From Universal Pictures

One of the Most Underrated Horror Sequels: Psycho II

Psycho II. 1983.  Dir. Richard Franklin. Screenplay by Tom Holland.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, and Hugh Gilin. Universal Pictures.
Rated 18+. 113 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★

For my review of the 1960 classic Psycho on Blu ray, click here.  For the sequel to this film, Psycho III, click here.

PsychoIIThere’s no debate to be had: Anthony Perkins IS Norman Bates. The way Perkins inhabits the role in the first two Psycho films is amazing. It’s particularly interesting to see Norman in Psycho II quite some time after his institutionalization, and to see how he is a little older, maybe a little wiser, or maybe not.

What we get is not only a story about Norman trying to re-enter society, but also a sort of look into what it’s like when any violent mentally ill criminal is deemed fit to be integrated back into a normal life after having undergone various psychiatric treatments. By no means a statement, but merely an examination; we sway back and forth with the story, as we’re not quite sure if Norman has really been rehabilitated, or if Mother is up to her old tricks again. It’s just as psychologically trying as the original Psycho, but not in the way it feels like Hitchcock; it simply frays on our nerves, as we try to figure Norman out, and events push us to one side then back to the other.
Psycho II 1983 movie pic4A particular scene where Norman is handed a large kitchen knife to cut a sandwich for a young girl who befriends him (very similar to his sandwich dinner with Marion Crane from the first film) becomes a very nervous few moments; we watch as Norman battles his subconscious, or possibly Mother whispering in his ears about how nice it might be to kill his young dinner guest. I enjoyed how they played with the idea of someone toying with Norman, but also with Mother being very present still in his mind.
Psycho II 1983 movie pic7One of the things I really enjoy about this sequel is the fact it relies on more than just Perkins as Norman Bates to really drive things. While the original Psycho did start off with Marion Crane before shifting to Norman, this movie gives us a couple other performances to enjoy as well.
Both Vera Miles and Meg Tilly did great jobs here with their characters. Tilly, as Mary Loomis, was just enough of an innocent type to sort of be drawn in by Bates’ charm while also still remaining a bit of an independent and tough young woman. I liked how Mary Loomis was sympathetic towards Norman because it created this tension where you sort of teeter on the edge of wondering exactly what his intentions towards her are really. Their relationship is one of the real interesting parts about this underrated sequel.
Vera Miles, playing Lila Loomis, is spectacular. She is every bit a wicked and wild old woman here. Her character fight very well with the plot, as you’d naturally expect some of Norman’s victims to have family who would care enough to protest his release. Miles is a fantastic actress. She really plays a great character to provide some of the new plot developments here in Psycho II, and had they cast a lesser actress in the part it may not have worked as well. Miles gives us enough venom in her portrayal of Lila Loomis to really sell the part.
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All in all, I would say this movie is a 4 out of 5 stars. The plot is really great, and relevant to modern society (how many killers are let loose on the streets again because they got an insanity plea & supposedly ‘served their time’ in an institution somewhere?  Plenty!). Perkins, again and as always, is a revelation as Norman Bates. As I’m also a fan of the third movie in the series, Psycho III (see my review here), each time Perkins plays the character he seems to hone Norman into something more intricate and full of little idiosyncrasies. A treat to see the same actor come back to a character and not only do a good job again, but also add something more to the character with each turn.

Psycho-II-Richard-FranklinMy only reason for not giving the film closer to a perfect rating would be the whole situation with the boy getting killed in the cellar. It’s hard for me to believe that even though his young lady friend lies for him that the police would not take Norman into custody until they figured out some more about the situation. I mean, the man has been in psychiatric confinement for 22 years after killing a few people, he goes back to live in the exact same house where all the violence really happened, and then when someone gets murdered right in the cellar of this house they just let him stay free walking around on the word of some waitress? That’s my only problem with the film, and it’s not something that ruined it for me, just a little nitpick.
Other than that, I love Psycho II, and it’s criminally underrated especially when many horror franchises keep churning out sequels that get worse and worse ever year. This one is a keeper. A lot of people expected a direct copy of Hitchcock in some sense with this sequel, and unfortunately that was never going to happen. Nobody is able to replicate Hitchcock, even those who closely emulate him with their own personal style, and it’s silly to want another movie exactly like the first one. This is a very natural, organic sequel. It plays well both as a horror film, and also as a real psychological thriller, too. I really had no idea exactly what was going to happen until the very end – speaking of which, the end is also one of the great aspects of the film. It not only gives us a little surprise, setting things up for a further look at Norman Bates, it opts to make more of the story and expand things. No longer is Norman tied completely to the events of the original film, or his own story as we know it so to speak, and it kind of opens up the whole concept for further plots. Of course there’s Psycho III, but even if they hadn’t gone on to make another one I’m still satisfied with the little twists, and most certainly how thrilling the climax of the film came off.

You can do much worse in terms of horror sequels – this is one of the best, and absolutely one of the more underrated sequels in any of the big horror franchises. Norman Bates is an incredible character. Psycho II does an admirable job with his legacy. Plus, there’s a bit more hack and slash going on here – sure to appease any genre enthusiast.
Highly recommend you seek this out and enjoy it to the fullest!

Psycho III: Norman, Still Crazy After All These Years

Psycho III.  1986. Dir. Anthony Perkins. Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue; based on characters by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin, and Lee Garlington. Universal Pictures.
Rated 18+. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★

If you haven’t yet – read my Blu ray review for Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1960 classic Psycho.

With Anthony Perkins directing a Psycho sequel and also serving as Norman Bates, I can’t imagine anything better. A highly underrated entry into this franchise. This absolutely does not get enough credit. To no surprise from me – I loved the first sequel to the original, and a lot of people despise it, so I guess Norman just isn’t appreciated anymore.
How sad…
Psycho III 1986 movie pic2When Norman inevitably kills his new motel clerk Duane (a young Jeff Fahey), we finally see truly for the first time how Norma’s scarred son has been compelled to kill by his dominant mother. He yells at her that he has the same terrible blood in his veins, and it makes him do what he does. Perkins uses Woody Woodpecker on the television interestingly, as Norman cries to his mother to stop laughing at him (which of course is Woody’s iconic laugh), and it’s so very evident more than ever before how his world is a mixture of reality with a heavy dose of surreal experiences; we’ve already known this, but for the first time it’s almost spelled out in front of us, as he can’t even tell the difference between his mother’s laugh (one he no doubt knows all too well), and a cartoon bird on the television.

There are so many little pieces like that which make Psycho III better than its low ratings and generally negative reviews lead on.
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Norman finally meets someone to love in a disheartened girl who has left her convent where she was poised to become a nun by the name of Maureen; unfortunately for Norma at first, she reminds him of Marion Crane.
There are two really interesting bits Perkins throws in involving Maureen. The first is when Norman sees her in the diner, and she leans down towards the floor behind the stool she sits on, but he can only picture Marion laying dead in the shower after he and mother killed her. Soon he snaps back to reality, and leaves the diner quickly. Maureen later ends up at the motel, and tries to kill herself by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. Norman is poised to kill her, all dressed up like mother again, but he finds her with her wrists open in the water, and Maureen does not see Mrs. Bates: she sees the Virgin Mary holding a silver crucifix where the knife should be.

One of the best moments come when Norman accidentally nudges Maureen over the stairs in his house, and she slips down over them only to fall against a statue with a sharp object protruding out of it. The statue is of Cupid, and Perkins zooms in on the arrow after it has killed Maureen, which drips blood; Cupid has literally shot her, and in a way it has also pierced Norman by taking away the only woman he ever loved. Here, Cupid shows us how everything in Norman’s world is backwards; especially love.
Psycho2My only complaint about the film is at the very end when Norman sits in a police car being taken away, and he hauls out a little treat he was hiding to caress, as he gives a look very reminiscent to his final scene in the original Psycho. I find it a little hard to believe the police wouldn’t have found this on him (I won’t tell you what it is), but then again, it’s a horror movie, and a certain amount of belief has to be suspended at times to properly enjoy one. Overall, it didn’t ruin anything for me.

4 out of 5 stars for a great entry into the Psycho franchise. People say that Anthony Perkins tried to imitate Hitchcock in this film, but I frankly cannot see it. There’s a huge difference in visual style, and a very glaring difference in storytelling.
Norman is a little more slasher in this film, but why shouldn’t he be? At the end of Psycho II, we are introduced to someone who could be Norman’s real mother right before he kills her, so naturally the man is going to be even worse off than ever before with shocking information like that. Of course, the story is a long, winding road, and that isn’t every side, but isn’t a family history like Norman’s bound to drive ANYONE a little mad?
Psycho III 1986 movie pic014After all, we all go a little mad sometimes…

Wes Craven & Ronald Reagan: Socioeconomic Horror in The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Mystery.

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (Blu ray release)

I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the LeftThe Hills Have EyesSwamp ThingA Nightmare on Elm StreetThe Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New NightmareScream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as FeastWishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.

Cue: The People Under the Stairs.

peopleunderthestairsAt first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.

I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhoodthere is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
gimpsuitOne thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.

It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
xDP7rThe acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.

The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
thepeopleunderthestairsparents-600x325As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.

The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a Horror Sequel Classic

The Bride of Frankenstein.  1935. Dir. James Whale. Screenplay by William Hurlbut.
Starring Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton, and Una O’Connor. Universal Pictures.
Rated G.  75 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Horror

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my earlier Blu ray review of James Whale’s original Frankenstein click here.

I can tell you one thing off the bat – I really could have done without Gavin Gordon’s eloquently rolling speech as Lord Byron in the opening scene. Really love how the film starts, I just cannot handle his dialogue. It nearly prompted me to fast forward, but I rarely ever do that.
Plus, if I did that I would’ve missed a beautiful shot I love: as the present day gives way to the story’s plot, starting after The Monster has apparently died and fire burns, the camera pulls away from Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley while they all talk about her story Frankenstein. This shot slays me. It is as beautiful as anything you could ever see. The camera hauls back, transitioning to the story, and while it does we see the room grow larger and larger, looming around Byron and the Shelleys. There’s a haunting quality to it.

The Bride of Frankenstein - Poster - American - 1935The Bride of Frankenstein for me is almost better than its predecessor. It has to do with the fact I didn’t particularly care for a lot of the changes the first film made to Shelley’s original novel. Where The Bride of Frankenstein is itself a new story, inspired by parts of the original novel and of course the film before, it thrilled me more because it was James Whale taking on fresh material; essentially, building on his vision of Frankenstein further.

There is a little bit more hamming in regards to acting. You can’t let that take away from this film. In 1935 there was still, naturally, a lot of reference to the stage. Film was not exactly an old medium. Many actors no doubt relied on their training as stage actors in plays or musicals, whatever, to guide their performances on film. The one performance which I really can’t stand (aside from the irritating portrayal of Lord Byron in the opening scene, which I can forgive as it isn’t long) is that of Una O’Connor who plays Minnie. She was apparently a favourite of Whale’s, and supposed to be comic relief from what I gather. However, this film could have, and would have, worked just as well with no overbearing comedy, which is exactly what O’Connor provides. Her shrieking and wailing does nothing for me. I hated every minute of it. I particularly hate her overreaction to meeting The Monster, just moments after he has grimly dispatched a couple people (that part is actually crazy for the time). O’Connor’s reaction to The Monster is so over the top it pains me to watch. It could’ve been a really frightening moment. Instead they go for a real gag almost. May as well have been Curly, Larry, or Moe instead of Minnie.
Aside from O’Connor, however, I really enjoy a lot of the other performances. Clive, again, is a good Frankenstein, albeit still named Henry of course. Ernest Thesiger comes as a great addition to this sequel. He plays the part of Doctor Septimus Pretorius, who is the former mentor of Henry Frankenstein. His performance is more than adequately creepy and quirky.
MBDBROF EC119Not only that but the inclusion of the character provides a particularly memorable scene for The Bride of Frankenstein when Pretorius shows his protege a bunch of miniature people he has created, homunculi, such as a king and queen, and more. For the time, especially, this one scene was incredibly innovative. Today we take those things for granted. In 1935, showing a doctor displaying a bunch of tiny people in snowglobe-like encasements, moving around and talking, et cetera, was incredible. It looks flawless. On Blu ray this scene looks really incredible, the picture is beautiful and it would be hard to imagine someone not being able to appreciate it.

One of my other favourite scenes from The Bride of Frankenstein is the meeting of The Monster and the blind hermit. The Monster wanders into his home because the man is playing the violin; he does a beautiful rendition of “Ave Maria”. This scene looks wonderful, as does most of the film, but it’s also emotional. The two meet and become friends. The blind man identifies with the grunting man-monster; neither of them are working with their full faculties. Of course it doesn’t last long. While it does, though, it is spectacular. Karloff again does a great job of subtly portraying The Monster as a misunderstood and confused character. He truly was one of the greatest actors. In the first film he did a magnificent job, here he is able to expand upon that characterization, and really makes The Monster a good tribute to what I believe were Shelley’s intentions for him in the original novel. They fit very well together. Also, this pairs well with Elsa Lanchester’s portrayal of The Monster’s eventual life partner, which is a sight to behold.
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Though The Bride of Frankenstein Blu ray doesn’t have as many features as the first film’s release by Universal Pictures, there is still a great featurette (featuring the ever-knowledgeable Joe Dante) called “She’s Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein“, which examines all sorts of aspects related to the film. This includes interviews with a bunch of people, such as Bill Condon and  and great narration by Dante. I really enjoyed this small documentary.  The focus honed in on James Whale in particular. Everyone discusses The Bride of Frankenstein, but touches on his other horror films, and the incredible visionary outlook he had. Also included on the Blu ray release is some nice commentary by film historian Scott MacQueen, as well as “The Bride of Frankenstein archives” which is a lot of production stills from the film set, posters, artwork, and so on.
1935-bride-of-frankensteinAs a film, I would have to give The Bride of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5 stars. I really wish some of the outright comedy didn’t find its way in here. They say Whale is known for his playfulness in that sense, and in other films I can totally jive with it, but here it feels out of place to me. Or maybe it’s only out of place for my taste, and that could be because of O’Connor’s performance. Regardless, there is a still a ham-ish quality to The Bride of Frankenstein which I don’t feel totally belongs. I know the concept is a bit out there, and perhaps due to that the slight bit of comedy in here works for some. I just don’t necessarily believe that in a horror film an out there concept needs to be treated with any sense of comedy. It’s not as if the laughs are dripping out of every scene, not even many really, but it is there, and if the whole film were played with an even more deadly serious tone it would have worked. It works as is, but that’s just my opinion on something it may have lacked.

The Blu ray release also gets a 4 out of 5 stars. I really did like the special features included, but I feel like for a Universal Pictures film, one that is so adored according to most sources, there’s a lack of extras. The featurette narrated by Joe Dante is awesome, but really – they couldn’t find anything else except a slideshow of pictures over music and a film history’s commentary? I just find it strange. The Blu ray restoration of Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein has a lot of great stuff, and this just seems like they didn’t have much. Maybe there wasn’t much, but still – I find it hard to believe. Enjoyable features included nonetheless, though not as much as I would’ve liked.
The picture itself is unbelievable. Whale’s film uses setting and atmosphere, as well as makeup and lighting, to really make its story work. There are beautiful and horrifying moments, sometimes all wrapped into one, throughout the film. The mood is set completely through how Whale makes everything so grim and gloomy. The Blu ray definition makes this classic truly worthwhile. Especially if you have never seen the film, you will be blown away at how gorgeous the picture quality looks here in this release. You’re able to capture all the shadows and the creepy lighting and the terrifying makeup in such beauty here. Really an incredible job.

Anyone who has yet to see this film, do check it out as soon as possible. It is no doubt a classic. However, don’t feel like it’s untouchable. Classics aren’t perfect just because they’re classics. No matter, The Bride of Frankenstein is a beautiful horror film worth watching, and will always remain a classic.