The Prowler (1981)
by Steve Habrat
During the heyday of slasher horror flicks, when Freddy, Jason, and Michael roamed movie theaters slashing the throats of helpless, horny teens everywhere, the 1981 gem The Prowler was overlooked and lost in the sea of exploitation imitators. It is a shame because The Prowler is far scarier and better than any given Freddy or Jason romp. Sure, its premise of a crazed WWII veteran who received a “Dear John” letter during a tour of duty and then goes on a killing spree when he returns home is the stuff exploitation films dream of, but it is actually an invigorating direction with a killer introduction and some seriously wicked gore effects by FX wizard Tom Savini. If you consider yourself a fan of the horror genre in anyway, you need to get your claws on The Prowler. You are in for a real treat.
The Prowler begins with a vintage newsreel that shows soldiers returning home aboard a boat called the Queen Mary. A voiceover declares that while the homecoming is a happy event, some of the soldiers returned depressed and heartbroken from receiving a “Dear John” letter from their beloveds on American shores. The film then bounces to the 1945 graduation dance in Avalon Bay where Rosemary (Played by Joy Glaccum), who recently sent her boyfriend a “Dear John” letter, arrives with her new boyfriend Roy (Played by Timothy Wahrer). The two slip away to a secluded gazebo where they begin necking. Suddenly, the power is cut in the gazebo and the lovers find themselves brutally slain by a killer in unnerving combat gear. The film speeds ahead 35 years and finds Avalon Bay setting up for the same graduation dance. Despite the fear that the murderer may return, Sheriff George Fraser (Played by Farley Granger) departs on a fishing trip and leaves his steadfast deputy Mark London (Played by Christopher Goutman) in charge. As the dance gets underway, the combat clad murderer descends on the dance and begins racking up a body count. With the help of his crush Pam (Played by Vicky Dawson), Mark desperately tries to figure out who this prowler is before any more innocent victims meet their demise.
Director Joseph Zito makes a mature and atmospheric hack-and-slash romp that isn’t as concerned with how many naked girls he can squeeze into his runtime. Sure, there is the gratuitous nude scene but he practices infinite amounts of self-control, focusing more on delivering a proficiently made whodunit complete with a nod to the Psycho shower sequence. Yes, The Prowler holds the conservative mentality of all eighties slasher movies that, yes, if you have sex, plan on having sex, or fool around in any way, you will find yourself gutted by a pitchfork wielding nut job. But maybe it was the expert acting (the young cast is surprisingly strong for a film that seems to have been made on a shoestring budget), a creepy killer, and shifts into extremely gruesome violence that keep The Prowler afloat.
Zito also stages a well-rehearsed chase sequence to finish off the film, a climax that gives way to two major twists, one including the shocking reveal of the combat clad prowler. Gore guru Savini also lets loose and fills the screen with splashes of blood from sawed off shotgun blasts, bayonets to the throat, a pitchfork sealing two embraced lovers in each other’s arms for good, and an exploding head. I guess blowing one head up in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead didn’t quench that thirst. And how about that killer? A faceless killer who rivals Michael in the boogeyman department when he has his mask on! In a way, it is a disappointment when we do discover who the killer is because it removes some of the fear that this could be anyone causing the chaos. In the recent horror film book Shock Value, critic and author Jason Zinoman argues that once events are explained and there is a meaning given to the horror on the screen, the film looses its fear factor. In a slight defense of The Prowler’s reveal, once you process it, it is actually quite chilling that this person could be the one responsible for it. Either way, the reveal is a blessing and a curse.
The Prowler does have some moments where it takes a big bite of cheese. A scene right before the big reveal has to be one of the most gauche and uncomfortable scenes to watch. Zito must have been having an off day when he shot and edited the scene together. The scene features two characters staring at each other with smiles on their faces. They must have forgotten that there is a person who has just been blown away by a sawed off shotgun lying right next to them. I know that I would either be in hysterics or sick to my stomach from the grizzly scene. There is also an agonizingly slow scene where the killer flings his pitchfork around a room in search of Pam. Either the killer is enjoying dragging his work out or Zito was desperate to drag the runtime of the film out.
The good outweighs the bad in The Prowler and the result is a creepy exercise in boogeyman slash. It may be no deeper than the pool one victim meets their demise in and the beginning may be depressing, but The Prowler is high art compared to some of the installments in the Freddy and Jason franchises of that came out around the same time. If one were to watch it in the dark by themselves, this would make for a pretty good freak-out. I wish the film would get a bit more recognition than it does, as Zito has made more of a rewarding mystery than a teen fright movie. At the time, the film must have been a godsend of an option to Friday the 13th Part II or My Bloody Valentine, two slasher films that were doing their best to ruin the subgenre that same year. Love it or hate it, The Prowler puts a unique spin on a genre where the knives have long since rusted over. Pray that Hollywood never discovers it and remakes it.
The Prowler is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Bates Motel (1987)
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)…
Psycho III (1986)
by Charles Beall
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Psycho II (1983)
by Charles Beall
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!
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).
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…
Friday the 13th (1980)
Do YOU want to see Friday the 13th reviewed on Halloween? Well, you may only see it once, but click on the poll link under Category Cloud to vote for the classic slasher from 1980. This is YOUR chance to to control what gets posted on the site. Start casting those terrifying votes now, the poll closes on October 20th!
NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailer.
Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…
Do YOU want John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween reviewed on Halloween day? If so, click on the poll link under Category Cloud and vote for the night HE came home. This is YOUR chance to interact with Anti-Film School and control what gets posted. You have until October 20th to vote, so creepy on over and tell us what you want to see.
NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailer.