A new column examines the influences of horror movies & what has influenced them via side-by-side film frame comparisons.
Magoo and Vic plan a bombing, that could have massive, devastating consequences.
Norman & Mother continue their relationship beyond the grave.
Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.
Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.
Mission: Impossible. 1996. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by David Koepp & Robert Towne from a story by David Koepp/Steven Zaillian; based on the television series created by Bruce Geller.
Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Rolf Saxon. Paramount Pictures.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
There are certain movies out of the 1990s I remember fondly because they’re titles I’d rent on the weekend and watch with my parents. They were always pretty good about letting me watch a lot of things, as long as my little sister wasn’t around, and depending on how crazy it was they would probably watch it with me. But even before that, when I lived with my grandparents – my grandfather was a member of Columbia House when it was in its prime and he’d get like 9 VHS tapes for such a low price. So their place was full of old movies on VHS; I saw tons of stuff I probably shouldn’t have seen at ages 7-8.
Mission: Impossible is one of those movies I remember seeing after it came out on video. My parents and I rented it, I remember enjoying it so much it was one of those films I’d watch over and over. Honestly, I think Brian De Palma did an excellent job directing this with a great deal of suspense and tension, plus there’s the fact I think it’s a pretty damn good adaptation from the original 1966 series. No doubt hardcore fans of the original television series might not enjoy it, however, I think they modernized it, updated things just well enough while keeping the spirit of the original to make it something interesting.
When Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) heads to Prague on another mission with his IMF team – including wife Claire (Emannuelle Béart) and top agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) among others – things begin as per usual. Unfortunately, there is an incredible failure during this new mission; a fatal failure. But no one is sure who did what to cause the chaos.
After he is left the sole survivor in a massacre which sees Phelps and Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), among others, all die at the mysterious hands of an outsider, Ethan Hunt is accused of mutiny and the failure of their mission is pinned on him. With the help of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), and even a shadowy arms dealer named Max (Vanessa Redgrave), Hunt goes underground, using everything and everyone at his disposal in order to uncover exactly what has been happening. Most importantly, he hopes to find out who laid waste to his colleagues from the IMF and why they hoped he would be framed.
Above all else, I think De Palma does well by crafting a genuine atmosphere of suspense because while there’s action here, it would come off like any other action film were there no such feeling to the movie. It follows along with the flow of the plot well. As we start, things are light and fun – the team feel in sync with one another, joking, laughing, generally acting as if being secret undercover agents in a dangerous high stakes type of game is no big deal. However, this quickly cuts from that lighthearted feel to one of tension. As the IMF team, one by one, are dispatched, the tension gets thicker. Even the way in which De Palma has the scenes go, the fog on the night air almost seems to intensify with the plot’s movement. Everything is shrouded, until finally it’s Ethan left; things clear off, he is the only one living, and then there are the police. This sets up how the next segments will feel, as we move into the heavy mystery of Mission: Impossible.
Something I’ve always loved about this movie is how there’s a ton of action, but it’s not a load of gunshots and muzzle flares and smashing objects, walls and other set-pieces filled with bullet holes. I find it’s all intense action while not having to resort to the typical gunplay with which so many other American action/crime/thriller movies seem to be obsessed. This is where that ever present air of suspense and tension helps.
While many films might’ve flubbed the scene where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) suspends himself down over the lasers, in that high tech security room from Thieves Hell, De Palma makes this so insanely tense you can almost feel Tom’s butthole clench just watching it. It’s great stuff because what could be so simple and visually unappealing at the hands of another director becomes the stuff of action movie legend under the guidance of Brian De Palma. He doesn’t have a perfect track record as a director – but honestly who in the hell does? Not even Kubrick for those typical film fans who say he’s perfect; he was amazing but not perfect – but I think De Palma is absolutely one of the greats of American cinema. No doubt in my mind about that. Here, he shows why he’s a master of the craft.
The entire sequence leading up to the ‘suspended above lasers’ moment is classic. Well filmed, nice pace, and the set they used for that is very cool. Always loved the way De Palma includes the shot showing a drop of perspiration slipping off a plastic cup, setting off the alarm in the laser protected room; such a perfect zoom in close on the cup as Ethan Hunt describes the security inside. Not sure why I particularly enjoy that little moment, but it’s always one that strikes me for whatever reason.
Ever the fan of Alfred Hitchcock, as so many are, De Palma has a magnificent shot a little over 30 minutes in which reminds me of the staircase in Vertigo (which is my personal favourite Hitchcock). I don’t know if that was intentional, or simply a wonderfully coincidental shot that came up from the use of that location, but either way it is awesome. A wonderful homage. The camera rotates opposite the staircase and it creates a neat effect. Disorienting slightly, in a good way.
One of my favourite scenes is when Ethan uses his explosive gum. The way it’s shot, the angles De Palma frames each one, there’s a good pace of suspense up until the explosion, then Hunt is gone again. Not a long scene, it’s just well executed. De Palma goes for a lot of interesting low angles and tight close-ups in those suspenseful moments. Another great example is when Ethan first meets Max (Redgrave) and they’re watching for a signal – something simple, once more, becomes impressive because of the precise, honed direction. Has all the earmarks of a fabulous thriller.
Though I do like a couple of the other Mission: Impossible films, it’s easy to see the distinction between this and every other one. I was even a huge fan of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, though, there is still no comparing it the original in this series of films. I mean, there’s such a genuine measure of tension built up throughout almost every scene, or every second one, that the movie never seems to let you go. Start to finish. From those opening bits, as the IMF team watch Ethan Hunt do his thing – mask and all – to the incredibly subtle, suspenseful moments as Ethan is being lowered into the ultra secure room at Langley a.k.a CIA Headquarters in Virginia; every important piece is shot in such a way that the maximum suspense comes out. Most of the franchise after the first movie seems to rely heavily on massive, epic-style set-pieces alongside fast paced action sequences and gunfire, as well as the odd explosion and demolition. I’m not saying that’s no good because with movies such as Mission: Impossible, you do come looking for a certain degree of explosive, big Hollywood budget type action movie stuff.
However, Brian De Palma gives us so much more. Almost each shot is deliberately framed which aids in setting the pace, and in turn the tension. Even in Ghost Protocol which I enjoyed to the fullest, there’s not the same type of tense atmosphere and tone created in any of the sequences, it’s mostly balls to the wall sort of filmmaking. Again, nothing wrong. Just different here. De Palma makes this more than another action flick, and more than a reboot of some old television series (something ALL too familiar now in 2015) – this is a genuine thriller, with mystery to boot, and there’s a bonafide sense of old school filmmaking from an old school director.
While my only complaint is mostly a bit of the acting (mainly Jon Voight who I find personally is either hit or big miss), I think the script itself is pretty solid. Lots of good twisty-turny corners and red herring-like activity going on, which fits perfectly with Brian De Palma who, as I mentioned, comes from the school of directors who pretty much worship Hitchcock. Overall, I’ve got to say this is a solid 4.5 out of 5 star film. A few things could’ve been improved on, but I think ultimately so much of this is pure excitement, thrill, and suspense/tension that it’s hard to deny how great of a film it is. Not to mention De Palma’s direction elevates this above all the general tripe we get calling itself action these days.
Naturally, there are some over-the-top elements absolutely. However, I think the way De Palma plays with everything, plus the fact the script knows exactly what it is and what it aims to do, really helps make it all so very worth it. Boasting an impressive performance by Tom Cruise, including his penchant for trying to do as much of his own stunt work as possible, Mission: Impossible is one of my all-time favourite action movies; it has everything from intensity to a drop of humour, and don’t forget there’s an expertly cultivated atmosphere at the hands of De Palma which would never have made it to the screen had this film been helmed by anyone else.
Proxy. 2014. Dir. Zack Parker.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, and Alexia Rasmussen. IFC Midnight. Unrated. 120 minutes.
Previously, I’ve seen Zack Parker’s work with his earlier film Scalene, which I actually really enjoyed. Perhaps enjoy is not the best verb to describe the experience of that film, but either way it was effective, and I knew I wanted to see more from Parker. While filmed in 2013, this didn’t hit Canada until 2014. This is by far one of the best movies I saw last year. There is no doubt. Parker provides not only several gruesome moments to make this partly a horror film, he does an excellent job of intertwining several stories into one overall plot and allowing it to flow together coherently. A lesser filmmaker might get lost trying to wrap a few stories into one thrilling plot, Parker does so with a lot of grace, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to bring up its similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Proxy starts off with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) walking home after a check-up appointment with her doctor, as she’s very far along in her pregnancy. On the way, Esther is knocked out by someone in a red hooded sweatshirt, and terribly assaulted; the attacker smashes her belly in over and over with a brick. The baby is pronounced dead, but Esther survives. Afterwards, having no real family or friends, Esther goes to support groups where she ends up becoming friends with a woman named Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who says her husband and little boy were killed by a drunk driver. However, Esther sees Melanie in a department store later yelling that her son has been kidnapped, looking for help. After Melanie leaves the store, though, Esther sees her bringing out the very alive boy to be “found”. From here, things begin to spin out of control, as Melanie is exposed, and Esther herself is not everything she truly seems.
Soon, one vicious event begins a domino effect that ultimately affects the lives of everyone involved with both Esther and Melanie.
To say anything else about the plot of this film would be to ruin the movie for anyone who has yet to see it. While I’ve said a bit, the best comes once things really kick into gear after Esther sees Melanie with her child. I honestly had no idea where Proxy would end. This is one of the few films to really throw me for a loop. This is great because the plot structure really reminds me a lot of Psycho. Whereas the Hitchcock classic begins focused on Marion Crane and then grimly switches gears when Norman Bates is introduced into the mix, Proxy also begins with a character who sort of walks us cinematically into the real plot of the film when Esther finds out her friend Melanie is a con-artist, and then everything unfolds. It’s a beautiful way to structure things.
I know there are similarities to other films, but I really believe Parker fixed in on some great Hitchcock-style techniques, specifically those in Psycho. For instance, the score is really gorgeous and dark and sneaky. There are moments where tension ratchets up because Parker has such an enormous, sweeping score that makes those emotional and tense moments come across even more effectively. Just as Hitchcock had those strings in the right places for Psycho, as does Parker here with his film. I think, these days, suspense and tension are often left by the wayside in the hands of certain directors. Parker is not one of those. He keeps things very unsettling and you’re never sure of the ground you’re treading on. This film keeps coming and coming until there’s nothing left to your nerves.
I’ve always liked Joe Swanberg, and while there are some great performances by both Anika Barön, as well as Alexa Havins, I think he really does some of the best work going on in Proxy. The story is centered on the women of the film, however, Swanberg is one of the characters most affected by everything which happens in the plot. Without ruining too much, you really see the pain in this character come through in Swanberg. He’s great at playing normal people. That probably has to do with the fact he directs his own stuff, and acts in a lot, almost constantly. He does a lot of films. And most are highly independent, so they usually go for a quite realistic approach. I think this makes Swanberg a great fit for the role. His performance is nice and subdued. The overall plot made me feel bad for his character, but his abilities as an actor make things all the more sympathetic. Really great stuff.
Alexa Havins has to be mentioned, as well. It’s impossible not to comment on her great acting. The character she plays, Melanie, is absolutely warped – beyond belief. I think the character could have easily come off much to theatrical and overblown. Havins plays this great. There are times she really comes across as a scary monster; I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there so consumed with a need for attention to the point they would do the most awful things imaginable. It’s an effective performance, and the character’s story really draws you in with Havins playing it so appropriately.
This is one of the best films from last year, but it’s also one of the better movies I’ve seen in the last decade. Especially films in the horror genre. There are plenty of wild moments, in terms of blood and otherwise, however, this film really works on a horror level like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Parker does throw in a more than acceptable amount of blood and gore. Mainly what he does is make things into a psychological nightmare. While we begin the film feeling as if certain characters are the worst of the ensemble, later events come to change those opinions, and it’s just a really interesting character piece wrapped up in horror & thriller elements. This is flawless. A great modern horror masterpiece, and I continue to wait on more great work by Zack Parker.
Panic Room. 2002. Dir. David Fincher. Screenplay by David Koepp.
Starring Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, and Patrick Bauchau. Columbia Pictures.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
I don’t really have to convince too many people of David Fincher’s abilities as a consistently admirable filmmaker. All his films are really wonderful pieces of work. Even the lesser loved Alien 3, which I personally love. Actually, I’d have to say my favourite Fincher film so far, even though Se7en and more recently Gone Girl are high up on the list, is The Game starring Michael Douglas; it’s such an amazingly tense and weird thrill ride full of paranoia and an expert performance by Douglas. No matter which film of his I watch, I always find myself in awe of at least one, or plenty more often than not, shots he chooses to use. There’s a unique quality to his filmmaking. He finds the darkness in nearly everything. Even in films outside of what I would consider his ‘norm’, like The Social Network and Gone Girl, Fincher taps into the dark nature of humanity. The way he shoots things has this very crisp and beautiful look while still having this gritty tone.
That’s also one reason his collaborations with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross has worked so well. Being a fan of Reznor particularly, the dark vibe of his music, and the ambience Ross is so good with, really adds an extra quality to the films Fincher directs. I’m really glad they’ve done several movies together so far, even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I wasn’t huge on, preferring the original over Fincher’s film – regardless, I still enjoyed it, as well as the score. These three artists definitely have some sort of common bond because their combined work is some of best collaborative work overall in film and music over the last decade or more. Maybe the greatest, I’d almost argue. Even if The Social Network wasn’t actually one of my favourite Fincher films, the score Reznor and Ross composed was one of the very top scores in any modern film from recent memory.
All that being said, The Game and Panic Room were directed by Fincher when he did a few films with scores done by legendary Canadian composer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator, Howard Shore. I decided to take a look back at Panic Room because I think, while it’s not Fincher’s best work, it is still a really great movie with a dark script and a few great performances. In particular, this is a great instance of a modern thriller focusing on two females in a frightening situation which doesn’t feel the need to follow many modern cliches. While so many modern thrillers often feel the need to throw sexual assault into situations, somehow believing this to be an appropriate way of making things more terrifying, more tense, Panic Room opts to give us a familiar situation and turn it into something new.
While the film follows what most would recognize as a formulaic-type of thriller, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Just coming out of a divorce, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) moves into a massive brownstone in New York City with her 11-year old diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). In their new home is a panic room – protected with concrete and steel, an outside phone line, as well as an incredibly state of the art security system, including many surveillance cameras. Little does Meg know, the previous owner was a reclusive millionaire who stashed $3-million in bearer bonds (short explanation: whoever holds the actual physical papers owns the money – unregistered cash in bonds essentially) within the floor safe of the panic room. The first night in their new place becomes absolute terror when three men, Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and a masked gunman named Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), break in to try and locate the bonds. Meg and Sarah manage to get themselves inside the panic room, but the three men are unwilling to just walk away without the money. Inside the room, without the outside phone line connected yet, the night moves on slowly. The men try their best to get inside the room, while Meg tries to figure a way out of what has now become their possible tomb, as well as a way to make sure Sarah doesn’t go into diabetic shock without her insulin.
This was a really tight screenplay. It’s not just dark and it doesn’t only contain a bit of a diversion from a lot of typical thrillers, there are also a few excellent bits of humour present. That’s something else I would mention about Fincher. Even in the darker bits of some of his films there are always these genuinely funny, often laugh-out-loud moments where you can’t help but smile. For instance, when the men first break into Meg’s home, she and her daughter get inside the panic room. Sarah tells her mom to use the P.A system, which she does. After Meg gives them a bit of a nervous speech, Sarah tells her to say “fuck” – Foster hilariously mumbles a loud “fuck” into the speaker. This was funny enough, but then Stewart gives her this classic look and corrects her that it should’ve been “get the fuck out of my house”, which Foster then repeats through the P.A. I thought this was a really funny moment. Especially early on. Just after we’ve started sweating, worrying Meg and Sarah might not be able to make it into the protected room, there’s this really great exchange between the two of them.
Although I’ve never really been big on Kristen Stewart, this may honestly be one of her best films. She was really natural here. Not to mention the fact she and Jodie Foster worked very well as a mother and daughter team. Their dialogue felt unforced. While the story itself didn’t exactly afford much outward affection between Meg and Sarah, the characters’ actions throughout the film really show how strong the mother-daughter relationship is between them. Although there’s still a tension in Sarah pertaining to the obviously rough divorce between her parents, you can tell she and Meg have a close relationship with one another. Foster does an excellent job as the protective mother here. There are too many thrillers with women relying on men to ultimately save them from the situations in which they find themselves. She gets the chance to be a kick ass heroine in the thriller genre through Panic Room.
Yoakam is worth mentioning. He always plays a really fun bad guy. I loved him in Sling Blade, and here he is really vile, as well. It just adds something extra to have a guy like him in here. He is funny at times while also being fairly creepy and terrifying at others. I like his chemistry with both Leto and Whitaker. It helps these guys flow naturally. Each of them has their own different personality, they aren’t just three buddies, which also really helps things along. Yoakam adds the perfect unbalanced edge to what could have been a by-the-numbers robbery. Instead, he adds a bit of chaos and savagery. Great role; Yoakam nailed this performance.
This brings me to a big point. This film sets up as one of those typical thrillers, putting women in a situation where we almost expect the intervention of some knight in shining armour, but subverts those ideas by forcing the lead female character into a situation where she has no choice except fight her way out to protect herself and her daughter. In essence, you could say it’s still treating women in the same way as most other films of this nature. However, I disagree. The plot is basically a way of forcing the character into becoming independent through a typical thriller formula. It’s also representative of Meg reasserting her independence as a single woman. At first she is this very hurt and bitter woman, most likely rightfully so, buying a big house to financially punish her ex-husband. After the events of the film, though, Meg becomes more sure of herself. In the beginning it seems as if she is being portrayed to be dependent on her husband. In the end, Meg and Sarah both show how strong they are after having survived the ordeal, as the final scene shows them both looking for a new place to live; unafraid, not needing to be protected by any men in their lives, and also Meg no longer feels the need to punish her husband. She has escaped the house and the prison of her old marriage.
While Meg is saved in the climax by a man, that doesn’t disprove what I’m trying to say here – it only goes to show there is morality still inherent in people. I don’t want to spoil too much for those who haven’t seen it, but this act by a male character doesn’t change the female independence present in Panic Room. I believe this is just another subversion of the thriller genre where things could have gone a typical route, and instead chose otherwise.
This is not a perfect film by any means. There are a few little moments I’m not quite sure of in terms of believability. Regardless, a film doesn’t have to be perfect for me to love it, or for me to feel like there is some deeper level within the film itself. There are some really interesting characters in this movie. Particularly I really enjoyed Foster, Whitaker, and Yoakam – each of these were really wonderful characters for a modern thriller. Also, Fincher always seem to have a love for Hitchcock. Between The Game and this film, the paranoia Hitchcock so loved to display in his own works come across through Fincher. Definitely a similar vibe, and even a few shots to suggest a large influence (note: opening credits feel a little similar to North by Northwest and the scene with the pipe + the neighbour is very reminiscent of Rear Window; I’ll note I didn’t immediately notice this – a cinephile friend pointed it out). Overall, this is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film. Probably one of the most underrated films under Fincher’s belt. If you love him, it’s a great piece of his filmography, especially if you’re looking for an entertaining, gritty paranoid thriller. You can do far worse. Definitely needs to be revisited by more fans of Fincher, as well as those who like to see Hitchcock’s influence find its way into modern movies.
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.
There’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.
A 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.
One 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.
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.
My 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. 1960. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.
This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).
I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.
The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.
The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.
I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.
Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.
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.
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.
When 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.
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.
My 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?
After all, we all go a little mad sometimes…