Category Archives: psycho

The Strangler

The Strangler ~ Rather well done for its day, this 1964 crime thriller might seem dated by today’s standards. It was designed to exploit the real life Boston Strangler killings but then relocated and altered to distance itself from the case.

Held back by a sad cast, and reportedly the director Burt Topper as well, Victor Buono still rises to the top as the mother and doll obsessed serial killer. He appears to be the only one acting among a crowd of cue card readers.

Had it not been for the lackluster cast, and the uneven score, this could have been a movie on par with Psycho or The Boston Strangler, but it fails to even be a good exploitation flick, despite Buono’s performance.

HBO’s Phil Spector

I was completely taken aback by the title card that preceded HBO’s Phil Spector. Here’s what it said: “This film is a work of fiction. It is not “based on a true story.” It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.”

What?? Wow. I wonder how many lawyers between HBO and Phil Spector it actually took to write that nightmare up? I understand it’s worded to keep either party from suing the hell out of each other, but it also seems like open season to make up whatever the hell they want about real people and not get sued. Wow.

The facts: Phil Spector, perhaps one of the world’s greatest music producers, shot model and actress Lana Clarkson in his home in 2003. Spector claimed it was suicide, was tried twice for murder, and finally convicted to serve nineteen years in prison.

This film: Helen Mirren plays defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden who enters Spector’s madcap mental ward world in an attempt get him out of the murder charges. Jeffrey Tambor as attorney Bruce Cutler provides occasional comedy relief.

Al Pacino plays Spector as subtle but completely insane, sort of like a sedated homeless clown person with voices in his head and a violent streak. His home is like cross between a museum, a circus, the Addams Family house, and the Psycho house. And oh, those wigs. Sadly the wigs were real.

The film’s soundtrack, like the performances of Pacino and Mirren, is one of its few saving graces. HBO’s Phil Spector is a wonderful example of a few diamonds hidden within a piece of dog crap. If I didn’t know about the case, and Spector’s career, I wonder if this movie would even made sense. It seems built for footnotes.

The film is surprisingly and unrecognizably written and directed by David Mamet. What was he thinking? And what did Phil Spector ever do to David Mamet? These are the mysteries I would like solved. I love Mamet, and this was a major disappointment.

As the tagline for this flick says, ‘the truth is somewhere in the mix.’ Unfortunately, I think that mix has been erased and taped over multiple times. This is a mess. This is two down in my book as far as HBO movies go. Between this and The Girl, I think they should stop making movies about real people, it’s just not working out. I’m dreading the Liberace biopic coming later this year now.

Bates Motel

I’ve never been big on secret origins, except when they are shorter than a sentence or two or a minute or two. Just tell us what we need to know about the character or the situation and start the story. As a matter of fact, one writer rule states that you should always start in the middle of the story – beginnings are for suckers. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho is a near perfect classic of the horror thriller genre, did we really need an ongoing prequel TV series? Why do we need A&E’s “Bates Motel”?

While it might not be the first to do such, I do blame “Smallville.” It’s the story of Superman, before he was Superman. If you’re a comics person, your first instinct is probably Superboy, and that’s really the problem with “Smallville.” All of the names are the same, but nothing else is. “Smallville” bears very little resemblance to Superboy. In the series, there is no Superboy, we see the looong journey of Clark Kent growing to manhood, and in the last moments of the last episode of the series, he finally becomes Superman. Over a decade later. Yeah, that long. And the whole time, all you really want from this show is to see him as Superman.

And that is why I hate secret origins, especially when they disguise themselves as ongoing TV series. I have to wonder, is that what “Bates Motel” will be like? Will we be waiting forever for our young protagonist Norman Bates to begin showing signs of the sociopath he is by the time the events of Psycho roll around? Will it take a decade?

The other obstacle (or perhaps it’s a good thing, for the new show at least) is the many folks who are watching who have no point of reference for Norman Bates. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s a factor. After all, believe it or not, there were teenagers watching “Smallville” who didn’t get the Superman (or Superboy) references and thought it was just a cross between “The X-Files” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” Certainly that worked. Half the audience was there for the soap opera, and half for the pseudo-superhero stuff. Perhaps “Bates Motel” might just work as a show about a gawky kid with a overbearing mother who run a creepy motel, period.

“Bates Motel” is set present day, we begin with Norman’s dad dead, and Mom rushing them away to start over again, a habit she seems to have. The two are a little bit too close, and Vera Farmiga is just as overbearing as Norma Bates, as Freddie Highmore is creepy as young Norman. She’s a bit too pretty for my tastes, even as a young Norma Bates, but her paranoid craziness fills out the rest of her character well.

On their latest ‘start over,’ they buy an old motel foreclosed on by the bank. When a even creepier neighbor starts to harass them because the motel and property had been in his family for decades, well, things escalate. He breaks in, rapes Norma, and Norman saves her, after which Mom finishes the job, killing the attacker. Don’t call the police, we’ll cover this up ourselves is Norma’s battle cry. We kinda start to get the vibe maybe Dad’s death wasn’t quite what it seemed.

As creepy as the killer and the collaborator are, Nestor Carbonell is even scarier as Sheriff Alex Romero. If you locked me in a room with the three of them, he’s the one I’d be most scared of. There are some genuinely chilling moments here, as well as some “90120” caliber teenage soap moments. There’s also a cliffhanger that is very tempting to keep me watching, but I have to wonder, will this drag on forever and take a decade to get to the point, or will it surprise me. We’ll just have to wait and see.

For a different view, be sure to check out my friend and fellow writer Marie Gilbert‘s review over at Biff Bam Pop!.

The Funhouse

The Funhouse ~ Okay, confession time. You might not believe me, but I never really got to go to the movie theater all that much until maybe the senior year of high school. There was none of that stuff or hanging out at the mall until I had friends old enough to drive. Oh, sure, I’d been to the drive-in once or twice to see kids movies, and my cool big sister and her husband took me to see Star Wars when it was out, but no real movies until 1980. That’s when my friend Bobby started driving. And the first movie I got to see was The Funhouse.

I know, fifteen years old and I started big, trying to catch up for lost time. Not only a Tobe Hooper horror film, but R rated with nudity in the first few minutes. I remember my father was angry when he found out, but it was worth it. It was the beginning of a love affair with going to the movies that still enthralls me.

I recently had a chance to see The Funhouse again on HBO. It’s not a great movie but it is a good horror flick that still holds up well after three decades. There is a charm about it missing from horror movies now, an innocence, a naïveté. Today we live in the Scream era where everything is referential and meta. I think it was better back then. That said the film begins with a sly homage to both Halloween and Psycho. I still like it.

The story has two couples on a double date to the carnival. They decide to hide out in the funhouse to stay overnight for a romantic interlude. While there, they witness a murder and more, and end up hunted by the carnival barker’s deformed and monstrous son. Hilarity ensues. There are some genuine scares and the drooling monster is scary and disgusting.

The only real standout from the cast is the carnival barker, played by Kevin Conway, who was Dr. Haber in one of my favorite PBS productions, “The Lathe of Heaven.” Here, he is a more obvious and grounded kind of sinister, but still a terrific actor. And of course, no matter how you cut it, this is still a Tobe Hooper film.

A slice of the good old days of slasher flicks, still worth seeing after thirty years or so. The one that started it all (for me at least), The Funhouse, check it out.

I Saw What You Did

I Saw What You Did ~ Back in the old days, before video rentals, before OnDemand, even before cable television, there was only one way to see a particular film – you waited and waited for it to finally show up on standard six channel television. When it was a movie you’d never seen and only heard about, it became sort of an event, and a special memory. I saw The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon this way, and also Mothra and the Matt Helm films. There was a certain mystique to the movies you had to watch and wait for each week by scouring the TV Guide.

The original 1965 (it was later a terrible telemovie in the late 1980s that is best forgotten) version of I Saw What You Did was one of those movies, and in recent times it has been made even rarer by its on-again-off-again video and DVD releasing. In an age where almost everything is available, this is indeed a rare film. It’s a lucky thing that occasionally TCM gives it a run, usually when honoring its star Joan Crawford, or its genius director William Castle.

Its full title gives a bit of a hint what it is really about. Two teenage girls on a sleepover amuse themselves by making random prank phone calls and saying to the answerer, “I Saw What You Did! And I Know Who You Are!” You can imagine the bedlam that ensues when they call the man who has just murdered his wife. There’s the set-up and trademark William Castle hilarity and horror follow. You can understand how the plot of this one can become whispered legend among those watching the TV Guide every week.

In a role originally meant to be only a cameo (although she got top billing and pay) and originally offered to Grayson Hall, later to be known as Dr. Julia Hoffman on “Dark Shadows,” Joan Crawford eats up the screen like the film goddess she was in every scene. Her appearance, dressed for flash in the middle of the night, is kinda odd, but then again she’s Joan Crawford after all. She proves without a doubt she could easily be the kooky neighbor in a sitcom from any age, and do it with pizzazz.

The two girls, and one’s little sister, are terrible, but their kids, so give them a break. John Ireland as the killer is stone-faced and fierce, his looks alone inspiring scares. Some of the shocks and the violence are a bit over the top for the time, and surprising when you think about it in hindsight. It’s not Friday the 13th, but it’s a bit much for 1965. The initial killing is an ironic turn on the shower scene from Psycho and actually quite well done.

This is, despite what others may tell you, William Castle at his best. I love this flick, and watch it whenever it presents itself. Must see for horror fans, movie fans, and camp fans – funny, scary, quirky, what more could you want? So keep a lookout, just like in the old days, for the next time I Saw What You Did airs, it’s worth it.

Dial C for Chardonna

The Dumpsta Players return!

Wednesday, July 15th
10 PM doors, 11 PM showtime — sharp!

@ Bob and Barbara’s
1509 South Street
Philadelphia, PA
Info: (215) 545-4511
$1.99 cover

ROCCO RIGATONI STALKS CHARDONNA
LADY CACCA VS. NORMAN BATES
THUG KANO GETS GANGSTA

Chardonna Jenkins returns to the Dumpsta stage, although this time-she’s being stalked! Hot-tempered, possessive boyfriend, Rocco Rigatoni, catches Chardonna making naughty with new gangsta ruffneck, Kano.

When Rocco makes a deal with Psycho‘s Norman Bates to kill each other’s girls, Chardonna isn’t safe! And neither is reigning pop princess, Lady Cacca!

In this homage to Hitchcock, Chardonna must fight for her right to be independent – and show the men that the Ladies are in charge!

But look out… one should always beware in the shower… and the birds are gathering to stalk their prey… call for backup, phone home – but never…

“DIAL C FOR CHARDONNA”!!

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