THE ELEPHANT MAN - Home
ET TWO, ‘PSYCHO’?
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This 37-year-old column was about a movie I had not yet seen but which had become so highly anticipated that I couldn’t resist some speculation. When ‘Psycho II’ did eventually open, my review was mostly positive, with reservations about the final act. Still, reading his again amused me; hope if makes pleasant reading for you as well. This was a ‘Hicks On Flicks’ column published under the headline, ‘After 22 years in a padded cell … ,” on May 8, 1983.
“Psycho” is one of my favorite horror movies.
The shower scene, of course, was so perfectly realized and terrifying that people took baths for months after the film’s release. Then there was that horrific house on the hill above the motel. And the final scene with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, sitting in his padded cell, thinking to himself that he was so serene, “I won’t even swat that fly.”
Well, next month we’ll find out if he ever did swat that fly.
“Psycho II” is coming. And whether that’s good news or bad news, depends on how you feel about the original film, Alfred Hitchcock’s work and the films made by the many pseudo-Hitchcock directors who imitate him.
Regardless of how you feel about it, though, it’s coming, with Anthony Perkins reprising his infamous role as the man obsessed with his taxidermic mother, returning home after spending 22 years in an institution. Vera Miles will also be on hand once more (she played Janet Leigh’s sister, the one who ultimately found Norman’s mother in the basement).
Janet Leigh, 'Psycho' (1960)
That such a sequel was made, coming out 23 years after the original, is unusual, of course. That it retains two of the original cast members is even more unusual. The real surprise, however, is the advance word we’re getting on the picture.
Reliable sources suggest the film is actually quite good on its own merits, that even though Richard Franklin — the Australian director of “Patrick” and “Road Games,” both rather Hitchish — is an admitted bona fide Hitchcock freak and has paid homage to his mentor in every scene, “Psycho II” apparently has some twists and turns of its own that are guaranteed to jolt you. And it’s reportedly relatively bloodless, despite the R rating.
That the script is by Tom Holland, author of the horrid “The Beast Within,” excites me less, but let’s not forget that even Hitch had some clunkers.
When the project was first announced I had natural misgivings. I’ve always considered “Psycho” a consummate picture, and I’m never too thrilled about modern moviemakers messing with classics, anyway (I can’t bring myself to turn on the TV version of “Casablanca”). But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became by the idea of “Psycho II.”
Then I began to come up with my own little scenarios.
What if Bates came home and we found out he didn’t murder Janet Leigh after all? How about if Vera Miles killed her own sister and put the blame on Bates? Or what if there was an extension of “Psycho’s” final moment, when the car is being pulled out of the lake? Suppose the trunk contained another stuffed body, this one of Bates’ father, and a connection developed between the Bates family, and that of Miles and Leigh? Or what if ghostly spirits came into the picture?
Too wild? Perhaps, but I’ll bet whatever surprises “Psycho II” comes up with are no wilder.
The one element that causes me to still be wary, though, is a photo included in the press kit that recently arrived form Universal Pictures: Young actress Meg Tilly in a shower.
It’s hard for me to believe that after all the films that have spoofed “Psycho’s” shower scene (Brian DePalma’s “Phantom of the Paradise,” Mel Brooks’ “High Anxiety,” etc. – even Perkins himself on TV’s “Saturday Night Live”) any audience can see a similar moment crop up in the sequel without laughing.
HORRORS! MORE MIDDLING FLICKS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
Three fright flicks lead off the five new movies opening in local theaters this weekend, appropriate as Halloween nears, I guess. Along with horror oldies to get you in the costume-wearing mood. As always, theaters are practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, and these films are already, or will soon be, online for your streaming pleasure.
“Murder in the Woods” (R). The plot is familiar — a group of teens gather in a remote cabin in the woods where a mysterious killer picks them off one by one. But early reviews suggest this is a dark sendup of the genre, lampooning slasher-flick cliches. Danny Trejo is in the cast.
“The Empty Man” (R). Teens from a small town in the Midwest are disappearing and all leads point to the titular local legend, which no one believes, of course — until a retired sheriff discovers what some locals are doing to conjure evil. Right. Based on a graphic novel.
“Synchronic” (R). Two New Orelans paramedics discover that a series of horrific local deaths are caused by a new synthetic designer drug. When one of the paramedics learns he hasn’t long to live, he begins buying up the drug to save others and discovers a time-travel pill. Right. Sci-fi horror with Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie.
“After We Collided” (R). Josephine Langford as Tessa and Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin return for this sequel to last year’s PG-13-rated soap opera romance “After,” with Tessa beginning an internship with a publishing company, where she meets potential suitor who will give Hardin competition. Selma Blair also returns.
“Escape from Extinction” (Not Rated). Rare footage of endangered animals highlights this documentary with animal-welfare and conservation scientists making a plea to protect animals on all of Earth’s seven continents.
In addition to the new stuff, the original “Halloween” and the first “A Nightmare On Elm Street” are playing in Megaplex and Cinemark theaters, along with the 2018 “Halloween,” and over at the AMC theater in West Jordan, “The Conjuring” and “The Curse of La Llorna” continue. (AMC is also bring back “The Boss Baby” and “Jason Bourne” is at the )
If you prefer lighter Halloween-oriented fare, there’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the original “Ghostbusters” and “Beetlejuice,” and for the younger set, “The Addams Family” (last year’s animated version), “Hocus Pocus,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Casper.”
Also, “Ghost” has a two-day Cinemark and Megaplex run this weekend, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, and for small fry, the 2000 film of “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” will play Saturday only, another Fathom Events presentation.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the best films of the 1980s came very early on in the decade and made David Lynch’s name, although it remains very different from most of the filmmaker’s oeuvre. This, after all, is the fellow who later came up with ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Twin Peaks’! But the PG-rated ‘The Elephant Man’ remains a profoundly moving film, and, 40 years later, as we are experiencing a distinctive racial divide in this country, it carries a message about profiling, if you will, that seems all the more important in 2020. If you’ve never experienced this one, consider it a must-see, and this reissue on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection is stunning. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 16, 1980.
The most incredible thing about “The Elephant Man” is that it’s never been made into a film before now.
The life of John Merrick is, on some levels, a classic example of life mirroring a fairy tale or horror story, and is excellent screen material (this version is not based on the current Broadway version).
It’s sort of “The Ugly Duckling” with a touch of “The Wolf Man,” the twist being that the story is true.
Just as Hans Christian Andersen’s little outcast duckling became a swan, the grotesquely deformed John Merrick becomes a beautiful human being in the eyes of those who get to know him; just as “Wolf Man” Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) was pitiable in his attempts to fight off his lycanthropy, “The Elephant Man” struggles to let his real self be set free from the terrifying shell that envelopes him.
Merrick was born hideously twisted in bone and flesh after his mother was trampled by an elephant as she carried him in pregnancy. He was so outwardly diseased that he seemed destined to life as a carnival sideshow freak (labeled “Elephant Man” because his head was enlarged and misshapen so that a distended frontal bone gave his face a trunk-like appearance).
John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, 'The Elephant Man' (1980)
As written by Christopher DeVore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch, Merrick’s character internally is the complete reverse of his outward appearance — he is intelligent, withdrawn and soft-spoken, without a hint of guile or even resentment for his lot in life.
That may be stretching the point but actor John Hurt transcends the simplistic to bring this character very much to life. Hurt, currently starring in the PBS miniseries “Crime and Punishment,” and probably better known as the man out of whom the “Alien” burst, as Caligula in PBS’s “I, Claudius” and as the philosophic prisoner in “Midnight Express,” is superb in a very difficult role.
Perhaps even more taxing than his characterization is performing in the incredible makeup job given him by Christopher Tucker, who has managed to authentically re-create to an amazing degree just what Merrick really looked like (Tucker used photographs of Merrick and studied the skeletal remains now preserved by London Hospital).
Anthony Hopkins, as surgeon Frederick Treves, who thoroughly examined Merrick and gave to his last years of life quiet and dignity, is equal to Hurt in his ability to make his character at once caring, questioning of his own motivations and unnerved by the entire experience.
Also fine are Freddie Jones as the sadistic “owner” of Merrick as a sideshow freak, John Gielgud as the hospital director, Wendy Hiller as head nurse and, in a small role, Anne Bancroft as the actress who brings Merrick to posh society attention.
“The Elephant Man” is also very much a director’s film, however. David Lynch’s only other movie is a midnight-circuit cult flick called “Eraserhead,” a very weird black-and-white picture made over a five-year period on a very meager budget That movie is full of wild imagery and amplified sound, both of which are used extensively in “The Elephant Man” (which is also in black and white).
The usage in “Elephant Man” is more lucid, however, and adds to, rather than deletes fo, the experience.
It’s not a film without flaws or weaknesses, but the overall power — delivered in a gentle, subtle manner — is so great that any complaints seem like carping.
If “The Elephant Man” doesn’t move you to think twice before condemning someone on the basis of outward appearances, nothing ever will.
Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.
But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.
I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).
This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.
My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.
The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned (with permission) from my 40 years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.
I'm no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.
Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: During my 20-year movie-critic career, none of my reviews touched a nerve as much as this one. I thought ‘Ghost’ was just OK — but when it became a monster hit (no pun intended) local fans came after me with complaining calls and letters to the Deseret News, my primary employer, and to KSL TV and Radio, where I worked part time.
Nary a week went by for a couple of months when someone didn’t call into ‘The Movie Show,’ a call-in radio program that Doug Wright and I did each Friday, to rake me over the coals. And for years after the picture left town we still had occasional callers dressing me down about it. I would explain that I didn’t dislike the film … I just apparently didn’t like it enough.
Anyway, here’s that original review, since ‘Ghost’ is returning to local theaters for a two-day run this weekend, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies — Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 13, 1990.
And here it should be noted here that in addition to being a blockbuster box-office success, ’Ghost’ was nominated for Academy Awards for best picture and best editing, as well as for Maurice Jarre’s score. And it won for best screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin and this is the film that earned Whoopi Goldberg her best supporting actress Oscar. So you see — what do I know?
"Ghost" — not to be confused with "Ghost Dad," despite some inherent resemblances — is the story of a really nice banker (Patrick Swayze) who is murdered and finds himself locked in some kind of spirit world where he must remain until his murder is solved.
At least that's how it seems — though there are lots of other ghosts wandering around the streets of Manhattan who, for some reason or other, can't get to heaven either.
Learning he can communicate with a phony psychic (Whoopi Goldberg), Swayze uses her to make contact with his girlfriend (Demi Moore). He needs her help to find the motive for his being killed.
Whoopi Goldberg as a psychic demonstrates with ghostly Patrick Swayze that spirits should be heard ... for felt ... and not seen in 'Ghost' (1990).
But "Ghost" is so superficial and there are so few supporting characters of any depth that it's very easy to figure out who the bad guy is — despite attempts to make this movie a mystery of sorts. (In fact, neither Swayze nor Moore seems to have any friends or relatives at all.)
Swayze eventually manages to solve the mystery, with Goldberg's and Moore's help. And he benefits from a lesson in learning to move physical objects by concentrating with a grimace (just as Bill Cosby does in "Ghost Dad"), under the tutelage of Vincent Shiavelli, who offers a wonderful and all-too-small role as a territorial ghost who rides the subways.
Swayze, on the other hand, is called upon to do little more than look perplexed and/or frustrated, while Moore has lots of close-ups as she cries.
Goldberg is funny and brings the film to life single-handedly in her scenes, but she's so out of sync with the overall tone it's as if she wandered into the wrong movie.
"Ghost" is a mix of too many genres (the ending looks like the conclusion of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and a rather wrong-headed romance. We already know they can't get together.
If you want a ghost/mortal romance that does work, rent "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."
"Ghost" offers only infrequent pleasures. It is rated PG-13, despite violence, sex, partial nudity, profanity and vulgarity.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Wolfen’ is being reissued on Blu-ray by Warner Archives as one of four films in a set of 1980s horror flicks, the others being ‘Innocent Blood,’ ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Body Snatchers.’ Of those, ‘Wolfen’ is the best. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 27, 1981.
“Wolfen” purports to explain the thousands of disappearances that mystify police in American cities each year.
Those people are eaten by wolves, of course.
The film gives the impression that we are entering werewolf territory here — hot on the heels of “The Howling,” which placed werewolves in modern-day California, so why not a story about the same in modern-day New York?
Gregory Hines, left, Albert Finney, 'Wolfen' (1981)
But these aren’t men uncontrollably becoming wolves. They are actually wolves — wolves that have lived on the land since long before the white man came and who have developed extrasensory perceptions, as well as strength that allows them to strike and hide secretively, helping them remain undetected for centuries.
The overall film concept is told in the style of the current spate of “slasher” films, that is from the killer’s point of view, with the added dimension of a sort of computerized negative-reversed image and amplified sound. A Steadicam helps give the movement an even flow.
All of this is pretty effective, and as detective Albert Finney tries to track down whatever is doing the killing, the suspense builds in an exciting and horrifying fashion.
Unfortunately, the film begins to get awfully gory (including a wolf jumping at a man’s throat and decapitating him) and the shocks begin to be outweighed by the repulsiveness of what we see on the screen. (The sex is PG stuff; this is rated R for the violence and profanity.)
Finney is very good as the world-weary cop and Gregory Hines (he was the tap-dancing slave in “History of the World, Part I”) is his match as a pathologist. Diane Venora in her first film has a thankless role as Finney’s assistant, but she shines so we’re bound to see her in the future.
“Wolfen,” the first fictional feature directed by Michael Wadleigh (“Woodstock”), is a chilling horror movie for the most part. The filmmakers successfully take us beyond our disbelief of the strange premise and plunge us into a very believable unreality.
Gerry Fisher’s cinematography is also worthy of note, with excellent lighting in the night scenes and smart handling of the new computer technique.