Monthly Archives: October 2011

Insidious (2011)

by Steve Habrat

In these indolent times that are plaguing Hollywood, it’s such a refreshing experience seeing a film that is not a direct remake of an older, often times superior original. It’s usually an iconic film that studios use to simply milk money from our wallets. They repackage the film, tie it up with a big CGI bow, throw in half-baked 3D, and we flock to see it because we are familiar with it. If they aren’t desecrating an old gem, they are lifting the material from a book, comic book, or graphic novel. It makes me wonder if any of these writers or suits out there in the City of Angels remotely consider picking their own brains for a good story. The genre that especially can’t seem to help itself is the horror genre. It seems that absolutely no one can come up with an original and relentlessly scary little horror flick these days. Instead, studios just look to rebooting tired franchises whose knives and machetes are showing signs of rust (Yes, I am talking about you Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th remakes!).  It seems like every year we get one scary movie that is actually effective. Last year’s stylish American remake Let Me In was a standout. The year before saw the, in my humble opinion, good but not great haunted house thrill-ride Paranormal Activity. We’ve also seen an amped up remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the colorfully blood drenched Dawn of the Dead remake, the tribute to 50’s B-movie creature features The Mist, the claustrophobic monster movie The Descent, and the outstanding British zombie flick 28 Days Later, and the based-on-true-events chiller The Mothman Prophecies. That’s basically what we have had to work with since 2002. And three of those are remakes!!

While creativity is one portion of the problem, another reason why horror ultimately ran itself into the ground was the work of two men—James Wan and Leigh Whannell. They are the culprits who graced our movie screens with the torture porn clunker Saw. They ignited a frenzy of films that shamelessly bathed in body fluids and they also sparked a line of horrendous sequels that followed. While the only notable film in the series was Saw III, they influenced Hostel, Wolf Creek, and a slew of others that were less concerned about being scary and more concerned with making you squirm. And many of them were successful at making you cover your eyes but the genuine scares were non-existent. Yet in the past few years, torture porn has made itself scarce and horror has been attempting to embrace real fear again. It’s funny that the men who reduced horror to ashes, have played Dr. Frankenstein and risen it like a phoenix. Insidious is that phoenix.

Insidious is one of the scariest movies I have seen in quite sometime and is simply one of the best horror movies in years. Yeah, I said it. And it’s also original! Sure, it’s an unholy fusion of Poltergeist, The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Amityville Horror, but these days, we have to be carful when we criticize something that attempts to break new ground. Alas, Insidious does not but it sure makes a valiant attempt. Instead, Insidious conjures up some truly hellish images that are guaranteed to linger in your head for days after witnessing them. The film follows Josh (Played by Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Played by 28 Weeks Later’s Rose Byrne) Lambert and their three children as they move into their new home. All seems well until strange noises are heard throughout the home, objects are moved, and one of their children, Dalton, falls into a coma (Ya know, the usual!). But after a seriously spooky night in their home, they begin to wonder if the reason their son has fallen into this enigmatic coma is supernatural rather than medical. The Lambert’s call in a group of paranormal investigators who quickly determine that Dalton is trapped in a ghostly parallel universe called The Further.

If it sounds like you’ve heard all of this before, you have, as Wan has crafted a loving tribute to the horror films of old. He throws reference after reference at the audience and one could almost make the film into a game of spot that horror reference. It’s all quite fun but it’s the 180-degree shift in the quality of the work here that is really quite impressive. Wan’s chiaroscuro industrial aesthetic still lingers but the film itself is much more patient than Saw. It feels like there is discipline here and I think much of that may stem from the producers who were also responsible for Paranormal Activity. There is no over-reliance on blood and guts (The film is rated PG-13) and instead relies on loud bangs, growls, shadowy figures, and sudden music blasts to make you soil your shorts. But Wan also fries your nerves through some seriously haunting images; most striking of all is a shadowy apparition standing behind a baby’s crib and a demon lurking in the corner of poor Dalton’s room. Even Whannell’s script provides a few blasts of heebie-jeebies. One scene includes a character describing a dream that she had and all I will say is that it turned my insides to ice cubes. It gives me chills just think back to it! This scene demonstrates the beauty of your imagination getting the best of you.

What’s even more impressive about the film is the performances that Wan manages to capture. He has positioned two very talented actors at the core of the film and it doesn’t hurt either that Barbara Hershey (Black Swan) shows up as a concerned grandmother. Lin Shaye pops up and provides a fine performance as the psychic Elise Rainier. While sometimes the acting does dip and head into cheesy territory mostly from his child actors, it’s forgivable. What does end up hurting the film and causes it to loose some of its momentum is the final act, which falls victim to the you-never-show-the-monster syndrome. It causes the film to descend into the fun house realm. Someone should have explained to Wan that it’s what you don’t see that ends up being the most horrifying.

While the ending suffers a bit, the film is still astonishing in how uncompromising it is in its attempts to send you screaming from the theater. It will get you at least once. The film sadly chooses the same path that the final minutes of Paranormal Activity did and embrace the CGI trickery. In Insidious, however, you overlook it because the final minutes of this demon are unpredictable. Just get ready for an I-did-not-see-that-coming twist. But the first three fourths of the film is so good, that Insidious haunts its way onto the must see list. The film also redeems any potential talent that James Wan and Leigh Whannell have and it leaves me intrigued for what they do next. I will leave you with is this: Any film that makes me walk into a darkened room and quickly flip on the light is one you have to see (Seriously, it really did that to me.). Insidious is an inspired creep-out that will haunt your dreams. Grade: A

Insidious is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Bates Motel (1987)

Maude isn't the old lady in the window...

by Charles Beall

There is a little-known (and thankfully little-seen) TV-movie/pilot based on the Psycho franchise called Bates Motel.  This was to be an anthology-type series, much like The Twilight Zone, with plot lines revolving around the guests who check into a refurbished Bates Motel for the night.  The movie aired on NBC in 1987 and thankfully was never picked up for series.

This movie is BAD.  No, I take that back- “bad” would be a compliment.  This movie is UNWATCHABLE.  Yes, I know I have said I like to give movies a fair shake but this one does not deserve it.  The plot revolves around a freakshow named Alex (Bud Court) who inherits the Bates Motel from his friend in the asylum, Norman Bates.  When he is released, Alex wants to reopen his friend’s motel and help rebuild its image.  How noble!  With the help of a sincerely fucking annoying tomboy named Willie (Lori Petty), Alex proceeds to reopen the Bates Motel, but, Mrs. Bates (who is now named Gloria!  WTF?!) will have none of that.  So, “scary” shit happens, the motel is reopened, a girl tries to kill herself in the bathtub, blah, blah, blah.

As I stated, this movie is unwatchable.  Sincerely, this is a horrible, horrible movie that doesn’t even deserve to be aired on midnight television.  It doesn’t even deserve to be called campy- you have to earn that.  This movie does not deserve to exist; it is lazy, stupid, and an insult to the brand of Psycho.  You can check it out on YouTube if you’d like, but be aware, this is 90 minutes of your life that you will sincerely be pissed you wasted.

I’ll leave the last word to Anthony Perkins (from the excellent documentary The Psycho Legacy)…

Grade: F

There is nothing scarier than a tie…

VS.


Hello Boys and Ghouls,

It appears that we have a tie in our Reader’s Choice Halloween Horror Film Review. Now until October 26th, we will have this small poll that allows you to choose between The Shining and The Evil Dead. It will be a real spookshow! Get to voting because you don’t have long. This is YOUR chance to control the content of Anti-Film School and we want to hear from you. We hope you are all having a ghoulish Halloween!

-Anti-Film School

Psycho (1998)

Sorry, Anne. Portia de Rossi is way hotter.

by Charles Beall

I don’t like Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho, yet I respect it.  We can bitch and moan about the sanctity of remaking a classic and the hollowed ground Van Sant trampled on, but that won’t get us anywhere.  Psycho ’98  is an experiment, pure and simple, as to whether or not a great film can be remade shot-for-shot (albeit with a few teaks) and it still have the same impact, Van Sant has proved that it cannot.  His experiment was a success.

I find it hard to review this Psycho; it has the same plot as the original and has the same, well, everything.  In a necessary documentary on the DVD, Van Sant states that he looks at the screenplay of Psycho as any other classic written work that can be performed, much like a Shakespeare play.  The actors are all different, and I give him kudos for thinking out of the typecast.  However, we the audience are at an unfair advantage (and are unfair to judge Van Sant) because the original is so engrained in our minds that it is literally impossible not to compare this film with the original.

Sorry, Vince. You're just too cool for Norman.

So there you have it- I don’t know what to say about this Psycho.  As a film, it doesn’t work because we know and love the original; it is comparing apples to oranges.  But, you have to respect the experiment that Van Sant performed.  It is interesting, and quite indeed fascinating, but it just does not work.

Grade: D+ (but an A for effort!)

Tomorrow, we wrap up the Psycho franchise with a made-for-TV movie that I do not find fit to wipe my ass with: Bates Motel.

VOTE! And a word on Halloween Safety…

Another quick word on Halloween safety…

Now that you know how to stay safe on Halloween, you should cast your final votes for what horror movie you want to see reviewed on Halloween. VOTING ENDS TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT! Click Here to cast your final votes. The Evil Dead is in the lead. Is that what YOU want to see?

NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached video.

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

by Charles Beall

Collect three sequels, get the fourth one free!

There is a good movie in Psycho IV: The Beginning that is dying to get out, yet never does.  The premise (for the fourth film in a series) is promising: what was life with Mother like?  The problem is that there is a lot of good material here, but the film is so campy that you can’t take it seriously.

It is interesting to look at the progression of the story of Norman Bates through the Psycho series.  We know that the original Psycho is a more “serious” film“ (albeit with a lot of dark humor), as is Psycho II, and to an extent, Psycho III, but this installment walks a fine line of seriousness and camp, falling into the latter category.  This is a shame, because with Psycho IV, we have a screenplay by Psycho’s original screenwriter Joseph Stefano, another spirited performance from Anthony Perkins, and enthusiastic direction from Mick Garris.  What went wrong?

The film starts off with a solid concept.  Late night radio host Fran Ambrose (the amazing and underrated CCH Pounder) has a show dealing with boys who kill their mothers, and of course, a now married and “rehabilitated” Norman Bates calls in.  This is an instance where the movie flails between the serious and camp.  There is potential and Pounder and Perkins take their roles seriously, yet the direction of Garris seems to take the performances to a campier level.  Through his phone call, we meet Normans’s mother (the hot Olivia Hussey) through narratives about their life together, with young Norman played by Henry Thomas of E.T. fame.  I give credit for Garris for choosing Hussey to play Mrs. Bates; she is gorgeous and not at all the image one would think of for Mrs. Bates.  However, Hussey camps up her performance and I believe it is because of Garris’ direction.

That isn’t to say that Psycho IV isn’t well-made.  The film is bursting with color, giving an idea of life back in the era at the time of the original film.  But, much like Norman Bates himself, this film is at war with itself.  It doesn’t know how to treat its material, and instead of being firmly on one path, the movie straddles the serious and the campy, leaving this viewer satisfied to an extent, but disappointed at what could’ve been.

Grade: C

Tomorrow…ugh, Gus van Sant’s Psycho remake.  Although, this is a pretty sweet trailer.

Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Do YOU want to see The Mothman Prophecies reviewed on Halloween? Or how about 28 Days Later? Click on the poll link under Category Cloud and cast your vote for zombies or the true story chiller. This is YOUR chance to control what gets posted on the site! VOTING CLOSES TOMORROW NIGHT! How do you want Anti-Film School to scare you the day all the scary creatures come out to play?

NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailers.

Psycho III (1986)

by Charles Beall

I'd like you to take a guess where my hands are right now.

Psycho III was a mandatory sequel, much like all the Halloweens, Friday the 13ths, and Nightmare on Elm Streets of the mid- to late-1980s.  However, mandatory does not equate to necessary and Psycho III (as well as its predecessor) does not escape this label.  However, if we are going to have it, we might as well make it a good one and I believe that there was one person who had this belief: Anthony Perkins.

As I stated in my review yesterday, Psycho II wasn’t entirely a bad movie, per se, but an uneven one.  So when the call to Tony Perkins came from Universal about the plans for another installment of Psycho, I believe he thought that it should be done right this time around.  And who better to direct a film such as this than Norman Bates himself?  The end result is actually a film that stands on its own (albeit in the shadow of the original) and I feel the credit is all due to the direction of Perkins.

What we have in Psycho III is an amateurish, yet brave film that attempts to stand above the crop of slasher sequels it is a member of.  The film picks up about a month after the events in Psycho II, but even before we get into the mundane and quiet existence of Norman Bates, we are treated to an interesting prologue.  In fact, Norman Bates doesn’t show up until about fifteen minutes into this 90-minute film.  Over a black screen, we hear the words, “there is no God!” screamed out by a distressed nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwid).  She is kicked out of the convent after a Vertigo-esque incident and hitchhikes with a guy named Duke (Jeff Fahey), with the two of them (via separate means) eventually ending up at the Bates Motel.  Also thrown into the mix is a pesky reporter (a poorly-written part played too over-the-top by Roberta Maxwell) who is on to Norman and the suspicious occurrences that happened in Psycho II.  Again, like its predecessor, Psycho III has a handful of main characters that drive the film’s story and underlying themes without being too overbearing.

Bitch, I'm taking Psycho to another dimension...the third dimension (as in making an attempt to make a decent movie, none of that gimmicky crap that involves a third movie in an unnecessary franchise being in 3D).

An interesting theme that is, I believe, the main drive of this film is the theme of redemption.  Maureen is trying to redeem herself after the events at the beginning of the film and Norman is trying to redeem himself from everything he has become.  They are both trapped in their lives, and much like the connection Norman had to Marion in the original, he has one with Maureen and what is unique about Psycho III is that it expands on the human connection we saw between Norman and Marion.  Norman realizes this connection and tries oh-so-hard to develop it and break free, but, alas, someone is holding him back…

Yes there is gore because this is the mid-80s and a horror film is not allowed to not have it.  Yet one may be surprised about how tame Psycho III is and how legitimate it tries to be as an exploration of the mind of Norman Bates.  Those who are killed are not the main characters (at least in the run-up to the finale) but are rather filler for the demands of audiences who thirst for buckets of blood.  Take out the murder scenes and what you have is, at its core, a psychological character study.  As I stated earlier, Anthony Perkins is really the only one who knows Norman Bates, and much like his on-screen counterpart, it was hard for Perkins to break away from this typecast.

Psycho III is incredibly personal; Norman is wrestling with his identity and trying to break away from his past.  However, he will always be Norman Bates.  I believe Tony Perkins felt the same way and tried to convey his innermost feelings about playing Norman Bates through the character of Norman Bates.  What comes to mind when you hear the name Anthony Perkins?  Yep, Norman Bates.  Both the actor and the character are trapped, for lack of a better term, with this persona and whatever they try to do, they can never break free.

Wait, so tell me this again. You're going to remake the original in twelve years and have Vince Vaughn fill my shoes? WTF, dude!

The ending to Psycho III, while at face value is corny, is actually quite tragic.  Norman cannot break free of Mother.  Anthony Perkins can’t break free of Norman Bates.  Norman is humanized in this film to an extent that we have never seen a villain in film played before.  There is a force that has taken hold of him, but he just isn’t strong enough to break away, and when you think he has, Mother just shows up again.

Psycho III is the best of the Psycho sequels for the sheer fact that it was directed by, essentially, Norman Bates.  Perkins feels for the dilemma Bates is in he because he too is typecast in the real world as the psychopath.  This unique aspect is what makes Psycho III work regardless of its flaws (and there are quite a few).  On the surface, it is seen as just another horror sequel, but deep down, it is actually a moving film about trying to break free of the demons that haunt us and the redemption that so many aspire to receive, but ultimately fail to achieve.   All of the credit goes to Anthony Perkins who, unfortunately, did not direct another film; he was a legitimate talent behind the camera and it is unfortunate that he was unable to direct again.  However, I hope that viewers delve into Psycho III and sincerely listen to what Perkins is trying to say.  One may see a slasher film, whereas I see an autobiographical piece of a character and the actor who plays him.

Grade: B+


Tomorrow, we milk the Psycho franchise even more with the made-for-TV film Psycho IV: The Beginning to find out what Mother was really like (she was actually kind of hot!)

Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…


The Evil Dead (1981)

Poltergeist (1982)

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Do YOU want to see The Evil Dead reviewed on Halloween? Or how about Poltergeist? Perhaps The Blair Witch Project? Click on the poll link under Category Cloud and vote for one of the supernatural horror flicks to be reviewed on the day the supernatural comes out to play. This is YOUR chance to interact with our site and control what gets posted. Hurry, because the voting is only open for two more hellish days. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailers.

Psycho II (1983)

by Charles Beall

It could be worse...Vince Vaughn could have the lead!

One must approach 1983’s Psycho II with an open mind.  That is, there will never be a worthy follow-up to Psycho; that film exists and there is nothing that can top it.  However, one can wonder what Norman Bates has been up to since his dirty little secret was discovered and that is precisely what Psycho II attempts to accomplish.

The film was released in 1983, a decade wrought with slasher films.  Indeed, Psycho II arrives right at the tail end of the beginning of the gore decade and you can see it trying oh-so-hard not to be a slasher movie (but more on that later).  What we have here is a film that respects its predecessor, but also tries to break out of its shadow by imitating the film it is trying so hard not to be (but really, really wants to).

The film starts off with the original shower scene, easing into the main titles while looking at the famous Bates mansion.  Totally pointless, if I do say so- if you’re trying to break away from the original, you don’t start off your film with one of the most iconic scenes in film history.  The shower sequence serves no purpose to the audience.  What image comes to you immediately when you hear Psycho?  A  shower?  Precisely.  One must trust the audience.

As the catchy tagline so cleverly states, it has been 22 years since Norman Bates was incarcerated and we are witnessing his parole hearing as Psycho II truly opens.  Bates (awkwardly played again by the legendary Anthony Perkins) has been deemed “restored to sanity” by the State of California and he is hereby released.  “But what about his victims, don’t they have any say?” asks Lila Loomis (played by a deliciously bland Vera Miles), presenting a petition to the courts against his release.  Her argument doesn’t hold up, and boy is she angry!

Now, what happened the last time I went sneaking about this place?

Norman is escorted back to his house on the hill by his psychiatrist (Robert Loggia), where he is immediately haunted by, you guessed it, Mama Bates.  As part of his release, Norman is now employed at the diner down the road (the one Norman suggest Marion go to on that stormy night?) as a cook’s assistant.  There he meets a waitress named Mary (an annoying Meg Tilly) whom he strikes up a friendship with.  After a falling out with her boyfriend, Norman invites her to stay at his motel for the night, free of charge.  She reluctantly agrees and walks home with Norman, eventually ending up spending the night in the house after Norman gets into a fight with the motel manager (an awesome Dennis Franz) that has been keeping an eye on the place.

This is the basic setup of Psycho II and it is one of the reasons why it works- to an extent.  We are focused on a core group of characters, and there are really only two for the bulk of the film, Norman and Mary.  The premise is promising, as Norman begins to receive calls from Mother and he slowly feels that he is losing his grip on reality.  Mary attempts to be his rock (or pretends to attempt to), which brings a more human aspect to Norman than we have ever seen before.  Perkins is such a brilliant actor, and even though some of the dialogue written for him is weak, he tries his best to humanize Norman in a way that hasn’t been seen before.  The slow pacing of the film allows the character to develop even more, drawing the audience into the conflicted mind of Norman Bates.  Then, of course, there is the twist that is a bit obvious, yet still clever for a film such as this (a sequel to a classic horror film).

"God, I hope my mother doesn't walk in," thought Norman

Unfortunately, the film begins to unravel in the final act and the bodies begin to pile up as demanded by the 80s “horror” genre.  Then, something totally comes out of left field, something so absurd that it nearly brings down the entire film (but obviously sets it up for Part III).

Psycho II is indeed admirable.  Its intentions are of the purest form; director Richard Franklin respects the source material and tries his best to make it a solid mystery/psychological thriller like its predecessor.  However, the ending to the film seems tagged on at the last minute and brings down everything the film was so sincerely trying to attempt.

Psycho II is not a worthy follow-up to the original Psycho– there will never be a film that can accomplish that.  However, if you throw all of your preconceived notions aside and give it an honest chance, you will be pleasantly surprised if not disappointed at what could have been.

Grade: C+ (but an “A” for effort!)

Tomorrow, Norman Bates is back to normal, but mother is off her rocker…again.  Check in, relax, and take a shower with the directorial debut of Anthony Perkins, Psycho III.