Directed by Anthony Perkins
Distributed by The Scream Factory
After Psycho II (1983) wound up being a surprise hit with audiences and (most) critics alike, it was inevitable that Universal would want another go-round with Norman and Mother. This time, however, Norman Bates would be in front of the camera as well as behind it, with Anthony Perkins tackling double duty. While that might seem like a curious decision given the fact that Perkins had never directed anything before, you’ve got to remember any sequels were going to place the onus on Norman to carry the film anyway, so who better to control his direction than the man so inexorably linked to him.
The answer, some could argue, would be someone else since Psycho III (1986) is the most divisive entry in the series, garnering a lower rating on IMDb than the made-for-cable sequel/prequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). It isn’t a bad film by any means; it’s just a bizarre one. Perkins’ film is populated by a suicidal ex-nun, a lowly drifter with a penchant for extortion, an unethical reporter digging up stories on Norman, and Perkins himself delivering a performance that occasionally borders on someone parodying the mannerisms of Bates. New, questionable elements aside, the film does tie in well enough to Psycho II that this sequel doesn’t feel quite so out of place. If there’s a fault to be found, it’s that the film has a bit of an identity crisis, unsure of whether to pander to younger audiences looking for boobs and blood, or an older audience hoping to see more of the faux-humanity Norman has been perfecting during his time away from the mental institution. It settles for more of the former (which is totally fine), and I have to admit that despite the diminishing returns coming off of the last film, Psycho III has a vibe to it that manages to mostly work to its benefit.
This entry picks up a little over a month after the events of II, with Norman still running the motel all by his lonesome. It’s established early on that he’s still certifiable – latently by showing him scoop peanut butter with the same spoon he uses for taxidermy stuffing, manifestly by showcasing “Mother” (the dispatched-via-shovel-to-the-head Ms. Spool, who claimed to be Norman’s real mother) stuffed, propped up in the window, and chattering Norman’s ear off constantly. The motel gets a dose of energy when Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey) arrives, hot off the road to Los Angeles and looking to score a few quick bucks to repair the brakes for the final stretch. Norman offers him the assistant manager’s position and allows him to sleep in one of the rooms. Soon after Duke’s arrival, Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) enters the picture, immediately grabbing Norman’s attention with her short blonde hair and a monogrammed suitcase bearing her initials, “M.C.”, which reminds Norman of Marion Crane. Like Norman, she’s also a troubled soul, trying to find her way in life after leaving a convent. Sensing this, he takes her in at the motel where the two have an awkward, budding romance which ultimately fizzles out when Maureen learns of Norman’s violent past. It seems an unethical reporter named Tracy (Roberta Maxwell) has been asking questions all around town, trying to uncover the mystery of Emma Spool’s disappearance. Norman appears clean to the townsfolk, but Duke discovers the truth about “Mother”, threatening to expose Norman’s secrets to everyone unless he pays up. But there’s only one way Norman knows how to deal with problems…
Produced during a horror boon in the mid-80s, Psycho III feels less like the methodically-paced entries that came before it and more like a fairly standard horror picture. More effort seems to have gone into pumping up the film’s quotient of nudity and violence than anything else. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the atmosphere and production values make it aesthetically akin to what Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers were doing at the time. We know who the “villain” is, we know he’s crazy, and we’re here to watch him slice people up with a large kitchen knife. The film takes the obvious route of finally populating the motel with some unsavory guests so that Norman has plenty of moments to do “Mother”’s bidding, much to gore fan’s delight. Oddly enough, the original idea screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue came up with was to reveal that Duke was the killer, taking a page out of Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning’s playbook. Thankfully, Universal shot that notion down. While that could have added an interesting dynamic, the fact is that the last film established Norman had slipped back into insanity. Making someone else the killer wouldn’t be bought so easily.
This entry is the first to spend a lot of time with “Mother” and Norman, since the prior films never really showed them communicating in the same room. “Mother”’s withered husk appearance looks like something Leatherface would’ve stitched together. Here, it comes courtesy of legendary make-up FX artist Michael Westmore, who also provided all of the film’s practical effects work. I can’t say that any of the deaths here rival the sheer brutality of Psycho II, but they are certainly bloodier. And bloody isn’t always a better thing – clearly the case here since the impact of these deaths never felt as shocking as the relatively-bloodless deaths in the last film. Westmore’s effects work is nothing but top notch, though, and his expertise with crafting ultra-realistic work does add an extra element of realism to Norman’s handiwork.
Jeff Fahey almost steals the picture as Duke. He’s one of those guys that get by with a charming look and a shot of charisma, but underneath it all he’s just another selfish scumbag that uses people for his own gain. His sex scene with a local skank is particularly memorable, with Fahey – in the buck – playing with a couple lamps strategically positioned over his crotch while his lady friend gyrates in front of a wall covered in porn clippings. He’s all sweet talk and fun… until he finishes and becomes a nightmare pump-and-dump-er, flinging his “date” out of the room ass naked. Duke was one of Fahey’s earliest roles and he nails it. Even though he’s never much of a foil for Norman simply because he’s too stupid, he possesses an awful sense of hubris that runs counter to Norman’s congenial disposition. They make good enemies.
Psycho III can’t live up to the original, not by a long shot. Personally, I don’t think it can even live up to II. But I don’t think it needed to. Perkins does go a little overboard on connecting-the-dots back to Psycho, but this film manages to stand on its own as a unique entry. The story has a few hiccups in an otherwise well-plotted tale, and Perkins seems so comfortable back in Norman’s skin that just watching him vacillate between reluctance and malevolence is entertaining enough. Even though the love angle with Scarwid never amounts to a whole lot, it does allow us to see a more humane side of Norman that few get to witness. Oh, man, and I didn’t even mention the bizarre score featuring Southwestern acoustic tones, tribal sounds, and the kind of jazzy sax music you expect from a ‘80s action movie produced by Joel Silver. This movie deserves a little more love than it’s gotten over the years – and who else but Scream Factory would come along to deliver the goods?
I’d have to rank the picture here a notch below the previous film. Once the typically-poor optical credits are out of the way, the rest of the picture still retains a layer of grain that is moderately thick, not that it ever obfuscates the image in any way. A great deal of this entry was shot in low-lighting conditions, and the shadows swallow up a lot of the finer details. Black levels have a bit of crush to them, though they do manage to hold up pretty well for the most part. Daylight scenes exhibit greater strength across the board, allowing colors to pop a bit and giving faces some better details. While this isn’t as impressive looking as Psycho II, it’s still an appreciable upgrade over the DVD edition in every way. As with the last film, the audio here comes in the form of English DTS-HD MA tracks in both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. The multi-channel mix is the clear winner here, even though the range could have been a little greater. There’s a rain storm during the film and the rear speakers never appear to take advantage by pulling some of the falling rain sounds into the field. Carter Burwell’s score has good fidelity, and the effects cues have a nice punch. If you need them, the disc comes with English subtitles.
In the special features department, Psycho III is stacked more than the last film. Starting things off is an audio commentary with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felscher. This track is very interesting because, although Pogue wrote the film, many of his original intentions were cast aside once production started. His idea was to ignore the events of Psycho II (he hated the Mrs. Spool plot, which I tend to agree with) and make something more akin to the original film. While that didn’t happen, Pogue has a lot to say about the film and its characters.
Watch the Guitar is a 17-minute interview with star Jeff Fahey that covers his excitement at working on such a storied series, as well as how great it was to work with Perkins as a director. As you’ll hear in all of these interviews, everyone agrees that even though he might have been in a little over his head, Perkins was a thoughtful, caring director. Patsy’s Last Night is an interview with actress Katt Shea, who was memorably dispatched mid-toilet break. Her role isn’t all that big, but she’s got plenty to say about it in this 8-minute segment. Mother’s Maker is a fascinating interview with FX guru Michael Westmore, who talks in depth about his processes for creating the film’s grisly effects work. I thought it was cool that he said Perkins specifically asked for only old-school Universal artists to work on this picture. Body Double is a brief, candid chat with B-movie actress Brinke Stevens. She acknowledges her mid-level career, stating that after doing one Corman slasher she became typecast for life. Here, she doubles for Diana Scarwid during a scene when Norman watches her undress. Apparently, her background as a dancer made her moves so erotic that Perkins had to ask her to be more abrupt and awkward with her undressing. A couple of trailers are also included, and there’s a still gallery of mostly publicity shots that runs for a little over 8 minutes.
Psycho III seems to have as many detractors as it does fans. It’s commendable that Perkins tried to do something different with this entry, further expanding the tiny world of Bates by giving him some unique personalities to interact with. Jeff Fahey is truly memorable in his role as Duke, but the other newly-introduced characters don’t work as well. Maureen isn’t much of a love interest, and she doesn’t have much more to offer aside from being another tortured soul. And the less said about the reporter angle, the better. But the film works in spite of some clear shortcomings, making it a worthy addition to the series nonetheless.
3 out of 5
4 out of 5
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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