when I first saw it.
There are a number of points, particularly during the first act, where it feels like this movie is mocking the original film. It opens in black-and-white with a newscaster speaking about Norman's arraignment in a very over-the-top, cheesy manner outside the courthouse from which he's transported to the mental asylum. This guy lays it on so thick, with melodramatic lines and emphasis on random words, with some examples being, "And so ends the most terrible and bizarre chapter in the history of this picture-book town. That of a young man whose poor mind, twisted and bent out of shape like a pretzel, tortured by self-loathing and guilt, plunged headlong into a world of dementia and darkness," and, "A journey down a long road known as justice and off to his new home, the state mental institution at Dunsmore, where perhaps, just perhaps, Norman will come to understand the wrong that he has done and, through kindness and a lot of intensive analysis, will emerge from the darkness and into the light." It's as if it's meant to mock the more dramatic acting style back then. He also mentions the cutlery where Norman took his mother's knives to have them sharpened and the hotel he once worked at where he first became interested in management, which made me think, "Oh. It's that kind of movie." Later on during the reading of Norman's will, the man doing so rolls his eyes at the line, "I, Norman Bates, being of sound mind," before bequeathing a couple of interesting items to other people at the asylum: one woman who taught Norman how to cook receives a prop roasted turkey and another guy who taught him to do the Twist and the Huckle-Buck gets his record collection. When I first saw this, I was dumbfounded. I didn't expect the movie to be amazing but I was not prepared for the overabundance of silliness present. It only gets worse from there, as you have Alex asking for directions to the Bates Motel from the drive-in speaker at a fried chicken restaurant, Willie's first appearance in her chicken mascot costume (I should not be seeing Lori Petty in a chicken costume in a film that's related to Psycho!), and Alex trying to make up with her in said costume after a squabble they had, only to realize that the person inside was a guy standing in for her. What's with all this chicken nonsense? Was that turkey meant to be some type of foreshadowing? If so, then they used the wrong bird.

Despite that stupid joke about her knives needing sharpened at the beginning, it originally seems like this film will at least treat Mrs. Bates, who's renamed Gloria here when it was always Norma before (they also rename the town of Fairvale as Fairville, for some reason), with some respect, as it's hinted throughout the movie that her evil spirit is haunting the property. While they don't go into the sordid details, they also don't gloss over the fact that she was a cruel woman, with Henry Watson telling Alex that he can't believe what she did to little Norman, mentioning that she always locked him up. The film also makes mention of Norman's father, who's given the first name of Jake, and how he spent more time at the motel than at the house, making sure the customers were satisfied, especially the women, which Mrs. Bates absolutely hated. It's initially said that he simply disappeared and that his wife mourned for him, waiting for him to come back, but it's later suggested, albeit through one of Tom Fuller's scare tactics, that she may have murdered him in a jealous rage, which is an interesting idea. The same goes for the concept of her spirit haunting the house and the motel... if they had pulled it off right. Unfortunately, this movie, being what it is, doesn't know the meaning of the word "creepy" and so, when Alex begins seeing visions of a woman dressed completely in black at the burial of Mrs. Bates' remains after they're unearthed (the only explanation given as to why they weren't buried after Norman's arrest is because of the "shockwaves" in the area, which is a very weak, vague one) and in the bedroom window, it isn't eerie or unsettling in the least. And even before she's revealed to be nothing more than Fuller dressed up as her in a Scooby-Doo plot to drive Alex and everyone else away, the sight of this apparition dressed entirely black, with a hooded skull for a head, and brandishing a knife, yelling in an over-the-top, elderly female voice, "Leave my home! Leave and never come back!", is impossible to take seriously (the cheesy slow-motion that sequence is filmed in doesn't help matters either).

The biggest sin this movie commits is that it's not entertaining in the least, not even in a bad way; moreover, even though it's only a little over 90 minutes long, by the time you get into the third act, it feels like you've been watching it for three hours. It's abysmally slow and the story is not engaging at all, as all you're watching after the opening is Alex fumbling around the town, making himself at home at the motel, going through the troubles of getting a loan, fending off those who want to talk him into leveling the place and turning it into a more profitable business complex, getting a contractor, running into problems during construction, beginning to become frightened and feel that there is something supernatural going on, and having to deal with Willie's appearance and refusal to leave. I know it was meant to provide the setup for a weekly TV show but it just goes on and on and on without much happening, and at some point, even Burt Cort and Moses Gunn's good performances can't save it. You can't even rely on the mystery of whether or not the strange happenings are supernatural and if the mysterious figure Alex keeps seeing is Mrs. Bates' ghost to give you something because, as I just described, it's not scary at all.

In describing the wildly different third act where the motel finally opens up, my friend Newt described it best: it's as if the combined the pilot episode with a little bit of the second. After the motel is finished and opened for business, the first customer is a woman named Barbara Peters (Kerrie Keane) who claims to be an aspiring writer looking for peace and quiet but is actually a depressed woman who feels like she's failed at life and is planning on ending it all that night. A group of teenage partiers also arrive at the motel, booking it solid, and one of them, a perky girl (Khrystyne Haje), wanders into Barbara's room, stopping her from slashing her wrists in the bathtub, and after some talk, convinces her to join the party she and her friends are having in one of the rooms. Once they arrive, the girl introduces Barbara to Tony (Jason Bateman), a reserved young man and, despite her hesitation given the difference in age between them, they end up dancing and having a great time. However, Barbara stops herself short of kissing him, feeling that it's wrong, and after he storms off, the two of them have a heartfelt conversation outside where she admits that she felt special while dancing with him but, in her mind, it's inappropriate since she's not in high school anymore. Tony, in response, tells her that he feels cold and alone, which Barbara feels is nonsense since his whole life is ahead of him. After telling him she'll always be grateful to him, she sends back to the party and goes back to her room, again to try to commit suicide, when the girl arrives again to stop her. She tells Barbara that she knows what she's going through and says that as long as she herself and friends, she's a fool to throw it all away... revealing then that she knows her name is actually Sally. That's when she drops a bombshell: she knows what Barbara is going through because she herself committed suicide 25 years before, as did all of the other teenagers there, including Tony, over the years and they've come to stop her because, as she says, "It stinks." Needless to say, Barbara is taken aback by this and, after a parade of the teenagers revealing who they were and when they took their lives, it appears as if she's going to do the same because she's so distraught but the ending reveals that she didn't. In fact, she now has a new appreciation for life and drives off ready to face it, which is when Alex invites the viewer to come by the motel if he or she ever needs a room, although he admits he's not sure what they'll find if they do. You get a feeling that this is an example of what the series might have been had it been picked up, which, like I said, makes you feel like you're suddenly watching an episode of the 80's revival of The Twilight Zone. As for whether or not this would have worked on a weekly basis, I don't know. It might have if they had gotten some really good writers to do the stories, whereas this in particular isn't the best example as it's predictable (I called the twist a while before it was revealed), stops the film's main story dead in its tracks for a good chunk of time, and doesn't feel original enough to warrant being the catalyst for a weekly series. I think that's a trap the show might have fallen into if this section was indicative of what would have come: it wouldn't have had enough of its own identity to be that successful.

Considering how tiny the budget must have been, one thing the people behind this movie were extremely lucky in that it was officially backed by Universal and, as a result, they were able to use the actual motel and house sets on the backlot. I will say that, while the film really sucks at creating atmosphere, it is interesting to see the place looking more rundown and deserted than it ever has been when Alex first arrives, with most of the cabin doors left open, weeds growing out of control here and there, the rooms and parlor left unkempt, and the tumbleweed blowing by giving it a potential feeling of loneliness (I say "potential" because the music score here doesn't give it the chance to feel that way). Speaking of potential, what's really frustrating is that I could see how those shots inside Mrs. Bates' bedroom and the nighttime exteriors with the glowing, buzzing motel sign could have been really creepy if they'd been done better. It's also noteworthy that Alex and his crew do build some add-ons to the place, like a big fountain out in front and a dining hall, to make it a little more welcoming. According to IMDB's trivia page, these additions remained there as part of the backlot tour until 1993. And if you look at the second image here, you'll notice that the tire marks in the parking lot appear to form a question mark leading towards Alex, who's meant to be the dot. I'm guessing that's meant to question whether or not the motel will do fine as Alex feels but, to be honest, I didn't even notice them until I read about them elsewhere.

As you can probably tell by this point, the music score is another aspect of the film that I find to be very lackluster. It's often really generic and uninspired in the way it sounds and then there other times where it feels like the composer was just fooling around. What's double disappointing about this is that said composer is J. Peter Robinson, who went on to do a creepy as hell score for my favorite Nightmare on Elm Street movie, as well as my favorite Wes Craven film, Wes Craven's New Nightmare (although, looking at his filmography, which includes movies like Return of the Living Dead Part II and Vampire in Brooklyn, it doesn't seem like he's had the best track record with horror films in particular). The main theme, which starts out kind of creepy at the very beginning of the movie, is this sappy, light piano piece that absolutely makes me cringe whenever I hear it, which is quite a few times throughout the movie. The music for the opening scene with the newscaster is just as over-the-top and hammy as he is, the piece where Alex first arrives at the Bates Motel tries to sound ominous and eerie but it doesn't work at all (the eerie high-pitched sounds there are rendered useless by a hollow "dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun," that's hard to take seriously), the music that plays when Alex meets Willie in her chicken outfit is just as stupid as that scene is itself, so it kind of works in that regard, and the music for all the scenes that are meant to be scary are often too overdone or not creepy enough to work, especially the scene at the end where Alex is confronted by "Mrs. Bates." The piece that is absolutely unbelievable is this electronic, country-sounding one that plays during the montage that shows them finishing up the renovations to the motel. Words can't do it justice; you have to hear it yourself to get how corny it is. And as if that wasn't enough, you have some bland covers of 50's songs like The Twist and such by the band in the cabin where the party's taking place in the third act. The only theme from this movie I kind of like is the one you hear when Alex goes into Mrs. Bates' bedroom. That bit of music is, surprisingly, kind of eerie, which is more than I can say for everything else.

Other than as a curiosity piece and for some nice, likable performances by Bud Cort, Moses Gunn, and several other respectable character actors, Bates Motel has nothing to recommend it. The story is uninteresting, drawn-out, and boring, it takes such a sudden right turn into a completely different one during the third act that you'll wonder if you sat on the remote, Lori Petty's character of Willie is hard to like, its treatment of the characters of Norman Bates and his mother is so wrong, it's not even funny, the film's goofiness sometimes makes it feel as if it's mocking the original, the music score is overall bland, generic, and doesn't help the mood any better, and, above everything else, it's not a horror film. Most frustrating of all, though, is that you can see some potential in a television series with this basic concept and in what it might have been during the third act but it's done in an uninteresting way that doesn't separate it from other shows that have done the idea so much better. I was a bit curious about it before and now that I've seen it, it makes perfect sense why it never got picked up as a series, has been forgotten, and why Anthony Perkins himself thought it sucked (although, I've found conflicting stories about whether or not he actually boycotted its production the way he was rumored to have). Bottom line, if you're really curious and absolutely have to see it just for the sake of completion, go ahead and check it out; anybody else, you can find more interesting ways to fill your time.