BEETLEJUICE - 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.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Most of the old reviews I post here are of movies that are being newly reissued on Blu-ray or DVD but my review of the original ‘Tremors’ is in this space because a new sequel is being released — ‘Tremors: Shrieker Island,’ No. 7 in the franchise — and it features as a goofy sidekick to Michael Gross, Utah native Jon Heder (yes, Mr. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ himself). I haven’t watched it yet (from the trailer, it appears to have borrowed liberally from ‘Jurassic Park’ and is played with camp humor) but it’s available on Blu-ray and DVD, and the usual streaming sites. My ‘Tremors’ review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 23, 1990.
"Tremors" is a throwback to the old ’50s creature features — you know, "The Blob," "Them!" "Tarantula."
But "Tremors" recognizes that its premise — in this case giant sandworms that look like they were lifted from "Dune" — is ridiculous, so it makes the clever choice of presenting itself as both monster movie and comedy.
Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward ("The Right Stuff," "Remo Williams") are a pair of modern-day cowboys working as "handymen" in the Nevada desert near a small town called Perfection when they stumble upon the worms.
Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Reba McEntire, 'Tremors' (1990)
They join the town's few residents in trying to destroy the creatures, and when that fails they attempt to get into the rocky hills where the worms are unable to tunnel.
Among the townfolk are a pair of overzealous survivalists, well-played by Michael Gross (the father on TV's "Family Ties") and country singing star Reba McEntire, who have an arsenal in their bomb shelter.
There's definitely a campy tone to most of the laughs but Bacon and Ward are deadpan as they make wisecracks, resulting in a satisfying combination of humor and horror.
Like many of those monster movies of old, "Tremors" never tries to explain exactly what these creatures are: Oversized worms? Humongous snakes? Overactive shoelaces?
But it's funny enough and scary enough to while away 90 minutes, and, as you might expect, the special effects are first-rate as the monsters tunnel at high speeds, tracking their human prey.
"Tremors" is rated PG-13 but there is an abundance of profanity and enough violence, with accompanying glop-and-goo special effects, that you might want to steer young ones elsewhere.
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. 2, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife and I recently watched a couple of Michael Keaton comedies — ‘Mr. Mom’ and ‘Multiplicity’ — and got to talking about his range, which was initially unexpected, given his first few farcical films. But he proved his dramatic chops with ‘Pacific Heights,’ ‘One Good Cop,’ ‘Spotlight,’ ‘The Founder,’ and many more — and, of course, he earned an Oscar nomination for ‘Birdman.’ But one movie that his fans adore is arguably his wackiest, ‘Beetlejuice,’ which is back on the big screen this weekend, courtesy of Cinemark theaters. This was Keaton’s first film for Tim Burton and the next year Burton cast him as ‘Batman.’ My ‘Beetlejuice’ review was published in the Deseret News on March 30, 1988. As you’ll see, I was something of a dissenter, but Keaton’s performance remains a ‘Wow.'
Michael Keaton is almost unrecognizable as “Beetlejuice” — or more correctly, “Betelgeuse”; the film title has opted for a more phonetic spelling.
Keaton’s “Beetlejuice” is a freelance bio-exorcist, sort of an exorcist in reverse — he removes live humans from homes that spirits would like to peacefully haunt.
That idea alone is pretty funny and Keaton is zany, wacky and insane as a manic, wild-eyed demon. Do not, however, necessarily associate “zany, wacky and insane” with “funny.” Keaton tries hard but his character is so out of step with the tone of this film he seems an intruder in more ways than one.
Michael Keaton, left, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, 'Beetlejuice' (1988)
What’s more, he is largely a supporting player, coming on the scene occasionally to manipulate the film’s other characters to help him out of his spiritual trap, whatever that is.
“Beetlejuice” is rather short on explanations and there seem to be no real laws by which its characters must live. Thus we have the film’s central personalities, Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) as newly deceased spirits who are confined to their home with no explanation or understanding of death or what it means or why they are so confined.
All they know is they can’t leave because through the doorway is a place filled with sandworms that look leftover from “Dune.” At one point the couple gets a look at the hellish existence of some spirits but there’s no explanation as to why they are there or how any of this weird afterlife works.
If “Made In Heaven” made the afterlife seem off-kilter, “Beetlejuice” makes it seem cartoonish.
From Left: Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Glenn Shadix, 'Beetlejuice' (1988)
Soon Adam and Barbara find their docile existence disrupted by the house’s new owners, an obnoxious New York family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) that the friendly spirits half-heartedly try to get rid of on their own.
When they are unsuccessful they make an appointment with their “afterlife caseworker” (Sylvia Sidney) but she’s not much help either. Eventually they decide to call on Betelgeuse, a mistake they live … er, die, to regret. (There are also cameo roles fulfilled by no less that Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.)
“Beetlejuice” occasionally has some charm, and Baldwin and Davis work well together (Davis reminds me of young Paula Prentiss), and some of the shtick Keaton is called upon to do is humorous.
But most of this is labored and heavy-handed slapstick in the Three Stooges vein, with far too many dry spells. The special effects overkill is also a bit much, making this movie look like a live-action version of a Warner Bros. cartoon on fast-forward.
“Beetlejuice” is rated PG for violence (albeit comic in nature), profanity and vulgarity, the latter mostly provided by Keaton’s character.
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.