AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - 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. 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.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a horror-comedy with a huge fan base but I found it in 1981, and still find it, way too gory for me to get into. I sat through all the slasher films of the 1980s and ’90s to review them but when I quit the reviewing job I let them go. I haven’t seen the ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ pictures or their ilk. Perhaps those who have would say ‘American Werewolf’ is tame by comparison. But for me it’s still too much. Not that I didn’t find things to recommend about the film; just to enough to tip the scales for me. But for fans, Arrow has released the film in a new Blu-ray edition with all the bells and whistles for which the label is famous. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 21, 1981.
Subtlety is not John Landis’ strong suit.
The writer-director who has given us “Kentucky Fried Movie,” “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers” definitely believes in overkill, and “An American Werewolf in London” is no exception.
In some cases his flair for overstatement works but in others it’s enough to drive audiences away, and “Werewolf” is without question the most mixed of his mixed-bag movies so far.
In an update of the old Universal “Wolf Man” series, to which he occasionally has his characters refer, Landis’ script has two young American men (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) bumming through Northern England as they begin a penniless, jaunty European sojourn.
Lost and cold, they come across “The Slaughtered Lamb” pub, mingle with the extremely unfriendly regulars, and then head out again over the moors to find friendlier quarters for the night.
Then they are attacked by a beast and Dunne is killed. Naughton recovers in a London hospital under the extremely close care of nurse Jenny Agutter and doctor John Woodvine.
Griffin Dunne, left, David Naughton, 'An American Werewolf in London' (1981)
Haunted by nightmares, Naughton is then visited by his dead friend Dunne, who tells him he must kill himself because he is the last of a line of werewolves, and Dunne and other victims will have no peace until the line is severed.
Agutter convinces Naughton that it’s all in his mind and invites him to come live with her; an overzealous bedside manner, you might say.
As anyone who enters the theater will discover, it isn’t long before Naughton turns into a wolf and begins killing Londoners.
Now, believe it or not, “An American Werewolf in London” is a comedy. It’s also extremely gory. Where most suspense or fright pictures have a character or situation for comedic relief, Landis uses gore in his comedy for horrific relief.
The result is a jarring mix. When “Werewolf” is funny, it’s often hilarious, and when it’s frightening, it’s often extremely scary. But when it’s bloody, this is one of the goriest, most gruesome pictures in quite some time. That’s the product of Landis as director.
I thought “Wolfen” was bloody but compared to “American Werewolf” it was rather tame.
So, I left the theater with very mixed feelings. I enjoyed the humor (especially Dunne’s periodic visits to Naughton, with the former becoming more and more decayed each time). I marveled at the special effects (Naughton’s change into a wolf gives the superb effects of “The Howling” a run for their money). And all the actors are extremely appealing.
But the gore is so gory, and so much of it is so gratuitous (why in the climactic car smash-up are so many people brutally maimed by autos?), and Landis is so heavy on the sex (a hot scene between Naughton and Agutter, then a porno flick in a seedy movie house where Naughton meets with Dunne), that it just left a bad taste. Add to that a terrible, flat ending, and you have a negative vote from this critic.
It’s too bad, because “American Werewolf” has much to recommend. Naughton, whom you will recognize as the “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper” singer-dancer on the popular TV commercial, is very good; Agutter of “Amy” and “Logan’s Run,” is a low-key delight; and Dunne, in his first major role, is stupendously hilarious. (You’ll also easily spot Frank Oz in a bit part — he’s the one who talks like a Muppet!)
Some of Landis’ individual setups are also good, particularly the nightmare sequences, which at one point he begins firing at us so fast that we’re not sure whether Naughton is asleep or awake — and neither is Naughton.
If Landis learns to hold back on his tendency toward excess he’ll be a much better director. And when “An American Werewolf in London” finally comes to commercial television and all those excesses are cut, it will be a much better picture.