Tagged Classic Horror

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!

William Friedkin Gets to the Pulse of Fear with The Exorcist

 

The Exorcist. 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Warner Brothers
Rated 18A. 132 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it.  Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realises what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism. This is the plot of the film. From there, the wild bits begin.1380897081_1What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features. The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist.” This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound  – explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed – and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew. It’s amazing.
One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things. First, is a moment where Reagan (Blair) attacks a man.  Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s POV. This is brilliance right here. Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit. We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot— it’s the best thing ever. Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film. I should’ve known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways. Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.Exorcist11Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting. At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom— for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots. It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman (D.P.) talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it’s an absolute treat! These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.
Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes. Wild. I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, to actually see it and watch the process is something special. Roizman has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set, which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time, are great to hear. These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.Exorcist8One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it. Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies. William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative. Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film. He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it, I understood anyways, though it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason,” and having it match up with what you thought. Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of the U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality. Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home. The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point. Burstyn’s one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests. Not many could pull of such a horror role. Burstyn’s so wonderfully natural here.
Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl. Incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did. On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her. Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing. You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role. Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.1380821626_1The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect. So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that. You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist. I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 (the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!). It is really worth it if you enjoy the film. You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade. Those alone are worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.
Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now. If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this. When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old. It didn’t really affect me at the time. However, I still enjoyed it a lot. Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it. For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke. I couldn’t shake it. Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world. The performances and the effects, it all got to me. It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.
And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?” then you know what? Check your pulse. Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.

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.