Thursday, April 22, 2021

Scarwid, Tilly, Scarwid

Three weeks ago, my Tuesday film group chose Mommie Dearest. I was really looking forward to it but then realized I had mixed up this film (which I'd never seen before) with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Child abuse stories are not really my thing, but I made it through okay, I guess. After this selection I was up to choose so naturally Psycho 3 was my obvious follow-up choice as how else would one follow up a Diana Scarwid viewing (other than to jump into LOST's 3rd season where she plays Isabelle, Juliet's nemesis among the others)? Psycho 2 ended up happening in between the two for continuity's sake as my two friends decided they wanted the context before watching 3. I'm disappointed to say they did not enjoy the experience of these two sequels as much as I did, but I suspect this is because they have no personal attachment to the films and they need to follow my example and watch them each 20 times more (faithful readers know I've written about both of them on numerous occasions). 

Mommie Dearest 1981, d. Frank Perry

Written by: Christina Crawford (book), Frank Yablans (screenplay)

Starring: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest

Summary: "The abusive and traumatic adoptive upbringing of Christina Crawford at the hands of her mother, screen queen Joan Crawford, is depicted," (IMDB).

Yeah, I can't really do a proper review on this without putting out a giant trigger warning for the extremely intense nature of the child abuse scenes that pretty much happen the entire film. At the hands of Joan Crawford (Dunaway), adopted daughter Christina (Mara Hobel and Scarwid) suffers: Withheld affection and general care, neglect, imprisonment, forced meal of rare steak (not preferred), forced meal of day old rare steak (after two refusals), traumatic hair removal, assault with wire hangers, humiliation, withholding of necessary financials, persistence of rare steak being forced meals even into adulthood, verbal abuse, physical abuse, general instability and inconsistency.


Does the film competently portray these events? Yes. The production is solid. The sets are very impressive, Dunaway is physically and emotionally brilliant, and both Christinas (Hobel and Scarwid) pull off amazing performances. But make no mistake, this is not an enjoyable experience. Had I not known this was based on the real Christina Crawford's experiences with her mother I may have been slightly less disturbed, but fiction or non-, this is an extremely hard to stomach story. Honestly, I'd prefer The Human Centipede

Psycho 2 1983, d. Richard Franklin 

Written by: Tom Holland, based on characters by Robert Bloch

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz

Summary: "After twenty-two years of psychiatric care, Norman Bates attempts to return to a life of solitude, but the specters of his crimes - and his mother - continue to haunt him," (IMDB). 

What else can I write about this, after years of writing about it? I still think it's a good film. A good sequel (not to be held to Hitchcock technical standards, OBVS) and a good standalone. It's scary! The story took Norman Bates and put him back in circulation so the world could mess with him a little, and we the audience get to re-experience all the fun stuff from the first film (Norman and Lila, the motel and the fruit cellar, Mother's outfit, etc.) but with a lighter, 80s vibe. 

Speaking of 80s, Mary Loomis (Meg Tilly) has a string of outfits that belong in my Pinterest. I didn't think of this in time to get any still photographs of the clothes, but blue, cranberry, and gold cowl necks with broach pins, I think she has a cute little ensemble with a beret? One of these days I might re-watch again and draw out her outfits, fashion-plates style.  

The scary parts for me are the murders, of course, but they were made more intense by the music, or in some cases just the sound design. The noises in the fruit cellar when the two kids sneak in to mess around are creepy: first the girl hears something in the next room, then we get the clacking of the shoes as Mother (Emma Spool, who looks a little tall, tbh) walks by, and then the wood pile disassembling, the squeaking of the guy's fingers down the window, and the wet squelches of the knife going into his back, repeatedly. Yikes. 

There are fun musical moments that depict Norman's slide into confusion with a lot of synthesizer effects (investigating or revealing), nostalgic, happier memories (finding Mother's room all fixed up), and up and down emotion (Beethoven on the piano). 

The cast of actors throw out a high-level collection of performances, they seem to play well off each other (although I didn't like hearing about how Anthony Perkins was mean to the young Meg Tilly), and everyone is interesting, even down to the crabby old Stockard Channing lookalike waitress, Myrna (Lee Garlington). There are moments of cringe, most of them with the way certain people are stabbed, pretty visceral and hard-core, but there is subtlety in some of the scares, too. Mother's notes, the slow way Mother (Mary, in Mother's clothes) hovers in the window looking out, and the confused hand-switching phone calls that seem to launch Norman back into insanity each time (who even is calling him the first time, is it Emma Spool?). Little moments that take their time. It's a lengthy film, just under 2 hours, but if you're into it, you savor every one of those moments. 

Although I enjoy it, I can see how newcomers to the film might feel a little bit blindsided by the ending, my friends both seemed to be, because Emma Spool isn't highlighted very much and she does disappear for nearly the entire film after her handful of scenes early on. If you do go back and keep an eye on her, you'll see that she's really the only one who supports Norman right off the bat, seems a little scowl-y when Norman sticks up for Mary (!) after the broken plate, and was the last one standing by the ticket wheel when Mother's note went missing. Not overt foreshadowing, but you know, subtle hint-dropping.

And finally, I just love Meg Tilly, then and now. Check out her lovely YouTube channel, Meg's Cozy Tea Time and enjoy her quirky, fun, wholesome stories about writing, tea, acting, and her family! 

<<<<<-------Also enjoy this shot of Warren Toomey's amyl nitrate, photo credit by "Toasted Cheese Sammich" from my Tuesday group.

Psycho 3 1986, d. Anthony Perkins

Written by: Charles Edward Pogue, based on characters by Robert Bloch

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey

Summary: "Norman Bates falls in love with a fallen nun who stays at the Bates Motel
alongside a drifter and a curious reporter. Meanwhile, "Mother" is still watching," (IMDB). 

Side note: I never really thought about the significance of having Maureen Coil (Scarwid), lookalike to Marion Crane and Norman's love interest, be a failed nun. I mean, I guess if there was one perfect girl for Norman, a religious, naive virgin who can't dance and still wears puffy-sleeved dresses would be a hit. Not in Mother's eyes, though. 

Anyway, if you thought Psycho 2 was outlandish, I can't imagine what you're going to think of this. Dead nuns right off the bat. Good old Norman, filling taxidermy birds' sawdust with his peanut butter spoon. DWAYNE DUKE (Fahey), MY FRIENDS JUST CALL ME DUKE (complete rant on him, below). Tracey Venable (Roberta Maxwell) and her smart mouth talk and bad dresses/hair that make her look 83 years old. The killings (or attempts) start early and they roll hard the entire film. Apparently Norman's . . . appetites are a little less controlled now and really any woman just bothering to exist in his presence is fair game, all prompted by "Mother's" angry urgings, of course. 

I thought Scarwid did a great job, here. She played innocent and vulnerable really well and her very specific voice was perfect for Maureen. Nice little Arbo-gast tumble down the steps there (with added Cupid's arrow), too. Poor Maureen.

Overall, the scary moments are fewer in this film, probably to make room for all the sexual weirdness someone decided was a good idea. "Mother" is kind of scary, but she's kind of funny, too. "Stand up straight and wipe your snotty little nose!" I mean, whatever. We KNOW she's stuffed Emma Spool, but I think keeping her face hidden or in the dark until the reveal in cabin 12 was smart. The female-voiced chanting music during the spy session into Maureen's room was creepy, and I think it returned late in the game during Norman's drive out to the swamp and it always gave me the chatters. Really the entire cabin 12 scene has always really freaked me out, just the strange vacant smile Norman has as he walks down there along with the color of the scene itself, first kind of green and then dark and shadowy when we know that no one's around and "Mother," who we know cannot have written the note on the table or have just walked off somewhere, missing in action. It's just an icky, disturbing kind of suspense and I both love and hate it. 

Bringing me to DUKE. Trashy-hot but seriously: 

*Would-be rapist

*Maker of PORN COLLAGE that spans the walls of the inside of cabin 12 as well as a RANDOM LAMPSHADE. He rolls into the Bates Motel, gets hired, and the next night when he brings home his unnamed companion, there it is. Clearly he unpacked his bags and got right to work on it. So devoted to his porn collage! What a guy.

*Five dollar thief

*Extreme jerk (post-coitus) to unnamed companion, eventually becoming verbally and physically abusive. Had he allowed her to stay in his room or engaged nicely in the conversation she seemed intent on starting, she might have lived a little longer. As it was, Norman really had to make a statement and put his fist through the phone booth before actually murdering her. Why? Dramatic flourish, I guess. Talk about wrong place at the wrong time.

*Sufferer of radical personality change halfway through film after seeing "Mother" up in window during thunderstorm homecoming night. Quiet and polite during police questioning of Norman (re: Patsy, the toilet victim) but suddenly manic, sweaty, and crazed for the cabin 12 meet-up for the battle of "Mother's" corpse. Did he get into Toomey's old stash of uppers somewhere? WHY THE CHANGE? I mean at least we got to see some of his songwriting in action, but still. 

*And ultimately, forever swamp-dweller. RIP, Duke. You sucked. 

The ending, starting with Venable and the tire iron, is scary. Seeing Norman dressed up, grinning, and speaking in Mother's voice is scary. Every time I want her to not go into the house, to just drive away and drop the whole thing but no. Although Norman straightening the painting Venable knocked askew is still one of my favorite moments of the film. At least she lived to tell the tale.

So there you have it. It's nice (for me, anyway) to know that certain 80s films still provoke such rants, decades later. Does anyone else love these? I want to know you if you do.


Nik said...

I don't now recall most of the Psychos and might have to indulge in a little marathon this coming season!