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Wicked Witches: Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria #1

by Steve Habrat

One of the most famous directors working within the horror genre is without question Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. Starting out as a film critic, Argento moved on to developing the story for Sergio Leone’s 1968 spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West before finally settling behind the camera in 1970 to create his own “giallo” thrillers and horror films. It’s safe to say that he had quite the career before 1977. After delivering a handful of well-received and expertly crafted horror outings (1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, 1971’s The Cat o’ Nine Tails, and 1975’s Deep Red), Argento released Suspiria, which has gone on to become the most popular film of his directorial career. Considered by many (including me) to be one of the scariest motion pictures of all time, Suspiria is best described as a glammed up horror film drenched in neon lighting and set to one of the most unforgettable scores in movie history. It’s extravagant beyond belief as it transports the viewer into a surreal funhouse of witches and demons waiting to cast their ghastly spells on anyone who stumbles upon their secrets. While spots of Suspiria are beginning to show their age, the film still stands as a terrifying work of genius, featuring a number of death scenes and demonic surprises that remain beautiful and brutal in all of their flamboyant fury.

Suspiria begins with American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion (played by Jessica Harper) touching down in Germany to study at a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg. After arriving very late at night, Suzy is turned away from the school doors by a mysterious woman on the intercom. Before hopping back in her taxi, a young blonde girl bursts through the door, shouts a message to someone standing just inside the door, and then bolts off into the night. Perplexed, Suzy makes her way into town to check into a hotel for the night. The next day, Suzy arrives back at the school to meet with vice directress Madame Blanc (played by Joan Bennet) and head instructor Miss Tanner (played by Alida Valli). Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner take Suzy around to meet some of the students and figure out living arrangements. After several attempts to get Suzy to live at the school, Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner agree to let Suzy live off campus with a student named Olga (played by Barbara Magnolfi). The next day, Suzy has a bizarre run-in with the school cook, who appears to cast a spell on Suzy that causes her to fall ill. After fainting the middle of her class, Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner move Suzy’s belongings into the school and insist that she stay in a dormitory under their care. After several more strange occurrences, Suzy and her new friend, Sara (played by Stefania Casini), begin to suspect that the school may be a front for a coven of witches.

Argento opens Suspiria on an extremely intense note, with a surreal double murder at the hands of a hairy demon that always remains just off screen (a smart move on Argento’s part). After the demon brutally stabs one girl to death to the point where the audience catches a glimpse of her still-beating heart, she is then dropped through a stained-glass skylight and left to hang in the middle of the grand lobby. Her horrified friend, who has been frantically banging on doors in an attempt to get her seemingly non-existent neighbors to help, happens to be underneath the skylight when the shards of glass plunge to the ground, leaving her a sliced up mess. We’ve stepped into a nightmare world complimented by demonic “la-la-la’s,” chiming lullaby bells, and hair-raising shrieks of  “WITCH” by the progressive Italian rock group Goblin. The architecture and the lighting schemes are all embellished, with harsh splashes of red and blue illuminating the screen like Satan’s lava lamp. It’s a surprisingly pretty smear of color and horror that warns us that we have left the comforts of the real world far, far behind. Despite being in the middle of a massive apartment complex, there is no one around to save these girls from this rampaging force signified by Goblin’s chilling electronic score. You’d think that all this commotion would draw the attention of someone, but we’re on our own in this glowing witchcraft realm. This is only the beginning, as Argento plans to keep us feeling hopeless for the entire duration of the film.

Suspiria #2

Argento guides the dreamlike horror from the baroque apartment complex to the glittery walls the ballet dance school. With its exterior painted up in bright red and decorated with gold gargoyles, the school possesses a menacing look in broad daylight—it’s a satanic castle dripping with blood and crawling with demons. Inside, the walls are either glittery blues or glowing reds, with slanting windows, a gold staircase railing that seems to be melting on the heads of our characters, and some of the ugliest wall art you may ever see. It’s a world where maggots suddenly rain from the ceiling, disembodied raspy breathing can be heard behind a curtain, and random rooms packed with razor wire patiently wait to claim their next victim. You have to marvel at the amazing set design, even if it is an interior decorators worst nightmare. The surreal supernatural atmosphere also roars to life within these halls, the camera taking the POV of a creeping force that is brought to life through Goblin’s alien score. When an unseen tormentor with a straight razor terrorizes one character through the school halls, no student dares peak their head out of their dormitory to see if their help is needed. Is the whole school in on this? Is this attack a dream? Argento gives no clear explanation other than there are forces beyond our understanding at work here and sudden death lurks just around the glowing red corner. And somehow, that makes the events all the scarier.

With the set design and vivid lighting schemes stealing most of the thunder, you almost have to see Suspiria twice to pay attention to the near perfect performances. Jessica Harper is delicate and subtle as our curious heroine who notices that something is amiss about her new school. She wanders cautiously through the halls and dodges the wandering teachers keeping an eye out for anyone who dares snoop around. Bennet puts on a caring face as Madame Blanc, the vice headmistress who seems to overflow with motherly concern for her students. Alida Valli wears a frozen forced grin as the stern instructor Miss Tanner, a woman who undoubtedly has a nasty side just waiting to emerge at the right time. Stefania Casini is full of theories and suspicion about the rumored directress that is supposedly away from the school. Flavio Bucci turns in a sympathetic performance as Daniel, the blind pianist who is booted from the school after his seeing-eye dog is accused of attacking Madame Blanc’s young nephew. Well-known genre star Udo Kier also turns up in a small role as Dr. Frank Mandel, who provides Suzy with a bit of unnerving background knowledge about her new school.

With such a stunning opening that packs blood-curdling gore and scares, you’d think that Argento wouldn’t be able to top his magnificent commencement, but he does every single step of the way. Halfway through the film, you will gasp in horror as one character is attacked in a wide-open square, and the climax of the film will have you watching through your fingers as Suzy pushes deep into the bowels of the school to confront a coven of witches. With the suspense turned up as high as it will go, Argento then springs not one, but two monsters on us that will certainly have your knees knocking together. As far as flaws go, the most glaring would have to be the dubbing that was added in post-production. There is one moment near the end where the dialogue shoots high for evil, but it doesn’t have the impact that it should. Overall, other than the spotty dubbing in a few places, Suspiria is a shining example of demonic horror done by a man who knows how to simultaneously make you cringe in pain and shriek in horror. The Goblin score sticks in your brain like a splinter and you won’t be able to peel your eyes off the flowing string of shimmering images that are presented to you. Suspiria casts a wicked spell that will haunt you for weeks.

Grade: A+

Suspiria is available on DVD.

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The Shining (1980)

by Steve Habrat

You never forget seeing The Shining for the first time. You never shake the images of a pair of young girls coaxing Danny to “come play” with them. Or how about Jack crashing a ghost party and plotting with a dead waiter on how to dispose of his shining son? One of my favorites is the looping shot of a sea of blood pouring out of an elevator door that slowly opens. The walls and halls will run red with blood, murder, insanity, and terror. And “Heeeerrrreeees JOHNNY”? In many ways, The Shining is the definitive haunted house film, one that Stephen King criticized for not following his famed story line for line. Under the obsessive and perfectionist direction of one of the greatest directors to ever make films, Stanley Kubrick constructs and delivers a labyrinth of bone-rattling images and a slow burn narrative that will stay with you even if it does not follow the horror author’s epic tale. It will freeze your blood.

The greatness of The Shining is often overshadowed by the iconic performance from Jack Nicholson, who checks in to the Overlook Hotel as Jack Torrence, who on the surface appears to be a content family man, a teacher and writer who is exhaustively searching for inspiration on a new project. He applies to be the caretaker for the said hotel, tickled by the idea of complete seclusion. Churning below the surface is a raging alcoholic who has hurt his young song Danny (Played by Danny Lloyd) in the past after a night of heavy drinking. Jack’s loyal, cooing wife Wendy (Played by Shelley Duvall) also accompanies Jack to the hotel, rendered breathless by the natural beauty of the structure, which is also said to be built on an Indian burial ground. In the job interview, Jack is informed that there have been ghostly encounters in the lush hotel and a few years previous, another caretaker seemed to snap from cabin fever and went on a killing rampage, chopping up his two young daughters and his wife, then proceeding to stick a shotgun in his mouth and blow his own head off. Jack waves off the story, but soon after arriving, Danny has a telepathic conversation with the head chef of the Overlook, Dick Hallorann (Played by Scatman Crothers). Dick explains to Danny the significance of this gift, called “shining” and explains to him that he is also sensitive to the paranormal. As the family stays the harsh winter in the hotel, Jack begins to slowly loose his grip on reality and he begins to embrace the anger that lurks inside of him. The ghostly apparitions also start making themselves known, terrorizing Danny at every turn. As the winter storm howls outside, Wendy begins devising a plan to get Danny and herself to safety, away from dangerous Jack who seems to want to join insidious ghosts who reside at the Overlook.

When watching a film by Kubrick, it’s easy to recognize that Kubrick himself is in complete control of what we are seeing. Every shot has been labored over and has been methodically illustrated, seeing only what we are meant to see, and it signifies something, sometimes that thing is only known by Kubrick himself. Sometimes the shot seems to be a psychological photograph; sometimes it’s dabbling with the surreal. Whatever the shot is, it is always orderly. There never seems to be input from any other individual. It’s strictly Kubrick’s mind at play. The surreal order is creepy in itself, suggesting normalcy, but it’s the ghostly visions that pack the icy punch. They are the grotesque, unseen side to order. Take the scene in room 237, where a nude woman emerges from the bathtub and embraces Jack. The bathroom posses a clean, grounded look, only strange because of it’s uncanny color scheme. She waltzes toward him and kisses the deranged Jack. When he glances at the mirror, he sees the beautiful woman is actually a rotting corpse of an old woman cackling at Jack’s horror. Kubrick suggests here and throughout The Shining that normalcy is always mirrored by unpredictable horror. There are two sides to everything. What we perceive as common and what stares back unseen.

What we are really here for is the terror, and yes, we could deconstruct Kubrick’s nightmare all day, debating what everything means. The film will cause a few sleepless nights the way Kubrick springs terrifying visions on the viewer. Sometimes, he only shows us a terrified face, eyes bulging, rolling back in the head, accompanied by blasting rattles and shrieking musical blasts. It’s jump scares without being cheap. We don’t expect it, but Kubrick isn’t interested in simply startling us. While watching a documentary on the making of the recent horror film Insidious, James Wan discusses his use of jump scares in his film, arguing that while the film is heavily reliant on this technique to frighten, the way he applies it is always followed through. There is no gotcha moment or hollow spook. A ghostly visit, a strange specter, or any other apparition that creeps us out always accompanies the blast of music. There is never the fake scare where someone’s boyfriend jumps from behind a corner, doorway, etc. Part of me thinks he lifted this technique from Kubrick, who always blindsides us with an unnerving image. Two little girls block Danny from riding his big wheel through the twisting halls of the Overlook. There is a sudden flash of the girls dead in the same hallway with blood splattered all over the walls. You can’t argue that Kubrick surprised and then followed through.

The Shining is also bloodcurdling because of Nicholson’s ranting, flailing performance. He’s all unhinged grins and bogus reassurance that he doesn’t want to hurt Wendy; he just wants to bash her brains in! Talk about making every hair on your body stand at attention. He lumbers through the hallways, dragging an axe and hacking at doors to locate and chop up Wendy. Danny, in a trance-like state wields a knife and writes REDRUM on doorways. The fright comes from every angle as Wendy desperately attempts to hold everything together. Pretend everything is normal! But how can you when your son croaks, “REDRUM” and shows you a glimmering blade? The film climaxes in an iced over chase through a fogged hedge maze that, once again, mirrors the characters journey through the Overlook structure. It’s a maze of panic, madness, and bereavement.

The Shining makes exquisite use of its secluded location, promising no way out for the characters that inhabit it. The twist ending also promises to give the viewer the willies while turning the wheels of the brain. It’s an obsessive nightmare that is perfect to watch on Halloween. It has it all: deranged killers, ghosts, ghouls, corpses, and more. It’s Kubrick’s funhouse after all, and boy can he construct a house of horrors. He proved that he could do every genre and do it professionally and with confident expertise. A classic of the genre, massively influential, and a must-see for Nicholson’s performance, The Shining is a true, visionary work of art. It stands as a psychological puzzle that may never be solved and that is rewarding on multiple viewings. It reveals more and more each time you sit through it. That is filmmaking at its finest. Ranking as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, The Shining is as warped and chic as horror gets. Grade: A+

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve…Pt. 2

by Steve Habrat

Part 2 is here, boys and ghouls! Here are five more horror films that will have you dying of fright! They sure spooked me!

20.) The Mist (2007)

            To judge Frank Darabont’s 2007 creature feature by it’s cover and basic premise alone would be an incredibly gross error on your part. I am here to inform you that it’s like the 1950s best kept sci-fi secret! And it’s actually an A-list film masquerading as B-movie absurdity. Aiming its focus on a mysterious, otherworldly mist that floods the streets and traps a group of people in a grocery store, the mist brings with it insects that look like they have been spit out from the depths of hell. And these insects bring lots and lots of hell indeed. They dispatch the desperate citizens with incredibly savage brutality. As for the film itself, think Alien smashed with Dawn of the Dead with the artful approach of 28 Days Later. Do I have your attention yet? If that’s not enough to convince you to see it, it features an incredibly chilling performance from Marcia Gay Henderson as an end-of-days-is-here Bible nut who may actually be more dangerous than the man-eating bugs. It features an end so shocking and devastating, you will be shaken to your core. The bugs will make your skin crawl and then your muscles too right of your bones. And on the DVD, you can actually watch it in glorious black and white. If you’re not scrambling to add this to your instant-que on Netflix, you should be.

19.) Nosferatu (1922)

A word of advice for all you Twilight fans out there: If you LOVE vampires, like, so much, then you should do yourself a favor and seek out the roots of vampires in cinema!!! Oh, and you may actually discover a beautiful and haunting horror film in the process. F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist silent film is the first portrayal of Dracula, but due to certain circumstances, it had to be renamed. Either way, Nosferatu will awe you with its gothic style (It’s like a Tim Burton flick, kids!). While I know most of you are already fairly familiar with the appearance of Count Orlok, it’s worth your time to seek the film out for it’s dreamlike imagery that will creep its way into your dreams. You may just keep your eyes on the shadows in your room in the middle of night! Actually scarier than Dracula, it’s does exactly what The Phantom of the Opera did, it forces you to fill in the sound effects. You paint the images in your head. And the images you are not left to create on your own are some of the most iconic in the history of film. Being a big fan of this film, I recommend you make it a double feature with The Phantom!

18.) Seven (1995)

Before EVERYONE was talking about that Facebook movie, The Social Network, David Fincher spun a film noirish nightmare about a serial killer who chooses his victims by their violations of the seven deadly sins. Bleak even in the landscape, which is an unidentified city where it rains more than it does in Seattle, it establishes and maintains the feeling that no one gets out of this scenario alive or untouched by evil. And this is all waaaayyyyy before its devastating conclusion. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait until you get a load of the climax. While the gruesome murders will keep you busy trying to keep the last meal you ate before watching this safely in your stomach, try to keep it on simply to marvel at Kevin Spacey’s unforgettably calm, cool, and calculating monster John Doe. It’s his performance alone that anchors this doom-drenched masterpiece confidently in the waters of truly unforgettable.

17.) Targets (1968)

Oh what a shame it is that many people have never heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 film that is loosely based off the atrocities committed by real-life serial killer Charles Whitman.  While ultimately an exploration of the death of the fantastical movie monster and the emergence of the everyday monster, the premise still manages to be alarming relevant in the world we live in today. And the film has aged with magnificent grace! Following two storylines, one follows Boris Orloff (played awesomely by monster movie legend Boris Karloff) who is starting to realize that his monster movies are beginning to be old hat. On the other side of town, All-American Bobby decides to murder his family and sets out on a killing spree armed with several sniper rifles and a number of other assorted firearms. Sound chilling? It is. Especially when Bobby casually eats his lunch while brutally killing innocent civilians. The film leaves the viewer with the unsettling feeling that every moment could be your last. The scariest part of all is that fact that there is no motive. That someone could simply entertain himself or herself by committing mass murder is one of the most chilling things imaginable.

16.) Halloween (1978)

I will give Rob Zombie credit, his remake of the John Carpenter classic and last year’s sequel where littered with his cinematic fingerprints and where truly his own visions. Splattered with his trademark hillbilly horror and copious amounts of blood, it definitely strayed from Carpenter’s original vision, which was an exploration of pure evil. But it’s the 1978 original that will forever stand as the crown jewel. Everyone is familiar with it and our antagonist, Michael Myers, would send both Freddy and Jason heading for the hills. Yup, he’s THAT scary. Dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and wearing a whited-out William Shatner mask, Michael dispatches teens with surprisingly no remorse and shockingly little bloodshed. And the whole time you will be begging to know why. Carpenter gleefully turns the other way and leaves you right in the middle of Michael’s wrath. It’s what the film refuses to reveal that is truly terrifying and we are left to contemplate what this embodiment of evil ultimately means. Though it’s had countless imitators and sequels, it is still the undisputed king of teen slasher flicks.

15.) Audition (1997)

I can finally breathe a giant sigh of relief for two reasons: 1.)  Hollywood FINALLY realized that they are incapable of making good American versions of Japanese horror films. Sure, The Ring was pretty good, but seriously, every other one SUCKED! The Ring 2? Ummm, did you see that scene with the deer? The Grudge? Come on! The Eye? Yawn. The Grudge 2? You gotta be fucking kidding me. Pulse? No, you’re not even trying anymore, Hollywood. So, my point is that Hollywood seems to have moved on from defecating all over some fairly interesting horror films from another country. This leads me to my next reason: 2.) Audition was never plucked from the J-Horror pack to be remade. THANK GOD! A heartbreaking love story with some seriously dark and twisted stuff lurking beneath the surface, the climax of this film is like a sucker punch right to the gut. It will knock you right off your feet, and then proceed to chop them off with razor wire. Following an older Japanese man who in the wake of his wife’s death holds an audition for young women to attempt to grab his eye is quite a chiller indeed. If while watching it you’re thinking to yourself: “Steve, why on earth did you say this is scary?” Be patient. The climax is ranks among some of the most horrifying stuff ever committed to celluloid. Murder and torture are just the beginning. And it’s torture that will make you cringe. And possibly upset in ways you never thought possible. But most importantly, scare the absolute shit right out of you. If that’s not enough, wait for the man who’s kept in a sack, is missing an arm, leg, and a good majority of his fingers, and who laps up human vomit like a dog. ENJOY!

Tune in tomorrow, boys and ghouls, for more thrills and chills. In the meantime, click the vintage Halloween photo above and vote in our tiebreaker poll! Hope you are all having a ghastly Halloween!

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 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.

Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…

The Shining (198o)

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

The Mummy (1932)

by Corinne Rizzo

Boris Karloff, is quite the king of stiff and mechanical movie monsters. I don’t know who’s idea it was to do something like this, but not unlike George Lucas as the model for Wookies everywhere, I think maybe Karloff saw these things in himself. No research on it quite yet because Movie Monster Week must go on and there are no moments to spare. Regardless, Karloff is almost scarier as the Mummy than he is as Frankenstein. Though the two characters are pretty close aesthetically. Almost is the key word.

Running the longest of all the monster flicks I have reviewed this week, The Mummy has the most complex story line of the lot. Set the mid thirties, a crew of British excavators is lead to the tomb of an Egyptian princess by none other than an Egyptian prince, raised from his tomb by the alleviation of a curse that he was punished under back in ancient times. The film begins with an original set of explorers who come across this Mummy and while discovering more about his tomb, end up waking the Mummy from its sleeping state.

The Mummy then adapts into the culture provided by the current team of excavators and remains unnoticed as a native for a time, until he begins to give himself away.

To be completely honest, after watching Frankenstein, The Mummy was a little less exciting and ran a little bit longer than I expected any of these films to run. Maybe it’s the mood I find myself in today, on a rainy and cold day in Akron, but I just wasn’t into it.

I could go on to tell you more about the plot, but it would be in an effortless way that might demean a reader looking for a genuine opinion. I can give my genuine opinion and it is this: The Mummy fits in with the theme of Universal Movie Monsters, because he is in fact a monster,  but breaks the sense of community built up between the previously reviewed films. Whereas the rest of the films use reoccurring actors, playing reoccurring roles, creating an occult following of these small tragic towns, The Mummy breaks that mold and almost feels out of place.

The plot of the film is everywhere and there are scenes that seem extraneous and ill fitted. As a viewer I found myself saying “I have no idea what is happening here,” which is common when I find that I am being given more information than I need to stick with a film.

Plus, The Mummy looks just like Frankenstein’s Monster and I found myself wishing to just revisit those movies again. Just like the Monster. Why would they do that? Because Frankenstein was such a hit? Most likely. It makes me uncomfortable when an industry’s motives are so transparent. I think Universal could have worked harder at The Mummy as a character aesthetically and personally.

Grade: C (for a serious lack of imagination and an overwhelming incorporation of details)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

by Corinne Rizzo

While sequels are hard to get away with, the Bride of Frankenstein is pretty efficient in making its own way, though it is in no way equal to the thrill and artfulness that is contained within the original tale of Frankenstein. The original film though left off as just half of the story had been told.

Within the story that Mary Shelley created, the Monster becomes more of a sympathetic character, driving more of a critical eye toward his inhumane treatment and neglect. The villagers have forgotten that despite the Monster being created in a laboratory, he is still built like a human and functions the same way a human does. He needs the essentials that humans need; food, water, clothing and regardless of what anyone will say, human contact in the vein of warmth or affection. It becomes clear to the viewer that the Monster isn’t getting these things and for the rest of the film, our Monster is no longer scary without reason, but frightening in a way that he is influential. The Monster has been given the gift of speech development and warmth of friendship at once, though he isn’t able to decipher between what is good and bad, he understands the concept when given the answer and rolls with it.

But that is also where his faults lie. The viewer sees that though and forgives the Monster for most of his actions. The viewer might also even find themselves cheering for the Monster—as he is tied up and locked up and assumed to be a criminal though he’s never been taught otherwise.

This is the part of the story that isn’t told in Frankenstein and probably the entire motivation for filming a sequel though the Bride never appears in the original lore. But, every story must have its love affair—even the story of of the Titanic’s demise had to be given a love story in order to make it sellable to the public. The love affair in Bride of Frankenstein though doesn’t really stand up and becomes, in the end, a bit of a humorous if not sad occasion, as the Bride is afraid of the Monster and given that we don’t meet her until the end of the film, there is only the hope that the Monster will find a companion.

Bride of Frankenstein is an important afterword to the original film as it displays the full intention of Mary Shelley’s concept and then some. The story continues though this film to develop sympathy from the author for a creature that was created too crudely to exist and in his own words describes how he would rather endure death than live the life he has been given.

The film ends abruptly as the first one did, most likely making way for Son of Frankenstein, or Cousin of Frankenstein or Baby Daddy of Frankenstein’s Grandmother, but I would say that the important attributes to the story end with this film. Any further and the folklore would be lost on the viewer, using the concept to drive film sales and keep the same cast and crew running for an eternity.

Grade: B+ (Because it is important for the audience to see the human inside of the Monster, too.)

Top Five Reasons to See Bride of Frankenstein:

1)      That batty old woman who is crazier than The Invisible Man, in the film of the same name, plays another (or the same) batty old woman in this film.

2)      On the same note, the film does a neat job of incorporating all of the same minor characters to pull the films together as if all of our Movie Monsters occur in the same town.

3)      Dr. Pretorius is the best villain as a man of holy order and a scientist – not uncommon in those days.

4)      Things get a little hokey as Dr. Pretorius shows Frankenstein his own creations.

5)      Seriously, was that the same Elizabeth or are they trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Pshh.