Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Favorite Bates.

I know how ridiculous it is that this one is my favorite, but I am mostly ridiculous myself, so it works. Psycho 3, 1986, directed by none other than Anthony Perkins (Norman)! I saw this as soon as it came out on video and I was old enough to start noticing things like music, lighting, and continuity in film. This being a sequel and everything, continuity was kind of big, although the conflicting tales of what really happened to Norman's father wouldn't matter until Psycho 4 came out a few years later. What I remembered most was seeing the previews for this on television and probably begging my parents to take me to the theater, which they did not do. There are three specific things from the trailer that I remember: The nun falling down the bell tower chamber as the bell rings, Maureen (Diana Scarwid, Isabel from Hydra Island on LOST!) hugging the pillar of The Bates House and calling up to the window, and Norman standing over her body at the foot of the stairs, yelling, "Mother!!" Man, I wanted to see this!

So given the fact that this is probably the most entertaining horror film from my list (not the best, not the scariest, the most entertaining) I'm going to break it all down old school and give it a proper play-by-play. We might be here for a while. . .

I love quiet girls with no self-esteem . . .
The film opens with a Virgin Mary statue and a blond nun-in-training shouting, "There is no God!" Her name is Maureen Coyle and she accidentally causes the death of another nun who tries to stop her from jumping off the bell tower. The sisters send her packing, and who does she meet out in the middle of the California Desert? Jeff Fahey. ("My name's Dwayne Duke, friends just call me Duke.") in a beat up old clunker. He gives her a ride, he tries to get in her pants, and she nearly jumps out of his moving vehicle to get away from him. Too bad. I found him as always, extremely hot. Pretty trashy, but hot.

Norman's story begins with him at home, poisoning birds outside the house. He's quite a dedicated and talented taxidermist, as you'll remember from the first film; he's apparently so into his work he doesn't mind using the same utensil to both spoon sawdust into the birds and smear peanut butter on his Ritz crackers. Nice. On his work table lies a newspaper clipping with Emma Spool's picture, she's missing, you see. Just as Norman starts to hallucinate that it's an old, dead arm he's sewing up instead of the bird, the bag that he used to transport it starts to shake and scoot across the table on its own. When he finds a live bird inside it that apparently survived the poison, he calmly walks over to it, catches it in his hand, and sets it free outside. Are we to believe that he's harmless, "as harmless as one of these birds?" Ha.

Duke pulls up in the clunker and ends up taking a job from Norman. At the diner where Norman, Emma Spool, and Mary Loomis all worked together, the Sheriff and the owner meet Tracy Venable, a writer doing a piece on the insanity plea who happens to be very interested in interviewing Norman. Just as Norman shows up to take in some lunch (chicken fried steak and a glass of milk), Maureen steps down out of rig outside. Norman is immediately disturbed by her resemblance to Marion Crane, from the first film, and thrown for an even bigger loop when he sees her suitcase initials, M.C. There are black and white flashbacks from the first film, Maureen drops her suitcase and falls ala Marion with her cheek actually touching the floor. This is extremely cheesy and there's funny record-skipping chipmunk songs going on during all of this, so it's cheesy and funny. Norman flees the interview and runs home. When he relays this information to "Mother," (yes, Mother is back and very vocal) she says, "You killed her. The slut deserved it. She's dead. And the dead don't come back." (!!!)

She seems more Catholic than Marion. . .
Maureen shows up at the motel; Duke apologizes for his forwardness and checks her in, Cabin One. Norman sees this, gets giddy, and stammers. Duke takes off for a night on the town; Norman stays for the night shift and sneaks into the motel parlor to spy on Maureen through the infamous hole in the wall. Returning with wig, dress, shoes, and knife in place, he busts into the bathroom to find that she's halfway completed the job Mother demanded of Norman--she cut her wrists with a razor. Music is chanty and actually scary.

Meanwhile, Duke tries his hand at romancing Miss Venable but she only wants him to spy on Norman. Soon enough he hooks up with an unnamed young lady and brings her back to his room at the motel. There are several things that are hilarious about this whole situation and what unfolds.

1. Girl can't get the ice bin open and Norman (back from visiting Maureen in the hospital) helps her. She invites him to join the party down in Duke's cabin. The thought of this chick, Duke, and Norman in a three-way is probably the most ridiculous thing, ever, but I'm sure stranger combinations have happened.

2. In the short amount of time Duke has been at the motel, he has managed to decorate the walls with outlandish sex collages from porn magazines, which the unnamed girl seems to much appreciate. Seriously!

3. After their tryst has ended, things don't go well. The girl mentions that Duke made their encounter seem cheap. He tells her, "It is, but it beats a vibrator." She replies, "At least a vibrator gets me off!" and gives him the finger. Duke overreacts and throws her out. She meets her end in a phone booth.

Later, Norman escorts Maureen back to recover in Cabin One, F.O.C., of course. It's homecoming and the Bates Motel is a regular beehive of activity. Once Maureen gets settled, Norman tells her she'd look swell in the pink dress later and then hurries out of the room, giddy and blushing. They go on a date and get nice and liquored up. When they return, the homecoming party is still going strong but Norman tells Duke he can leave. Duke has been staring up at the house though, in a lightning storm, and something in the bedroom window has caught his eye. "Whatever you say, Boss," he says, sly as a fox. Norman and Maureen share an awkward makeout moment, and before anything bigger can happen, Maureen apparently passes out and then wakes up alone. Norman has fought off any sexual urges that might bring harm to Maureen, but then takes it out on an innocent girl from the Homecoming party, on the toilet! My favorite part of this whole encounter is the obviously male foot in Mother's black shoe and stocking, stepping over the threshold.

Miss Venable returns after doing her own sleuth work on Norman, Emma Spool, and family history, and decides to take Maureen out of harm's way. Maureen first alibis Norman when the sheriff shows up looking for toilet girl, but then leaves with Miss Venable, breaking Norman's heart. Norman is a little distracted through all this however, because Mother has gone missing. When he goes back up to the house to look for her, he finds a note that says, "Norman: I'm in cabin twelve (Duke's cabin). Come see me. Mother."

My friend Nik told me once that one of her favorite moments in film was in American Psycho, when Bateman exaggeratedly brings his arm up to take a drag from his cigar, just moments after whacking up Paul Allen with the axe. She didn't have to explain why she liked it, to me anyway, I thought it was cool, too. Certain scenes, certain moments just, I don't know, resonate. One of my favorites is in this film, when Norman, knowing full well that Mother could not have just walked herself down to Duke's cabin on her own, walks past each of the cabins, one by one, all the way to twelve. The music is right on, it's minor and kind of suspicious, the camera first dollies backwards off to his right, and then comes up behind him the closer he gets. The look on his face is half smile, half la-la land; the lighting is hazy and just odd. I love it every time.

So he gets to the room, and finds Mother placed in front of the television (Woody Woodpecker, of all things) and Duke is sweaty and huffy, with blackmail on his mind. And in case you, the viewer, perhaps missed the previous sequel or hadn't been paying attention, Duke presents Mother's face in all its glory so as to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that she is indeed dead, and has been all this time. I love all the scenes in Duke's room because they're so random and ridiculous; Duke actually kisses Mother's corpse on the cheek. Norman easily overtakes Duke shouting, "No one must know about Mother or what she has done!" After a bit of a surprise rumble in the makeshift-coffin automobile, Norman again triumphs. So long, Duke.

Um . . .
Now. What happens next is really the only part of the film that I find scary. Oh, but before we get to that, Maureen shows up, professes her undying love, and Norman accidently kills her by dropping her down the stairs. That's where the "Mother!" shout that I saw in the preview comes in. After that, Miss Venable shows up, first at the motel and then the house. Everything is dark, and she's going into dark rooms with the camera right up behind, I literally felt like I was right there with her. Once she gets to the house and finds Maureen laid out in a shrine of candles, we finally get confirmation of Norman in Mother's clothing; it's both funny and gross because he's leering at her, just standing right behind her silently with an ear-to-ear psycho grin! "Why can't you leave my poor son, my Norman alone?" (in Mother's voice). They chase around the house and up the stairs, another one of my favorite moments is Norman-Mother straightening a framed picture that Miss Venable upset as he stalks after her, not missing a beat. Miss Venable flees into Mother's bedroom and sees Emma Spool, sewed and stuffed; Norman struggles with her a bit but eventually decides to throw in the towel. Sawdust spills everywhere at the hand of Norman's knife;  Mother is no more. . .

The sheriff comes to take Norman away, the film ends with Norman in the back of the squad car, stroking the corpse's hand that he managed to hide in his jacket, grinning, always grinning. (shudder).

I love it all. Not just because of my boy Jeff Fahey or the fact that I probably have some sick nostalgia at the character Dwayne Duke being a dead on representative for pretty much every douche I ever dated in my life before I got married, not really for any specific reason, I just dig it. A lot. It makes me smile. And if Anthony Perkins was still alive I would probably be his number one Twitter and Facebook stalker.


Donald said...

I've only seen the first Psycho film, so maybe this is addressed in the sequels... but after all of these murders happen in and around the Bates Motel, why do they keep letting Norman Bates out of jail?

Anna said...

he is incarcerated for 22 years, that's where psycho 2 picks up, but he was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, so it was institution, not jail.

if i ever find a copy of this somewhere, i'm slamming my money down and saving it for your birthday. . . i had to borrow this one, otherwise you'd have it in your hands.

Donald said...

Is that a threat?

Nik said...

i need to start watching "movies" as "films". i have totally forgotten how to watch them! i'm glad you reminded me of how much i loved that bit in american psycho - i forgot how much i love movies and all the detail in them. time to turn off the boob tube and turn on a FILM.