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Too Many Horror Films: The Psycho Sequels (1982-1998)

October 1, 2011

I have seen too many horror films. Now that Halloween 2011 approaches, I will pass on the knowledge gained by this wasted time to you, so you may be spared. We might as well start off with a substandard franchise to one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, the Psycho sequels.

  • Dir. (Listed below by film)
  • Released by Universal
  • Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film
  • Average Rating: **

My review of the original 1960 classic can be found in my Five Favorite Films review series, so I will not waste any space repeating myself here. I will only discuss the three sequels and the remake, none of which would warrant more than three stars, and one of which barely earns one star.

In 1982, Richard Franklin did the unthinkable–he tried to follow up on Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking horror film with Psycho II. Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles return for the sequel, but would that be enough to save this picture?

Norman Bates (Perkins) has been declared sane and is released back into the world. He seems to have a hard time adapting, however. It certainly doesn’t help that Lila Loomis (Miles), the sister of Marion Crane, is out to get him put back in the asylum. Lila’s daughter Mary (Meg Tilly) is not quite sure about her mother’s plans. Of course, it’s not too long before the body count begins to rise…

This is an okay film that could have been much better. Near the end, it becomes so muddled that it’s hard to even know who the killer is! Add to that the needlessly gory murders, and you’re stuck with a movie that does not quite work as its own film or as a follow-up to the classic original.

In 1986, Norman Bates–and his mother–came back for a third round of terror. And this time, Anthony Perkins ended up in the director’s chair. Psycho III is more of a slasher film than its predecessors, but don’t hold that against the flick.

The Bates motel receives a new visitor, Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a runaway nun whose similarities to Marion Crane go beyond her initials, at least in Norman’s mind. Soon, more people show up, including a drifter looking for a job (Jeff Fahey), a reporter looking for the truth about Norman’s past (Roberta Maxwell), and a bus full of teenagers. It’s not long before “Mother” reaches for the butcher knife again…

This one is an improvement over II, although it really doesn’t make much sense unless you’ve seen II. It has great suspense moments, including one involving an ice chest and the local sheriff. The Psycho movies have always have unsettling endings, and this one is no exception. Of course, it’s no match for the original, but it still delivers.

After Anthony Perkins’ turn in the director’s chair, the next two follow ups were made for TV. The first was the 1987 Richard Rothstein picture Bates Motel, starring Robert Altman regular Bud Cort as Norman Bates’ former cellmate turned heir (according to this one, Bates died after III). It was intended as a TV series pilot, but it failed and has not been made available on home video. It is unremarkable and has since been forgotten.

The second was a 1990 made-for-cable prequel featuring Perkins and directed by Mick Garris, based on a screenplay by Joseph Stefano (the screenwriter of Hitchcock’s original). Psycho IV: The Beginning premiered on Showtime with an introduction by Marion Crane herself, Janet Leigh (who did not appear in the film itself, unfortunately).

Perkins appears again as Norman Bates in the frame story, which shows him calling into a talk radio show and recounting his past under the pseudonym Ed (as in Gein; get it?). This is the best part of the film, due to Mr. Perkins delivering the goods again. (And look for a cameo by John Landis!)

The rest of the film is the story of young Norman, dealing with his sexual frustrations with his mother and his blooming homicidal tendencies. It’s interesting, if unsettling, to watch. Olivia Hussey (returning to horror years after her role in 1974’s Black Christmas) does okay as Mother, but she seems way too young to be playing the role…and frankly, no one can compete with the creepy voice and taxidermied corpse from the previous films. Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial) does a fair young Norman, too.

This is the weakest of the four, but that does not mean that it’s bad. It certainly has its moments, but one would expect more out of Stefano. If you like the other sequels, then you should like this one, too (even if it does somewhat ignore/contradict them at certain points).

Plans for a fifth entry died with Anthony Perkins in the early 1990s. Given that slasher movies were on the decline at the time anyway, the movie probably would not have been a success. However, 1996’s Scream repopularized horror, and considering that it included several loving homages to the 1960 classic, Universal decided to return to the Bates Motel in 1998.

Gus Van Sant (the director of Good Will Hunting) thought that it would be interesting to remake Hitchcock’s movie with the same shooting script. Considering that Robert Bloch’s original novel was pretty much discarded by Hitch the first time around, a more faithful adaptation would seem the way to go. But no, let’s use the exact same screenplay again. Good idea.

Now, let’s cast Vince Vaughn as Norman, Anne Heche as Marion, Julianne Moore as Lila, Viggo Mortensen as Sam, and William H. Macy as Arbogast. Oh, and make sure that none of them deliver any of their lines with any conviction.

Now, let’s add some strange, pseudo-symbolic imagery into the murders. Let’s say, a blindfolded woman, a cow, etc. Yes, this is certainly the way to remake a classic. Thanks for nothing, Gus. I will not waste any more time discussing this junk. Avoid the remake!

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From → Film Criticism

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