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A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother – Psycho: A Retrospective

So Psycho is sixty years old today, and as it’s one of my all time favourite films, I’m doing a huge celebration. I’ve already looked at the making of the film, and now, is time to look at the Psycho franchise… all of it. A quick, obligatory SPOILER warning right here, as I’m going to go through each film, including the endings and then offer my view. Plus I’m not just covering the films here, I’m doing the films, the TV shows, spin offs, and the books… everything. This is going to be a big one! Any and everything Psycho I can find will be covered in detail. So, you have been warned… SPOILERS ahead! I repeat, this is going to be a big one. You’d better go grab a glass of milk and sandwich.

First up, the movies…

Psycho

Psycho Poster

Originally released sixty years ago today on the 16th of June, 1960. The film tells the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a young and attractive real-estate secretary from Arizona who steals $40,000 (over $350,000 in today’s money) from a client of her boss. Her aim is to use the money to start a new life with her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who lives in California. Marion sets out on the long twelve hour, seven-hundred and fifty mile drive from Arizona to California, stopping off to trade in her car with Arizona plates for a second-hand California plate car. Then gets back on the road for California and Sam.

During a heavy rain storm at night, Marion pulls into the Bates Motel with the idea to spend the night and leave to see Sam fresh-faced in the morning. At the motel, she meets proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). After Marion checks into the Motel, Norman offers to make a light meal for her up at his house behind the motel. But an argument kicks off between Norman and his mother, Norma, so Norman instead suggests they eat in the parlor at the back of the motel office. Here, Marion learns that Norman’s mother is mentally ill and how she can’t live without Norman’s help. The two chat and Marion begins to feel guilt over her stealing the money.

Now in her motel room, Marion decides to take the $40,000 back the next morning instead of running away with Sam. She hides the cash in a newspaper which she leaves on the nightstand before taking a shower. Que one of the most famous scenes in cinema history and Marion is stabbed to death in the shower by Norman’s enraged mother. Norman discovers the grisly crime scene and sets about cleaning it up to protect his mother. After carefully wrapping Marion’s body in the shower curtain, he puts the body in the trunk of Marion’s car. Ensuring Norman has covered everything, he also puts all of Marion’s possessions in the car… including the newspaper with the stolen $40,000 hidden in it (unbeknownst to him).

Marion Shower Scream

Norman then drives the car, body, money and all to a swamp at the back of the motel and pushes the car into it. Norman stands there nibbling away on candy corn as he watches the car and Marion’s body sink into the swamp. Everything has been taken care of and Norma Bates’ heinous crime has been covered up.

A week passes and Lila Crane (Vera Miles), Marion’s sister arrives at Sam’s place in California looking for her sibling. Sam, of course, has no idea where Marion has gone and he had no idea that she was on her way to come and see him a week ago. This is when private investigator, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) turns up asking questions about Marion and the missing $40,000 to both Lila and Sam. After some local investigation, Milton learns that Marion checked into the Bates Motel last week… under a different name. He also learns that Norman has his elderly and ill mother staying in the house. So Milton gets on the phone to update Lila and Sam on what he has learned and says he will try to talk to Norman’s mother before heading back. Milton decides to let himself into the house and tries to talk to Mrs Bates for any info on what happened to Marion. As he is climbing the stairs and nearing the top, mother makes another appearance, and so does her knife as she stabs the private investigator and he falls down the stairs to his death.

Psycho 1960 Milton

After not hearing back from Milton Arbogast, Lila and Sam go to the local sheriff to tell him about all that has been going on. They tell the sheriff that Norman and his mother must have had something to do with the disappearance of Marion and possibly why Milton has not checked in with them. The sheriff is quick to dismiss their theory because Norman’s mother has been dead for the last decade. The sheriff suggests that Milton must have lied to Lila and Sam about Marion and that maybe he plans on chasing Marion to get hold of the stolen $40,000 himself. Neither Lila or Sam are convinced by the theory and decide to check out the motel themselves. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila sneaks up to the house wanting to talk to the said to be dead Norma Bates. Norman becomes suspicious, knocks Sam out and goes up to the house himself. Lila makes her way into the fruit cellar and discovers Norma Bates sitting in a chair… and yes, she is very much dead. Leading to one of the biggest twist endings ever, as it is revealed that Norman Bates dug up his dead mother, preserved her as best he could via taxidermy and developed a very disturbing relationship with her corpse. He would often dress up as his own mother, hold conversations with her and of course… kill as his own mother.

So Norman is arrested over the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast as well as the murders of two other women previously killed off screen. Now, ‘mother’ has taken over Norman completely as she sits there in her cell knowing people are watching her, as she decides to prove that she’s no killer by not harming a fly…

Psycho 1960 Norman

There really is very little that I can say about Psycho that hasn’t already been written a thousand times over. It’s one of the greatest films ever to be made. It’s writing is sharp, the pacing is terrific, the direction is astounding and the music is etched into my memory forever. Then of course, there is the acting. Janet Leigh is mesmerising as the young secretary who has a moment of weakness and steals $40,000. A stupid mistake that will lead to her bloody and brutal death. Then you have Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and an instant classic film character was born. His charm and personality really help to sell the sheltered and shy Norman. A troubled young man who’s life has been destroyed by the death of his mother. Alfred Hitchcock made some amazing pictures in his career, but none of them came close to the genius of Psycho. With how much he had to sacrifice to get the film made, you can really feel his passion on the screen.

Psycho II

Psycho II Poster

Released just a short twenty-three years after the original in 1983. Psycho II is set twenty-two years after the events of the first film in 1982. Norman Bates is released from the mental institution he has spent the last two decades in, now having being ‘cured’ of his insanity. He now accepts that his mother is dead. However, some people are not happy that Norman is being released, one such person is Lila Loomis, Marion’s sister who eventually married Sam Loomis, Marion’s boyfriend from the first film… and she thinks Norman is insane? With some help from his psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), Norman settles back into his home at Bates Motel.

The motel is now being managed by Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), that’s one less thing for Norman to worry about. So he sets about getting back to a normal life, he lands himself a job at a local diner. An older lady, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) is one of the few people around who believes Norman is cured and should be forgiven, in fact it was Emma who landed Norman the job at the diner. After work, Norman meets waitress Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who is having boyfriend troubles. Mary has been thrown out of her boyfriend’s place and has no where to stay. So Norman offers up a room back at his motel, FOC… free of charge. Back at the motel, Norman learns that his new manager, Warren has been renting out rooms to drug users and prostitutes. An angered Norman sacks Warren and sets about getting Bates Motel back up to scratch by running it himself. A young and pretty female staying, Norman running the motel? History is beginning to repeat itself.

Soon after, Norman begins to receive phone calls and notes from mother, just as things were going so well for him too. After being sacked, an upset Warren Toomey picks a fight with Norman and he (Norman) suspects that it is Warren who has been making the calls and leaving the notes in order to try to drive Norman back to his old ways. However, as Warren is packing to leave the motel for good, he his stabbed and killed by a mysterious figure in a dress. It seems that mother is back. Sympathising with Norman, Mary decides to stay at the house in a guest room permanently and help Norman get the motel back into shape. As Norman starts renovating his motel, he begins to hear voices coming from the house and even sees mother standing in the window of her room. He goes up to the house to investigate, enters mother’s room and finds it untouched from twenty-two years ago, nothing out of place as if it’s still being used by her. Norman hears another noise that lures him up to the attic, and he is locked in. Meanwhile, downstairs, two teenagers break into Norman’s house and go into the fruit cellar to do what teenagers do… smoke dope and knock boots. Realising someone is in the house, the teenagers try to escape, only the boy is stabbed to death. The girl gets away and tells the police. Mary comes home to find Norman locked in the attic and lets him out, they go back to mother’s room to find it in a state of disuse, not like it was before. Norman begins to think he’s going insane. The sheriff arrives and questions both Norman and Mary about the killing of the boy, Mary says they were both out at the time for a walk. Norman begins to worry that it was him who killed the boy, that mother is starting to take over again. But Mary reminds him that he was locked in the attic, so he couldn’t have killed the boy. Someone did.

Psycho II Norman Phone

Mary calms Norman down and insists he is innocent, she then goes down to the motel to try to find a bottle of booze to make an Irish coffee. Waiting in the parlor of the motel is Lila Loomis and it turns out that Mary is her daughter. It was Lila and Mary who had been making the phone calls, leaving the notes and messing around with mother’s room, dressing as mother, etc. Between them they were trying to convince Norman he was going crazy again and force him to kill, in an attempt to get him re-committed to the mental institution. An act of vengeance on Lila’s part for the death of her sister. However, Mary has genuinely become friends with Norman and honestly believes he couldn’t have killed anyone, she thinks there is someone else involved, someone else who killed the the boy. Dr. Bill Raymond learns that Mary is Lila Lommis’ daughter and tells Norman all about it and their plan to try to drive him insane. Norman only half believes it and is convinced that someone else is involved. If Lila and Mary were only trying to goad Norman into killing but he never did… then who is the real killer? Norman suggests that it could be his ‘real mother’, whatever that means. Mary tells Norman that she wants nothing to do with the whole ruse anymore, that she wants to help Norman and not harm him. Lila however is a different story, she still wants Norman re-committed.

Lila Loomis is in the fruit cellar and she tries to retrieve her hidden mother costume that she has been using to fool Norman. But a mysterious figure steps out of the shadows and kills Lila, so she couldn’t have been the killer either. The police dredge the swamp at the back of the motel and find Warren Toomey’s car and his body inside it. Just how Norman hid the bodies in the first film. Mary tells Norman he should run away otherwise he’d be arrested and taken back to the mental institution. Just then, the phone rings and Norman answers it, it’s mother. Norman begins to talk to his mother, so Mary listens in on another phone and there is no other voice, but Norman keeps talking to mother regardless. Norman begins to debate with mother about killing Mary, so Mary runs off to the fruit cellar to get the mother disguise, complete with a large kitchen knife, to convince Norman that mother can’t be on the phone if she is standing in front of him. Dr. Raymond turns up and grabs Mary dressed as mother, believing she is the killer and trying to send Norman insane again. Mary and Dr. Raymond struggle and the good doctor is killed by Mary when she accidentally plunges the knife into his chest. In Norman’s unstable state, he sees Mary/mother standing over the dead body of Dr. Raymond and believes that she is back. Norman finally snaps and tries to kill Mary/mother to stop her once and for all. Mary runs away to the fruit cellar and finds the body of Lila. Now Mary thinks that it was Norman who killed Lila, so she raises the knife in self-defense. The police turn up, see Mary seemingly trying to kill Norman and assume she is the killer. Mary is shot dead by the police. So everything is wrapped up… except for the fact that neither Norman or Mary were the real killer of course.

Psycho II End

Later, the old lady from the diner, Emma Spool turns up at Norman’s home and Norman had been expecting ‘someone’ too. She tells Norman that she is his real mother, that Norma Bates was her sister. Emma says how she gave Norman to Norma as an infant because she had been institutionalised. It was Emma Spool who was the killer, she was upset that people were picking on and trying to harm her son. So in response, Norman smashes her over the head with a shovel and kills her. Norman then carries the body upstairs to mother’s room and begins talking to her and her to him, as she barks at Norman to open the motel. The whole cycle starts anew and mother has taken over Norman once more.

Psycho II End Shot

You know, for a sequel to an all time classic and released over two decades since the original, this really isn’t too bad. In fact, it has some truly great moments. The whole plot of trying to fool Norman that mother is back is really well done. The tricks both Lila and Mary play on him are cruel, but they work. There are some great throwbacks to the first film (the opening is fantastic). But the ending, the last fifteen minutes or so are a bit, well crap. The whole retconning of Norman’s back story to make this random old lady who is only in the film for thirty seconds his real mother really annoyed me and seemed pretty desperate. It’s also lazy rehash of the first film but in reverse. In Psycho, it’s Norman Bates who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s an old lady. In Psycho II, it’s an old lady who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s Norman Bates. A really good main plot, but just falls flat in the end. But from a directing point of view, this is a very competent film. With Hitchcock dying in 1980, that means he had nothing to do with this one. Still director, Richard Franklin does a damn good job and still maintains a lot of Hitch’s quirks. This feels like a Psycho sequel and not just a cheap cash-in (last few minutes aside). Plus the fact that both Vera Miles as Lila Loomis and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates returned adds a level of genuineness. Oh yeah, despite his death, Hitchcock still has a cameo in the film too.

Psycho III

Psycho III Poster

So in 1986, the next film in the franchise was released. Yes Anthony Perkins is back as Norman Bates, but he also takes on the role of director too. This one takes place a month after the events of Psycho II in 1982. So Norman has got the motel up and running once more, his ‘real’ mother, Emma Spool from Psycho II has now taken the place of his adopted mother, Norma, from the original Psycho… that role being a corpse. Oh and Norman is bat-shit crazy again, talking to his dead mother (Emma) and her talking to him… which is really him talking to himself. So with that confusing recap out of the way, on with the plot…

Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a young and mentally unstable nun attempts to kill herself by jumping from the bell tower of the convent. Instead, she accidentally knocks one of her fellow nuns to her death, and so Maureen is kicked out of the convent and renounces her nunship. Out in the hot California sun, Maureen is offered a car ride by sleazy musician, Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who is very protective of his guitar. After pulling over to get some rest, Duane puts the moves on Maureen and she freaks out. Duane kicks her out of the car and leaves her to her own devices. Duane pulls into the Bates Motel and meets Norman. Only instead of staying as a guest, Duane is offered the job as Norman’s assistant to help run the motel. Meanwhile journalist, Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is writing an article on newly released serial killers. Tracy believes that Norman is killing again (he is) and wants to talk to him about his life and supposed rehabilitation. Tracy interviews Norman in the diner (from Psycho II), but he becomes distracted when Maureen walks in. She is young, blonde and pretty… very much like Marion Crane… oh and Maureen is also carrying a suitcase with her initials… MC. Norman has a flashback to him/mother murdering Marion in the shower. Maureen is looking for somewhere to stay and of course, the Bates Motel has vacancies.

Psycho III Maureen Duane

So Maureen ends up checking into the Bates Motel and crosses paths with sleazy Duane once more. Mother is angered that another young woman is staying in the hotel and goes off to kill her in the shower, just as with Marion Crane twenty-two years previously. Only Maureen has saved mother the job by slitting her own wrists. Norman is shocked out of the mother persona and attempts to save the dying girl, while the delirious Maureen mistakes the knife wielding mother as the Virgin Mary holding a crucifix. So Norman rushes Maureen to the hospital and says she can stay the the motel as long as she needs… FOC of course. The night and Duane picks up Red, a woman in a bar. The two head back to Bates Motel for a bit of the old mattress mambo. When Red says she wants more than just a one night stand, Duane kicks her out of his motel room. Leaving Red to make her own way home, she tries to call for a cab at a near by phone box… only for mother to stab her to death.

The next morning and a group of football fans, who are in town to watch the big game, check into Bates Motel. While elsewhere, Tracy still looking for information on Norman for her article and gains access into Emma Spool’s apartment, who by now in the timeline has been missing for several weeks. Digging around, Tracy finds a magazine with the phone number for Bates Motel written on it over and over and over again. So Tracy works out there must be a connection between the missing Emma Spool and the motel. Back the the motel, the football fans are getting a little rowdy from partying. But one guest, Patsy Boyle, the only sober one of the lot, is murdered by mother while trying to find a toilet to use. Norman soon discovers the body and hides it in the motel’s ice machine outside of the office. 

Psycho III Norman Sheriff

The next morning and the sheriff turns up to ask Norman about the missing girl, Patsy, from last night… while trying to cool down with some ice from the ice machine that hides her body. Tracy tells Maureen all about Norman’s disturbing past. A very scared Maureen decides to not stay at the motel, but instead stay with Father Brian who looked over her at the hospital. At the house, Norman learns that his mother’s body is missing. He finds a note from Duane saying that she is in cabin twelve, so Norman heads out to get his mother back. Duane tries to blackmail Norman into giving him money, otherwise he’ll go to the police and tell them all about the whole dead mother thing. Norman and Duane get into a fight, which Norman wins by beating Duane unconscious with his own guitar. Norman puts both the bodies of Pasty and the unconscious Duane into Duane’s car and uses his tried and tested method of disposing of them in the swamp. However, Duane regains consciousness and attacks Norman while he’s driving. The car ends up in the swamp as Norman escapes, but Duane is not so lucky and drowns. Tracy talks to the owner of the diner and learns that Emma Spool used to work there for the previous owner. So Tracy tracks the now very elderly ex-owner down to an assisted living facility and learns that Emma was institutionalised for murder.

Maureen manages to convince herself that Norman is no harm to her and hurries back to the motel to declare her love for him. As the two share a tender moment together at the top of the stairs, Norman hears mother shout at him about having a girl in the house. This startles Norman who, accidentally, knocks Maureen off balance and she falls down the stairs, killing her. An enraged Norman says he will get mother for this. This is when Tracy enters the house and finds Maureen dead and sees Norman dressed as mother holding a large knife. She tries to reason with Norman and explains what she has learned about Emma Spool. It turns out that Emma actually his aunt and in love with his father, but he decided to marry her sister, Norma instead. As an act of revenge and when Norman was just a baby, Emma kidnapped him and killed his father. After being caught, Norman was returned to his real mother, Norma while Emma was institutionalised for killing Norman’s father. Normans seems to listen and break free form the mother persona. Tracy finds Emma Spool’s corpse in mother’s bedroom and as Norman takes of the mother dress, he hears her order him to kill Tracy. Norman raises the knife, but instead of attacking Tracy, he stabs and cuts up Emma Spools body instead. Norman is most definitely insane and the sheriff turns up to arrest Norman. After the sheriff tells Norman they will lock him up forever, he replies, “But I’ll be free…I’ll finally be free.”, as Norman is taken away.

Psycho III end

This one is very typical eighties slasher movie territory. It lacks the suspense and taughtness of the previous two flicks and favors simple jump scares and blood instead. Of course Anthony Perkins is still great as Norman Bates, a character he was seemingly born to play. His role as director is pretty decent too and he throws in quite a few nods and references to the other films, but his direction lacks the subtly of the previous two flicks. The story is just a bit bland and uninspired, well it is the third flick. There are no real surprises, we know from the off that Norman is crazy again, we know mother is controlling him once more, so there’s no real mystery as to who is doing the killing. Yet when the murders do happen, they are disguised as if to try and hide who’s behind them, the face is hidden in shadows or you only see the hand holding the knife… but we already now it’s Norman. It’s all a bit pointless really. The retconning of Emma Spool being Norman’s real mother is reconnected itself to make Norma his real mother again. This makes a lot more sense to Norman’s backstory, but it seems awfully convoluted. Emma Spool should never have been made Norman’s mother to begin with to be honest. Overall, Psycho III is a decent horror flick, it’s just that aside from having Norman Bates in it… it’s not very Psycho. It lacks surprises, it lacks punch, it lacks suspense.

Bates Motel

Bates Motel 1987 Poster

So this one is a bit of a curiosity. It’s an official spin-off from the main franchise and released in 1987. Oh yeah, it’s also the only film from the original franchise where Anthony Perkins doesn’t play Norman Bates. Plus this was a made for TV movie with the idea for it to kick-start a Bates Motel TV show… that never happened. The film is set after the events of Psycho and tells an alternate history, not connected to the films. It focuses on Alex West (Bud Cort), who is admitted to an asylum after he killed his abusive stepfather. While in the asylum, Alex befriends Norman Bates (Kurt Paul). Years later and Norman dies, Alex learns that Norman has left him the Bates Motel and house in his will. When released from the asylum, Alex sets about re-opening the motel.

Long and very boring story short. Some bank manger tries to stop Alex from re-opening the motel by scaring him in a very poor Scooby Doo kind of way. Alex gets some help renovating the motel. There’s something about a suicidal divorcee, a portal to an alternate dimension (seriously) and some other terrible plot points I really couldn’t care about. The film ends with Alex setting up for the motel to receive more guests and the start of a TV show that never begun.

Seriously, this is utter shit. First, you don’t recast Norman Bates… never mind kill him off in a Psycho film. Second, you don’t force in supernatural elements in a Psycho film either. There’s some bullshit about an alternate dimension and lost souls of teenagers being trapped, etc. The acting is atrocious, way beyond terrible. The directing is a mess and the story is nonsensical that plays up for inane laughs. Just don’t waste your time on this one, not even for curiosity sake. But it can be found on YouTube… if you dare… to be bored and angered. Norman Bates himself only has literal seconds of screen time too.

Psycho IV: The Beginning

Psycho IV Poster

Released in 1990, this sequel/prequel is another made for TV movie that brings back Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates as well as writer of the original Psycho, Joseph Stefano. On the surface, this flick has a lot going for it. Flat out ignoring the terrible, previous Bates Motel monstrosity and bringing back the original’s writer too. Anyway, a radio show is having a talk on matricide, hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) and accompanied by Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost). They receive a call from someone called Ed… Ed is actually a rehabilitated Norman Bates using a fake name (Ed Gein?). Ed begins to tell his story of matricide, how he killed his own mother. The film jumps around the timeline telling Norman’s past from the 1940s and 50s through flashbacks as Norman discusses his life over the phone.

So, when Norman was six years old, his father died leaving him alone with his mother, Norma (Olivia Hussey). Norma’s mental health begins to decline as she seemingly suffers from schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. She starts to dominate and punish Norman for any and everything, no matter how trivial. She teases and torments Norman, then punishes him when he reacts. The two are happy living together alone in relative isolation. Then in 1949, Norma get’s herself a lover, Chet Rudolph (Thomas Schuster). Chet is an oafish brute who bullies and terrorises Norman (Henry Thomas), while Norma does nothing about it. Business at the motel begins to suffer due to a new interstate being built near by.

Chet continues his bullying of Norman until he can take no more. Driven by anger and jealousy that Chet had now become his mother’s main focus of affection. Norman kills both of them by lacing some ice-tea with poison. After the funerals, Norman steals Norma’s corpse and preserves it via taxidermy. Over time, Norman begins to develop a split personality and becomes mother in an attempt to suppress his guilt of murdering his own mom. Norman begins to dress in his mother’s clothes and talk to himself in her voice. Mother takes over and Norman kills two young women who try to seduce Norman. The two girls Norman is guilty of killing off screen, in the events of the first flick.

Psycho IV Young Norman

Back in the present day at the radio station and Dr. Richmond works out that this ‘Ed’ guy is actually Norman Bates. Norman begins to worry that he could kill again. He married a psychiatrist named Connie (Donna Mitchell) and Norman reveals that Connie is pregnant with his child. Norman says that he never wanted a baby out of fear that it will be born like him, insane. He tells radio host Fran that he fears mother could repossess him, killing Connie and the baby. The chase is on to try and track Norman down to stop him from killing his wife and unborn child. 

When Connie returns home from work, Norman takes her to the old Bates Motel and house. He does try to kill her with a knife, but Connie does her best to try and convince Norman that he chose to go insane, that mother does not control him and that their child will not be born like him, that there is always a choice. As Norman realises the truth, they he can chose not to be mother, he drops the knife. He then sets the house on fire to destroy it once and for all. Just barely escaping, Norman says that his is now free. Then there’s a pretty pointless stinger ending with a fade to black and a baby crying.

Psycho IV Norman

This flick really is a mixed bag. First things first, writer, Joseph Stefano has gone on record as saying that this film is a direct sequel to the original Psycho. A film that ignores every other sequel. There is no mention of the whole Emma Spool stuff from Psycho II and III. So none of the previous events happened in relation to this film. Looking at this film with that in mind, this is an interesting picture. I really liked the idea of a prequel looking at the younger Norman Bates and seeing exactly what happened between him and his mother. Henry Thomas does a decent job as the younger Norman Bates too. I honestly think that if this had just been a prequel, it could’ve really worked. It’s the whole framing and story with the radio show and older Norman that just does not work for me, which is a shame as again, Anthony Perkins is fantastic. I guess this is worth a look, just don’t expect anything amazing. Plus, there’s a couple of fun cameos to spot. First one is famed director John Landis and the second is Kurt Paul. Now, who is Kurt Paul you ask? Well he was Anthony Perkins’ stunt double in Psycho II and III… oh and he played Norman Bates in that atrocity that was Bates Motel.

Psycho (1998)

Psycho 1998 Poster

I guess it had to happen didn’t it? Yes Psycho was remade. Directed by Gus Van Sant, maybe remake is not really the correct term to use. This is a shot for shot re-enactment of the original Psycho film. Given this, it’s not really worth me going into the plot, because it’s the exact same plot just moved into a more contemporary setting. The characters are the same, the dialogue is the same (save a few modernisations), everything is the same, except more modern. Instead of stealing $40,000 in the original, Marion steals $400,000 in this version, etc. This is less a remake and more an experiment in recreating a classic movie. This film was slated when it was released and is still very much hated among Psycho fans. I’m a Psycho fan, so what do I think?

I just don’t have the hatred toward this film like others do. Is it as good as the original? Of course not, it’s not even close. Nothing will ever be as great as the original Psycho. But as a film in of itself, it’s a good horror/thriller. There are no surprises here if you already know the original as the plots are identical. But I fail to see how that is a problem when the plot is so damn good. Sure, Gus Van Sant is no Alfred Hitchcock, but his experiment is still a fun one and you can’t help but wonder what Hitch might have done differently if he had a bigger budget and fewer restraints for his version. The acting is decent and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates is believable. Anne Heche’s take on Marion Crane works. Julianne Moore as Lila Crane comes across as a little more ballsy in this version and a lot less 1960s clueless female. Virgo Mortensen as Sam Loomis is enjoyable and William H. Macy as Milton Arbogast is actually bloody great. That’s about it really, there’s little more to say. Yes of course I much prefer Hitch’s version and that will always be my choice between the two films. But I really don’t mind this remake at all. It’s kind of nice to watch just to see how close it is as a re-enactment and just where things have been altered too. 

And so, with all the films covered, next the books…

Psycho

PSycho Book 2

Written by Robert Bloch and released in 1959. Just as with the film remake, I don’t need to dwell on the plot as they’re the same between book and film. There are a few minor changes. The book kicks off with an introduction to Norman and his mother right from page one. Marion is Mary in the novel and she’s also not in it for much either. The book is more violent. As an example, Marion in the film is just stabbed in the shower, in the book, Mary is beheaded. Norman isn’t the good-looking, young man he is in the film. Here he’s middle aged, over weight, sexually perverted and drinks a lot. Arbogast’s death is different. Then there are some minor differences with the structure of the story. But all told, the novel and movie are virtually identical otherwise.

I just got through re-reading Psycho last week and I still enjoy it very much. It’s a short book and you could get through it in one sitting easily enough. Bloch’s wording seems a bit outdated in 2020 (it is sixty-one years old), but Psycho is still a fantastic read. If you know the film, then there are no surprises here as the plots of both are the same. Still, a very worth while read though.

Psycho II

Psycho II Book

Okay, so this one needs a little explanation before I get into the plot… and I need to get into the plot. So when Hollywood came up with the idea to make a sequel to the movie, Robert Bloch offered his services as the writer. He pitched his idea… which was quickly dismissed. Instead, the studio wanted to make their own picture. And 1983’s Psycho II is what we got. A film I really quite enjoyed. But after being shunned by Hollywood, Bloch became annoyed, so he decided to expand on his pitch for a movie and write a sequel to his novel instead, which he finished and published before the film was released. Yup, this book, Psycho II is very different to the film Psycho II… very different…

So the story picks up twenty years after the events of the first book. Norman has been locked away in a mental asylum and been treated by his psychiatrist, Dr Adam Claiborne. Two nuns stop by for a visit and to talk to some of the patients. One of the nuns chats to Norman, under the chaperone of Dr Claiborne. However, the doctor is requested on the phone and leaves Norman and the nun alone. Of course Norman does what he does best, he murders the nun by strangling her with her own rosary beads. Now disguised as the nun, Norman makes his escape along with the other nun in their van. Shorty after, Norman murders the other nun with a tire iron and leaves her body in the back of the van… after raping the corpse. Along the way, Norman picks up a hitchhiker, kills him and sets fire the the van in an attempt to throw the police off his trail. The police eventually find the burnt out van and work out that the body in the back is of the other nun while the charred remains in the front must belong to Norman. So as far as the police know, Norman is dead. But Dr Claiborne isn’t so sure, he thinks Norman is still out there.

Due to a serious accident involving a bus and several dead civilians, there would be a delay on autopsy of the body in the to confirm who he is. Meanwhile, Norman has tracked down Sam and Lilia Loomis and killed them both. He also finds a newspaper reporting on a story that Hollywood are planning on making a movie based on the events told in the first book… yes this is getting a bit meta. The Hollywood movie is going to be called Crazy Lady and is set to begin filming soon. So that’s where Norman heads next, to Hollywood to stop the production of the film in his own special way. The producer of the film contacts Dr Claiborne about background info on the whole Norman Bates case to help with the film. Dr Claiborne heads to Hollywood himself under the guise of a technical consultant when really, he wants to try to stop Norman, who the police think is dead and not in Hollywood trying to kill anyone. 

Now in Hollywood, Dr Claiborne is introduced to the cast and crew, including the director, Vizzini who Dr Claiborne thinks looks just like Norman Bates. So Dr Claiborne tries to warn anyone who will listen that he thinks Norman in in Hollywood and is trying to kill the people making the movie, Crazy Lady. No one really believes him… until the producer of the flick is found decapitated. Yes, it seems that Norman Bates has been busy. Now things are getting serious, plus Dr Claiborne learns of Vizzini’s disturbing past, that as a boy, he witnessed his mother being raped and killed. It seems that the director of the film has more in common with Norman Bates than just looking like him, and Dr Claiborne seriously begins to question the director’s sanity. Turns out the good doctor is right too as Vizzini arranges to meet with he actress playing the Mary Crane role at the movie studio to ‘rehearse’ the shower scene. Two crazies running around the set of the movie is bad news.

So at the movie studio Vizzini and his lead actress are all alone, and he tries to rape and murder her. She fights back and at the same time, Dr Claiborne is told about the meeting between Vizzini and the actress. Seriously worried the director is insane, Dr Claiborne rushes to the studio while keeping an eye out for Norman Bates. Except Norman Bates is dead. Yes, that charred body in the van was actually Norman Bates all along. The hitchhiker Norman picked up was found and questioned by the police. He killed Norman in self-defense when Norman tried to kill him. The Hitchhiker then set fire to the van to hide any evidence. So If Norman Bates is dead, that that must mean that it was the director of the film, Vizzini who was the real killer. Gone insane after the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother raped and killed and was trying to drum up some free publicity for his Crazy Lady flick.

Dr Claiborne makes it to the studio just in time. The actress manages to kick Vizzini away as he tries to rape her on the set of the shower scene. Vizzini stumbles backward into the shower curtain, where he lets out a scream and re-emerges with a stab wound in the back and drops dead on the floor. The real killer tries to kill the Mary Crane actress, only for the police to show up and shoot them. The killer falls to the floor and he is revealed to be Dr Claiborne. Surviving the shooting, Dr Claiborne is committed to the same asylum that Norman Bates was. Yes, the real killer had been Norman’s very own doctor all along. Norman died in the van early on and Dr Claiborne just kind of snapped when he realised Norman was dead. After being his psychiatrist for twenty years, some of Norman had rubbed off onto Dr Claiborne. 

Psycho II Book 2

So there you have it, the alternate Psycho II, very, very different to the film version. You can see perhaps why the movie studio initially turned down Robert Bloch’s sequel idea, because it really was a bit petty and a dig at horror films and Hollywood in general. When you read Psycho II, you can definitely see a certain level of resentment from Bloch. But is the book any good? Yes and no. The twist is a good one and one not really spoiled early on. Killing of Norman in the opening chapters is certainly ballsy and Bloch does a good job of keeping the subterfuge up. But, there are issues. At times, it feels over-written and overtly meandering. Psycho II is just not as well paced and snappy as the first novel. Plus, while Norman was a bit of a creep in the first book… raping a dead nun in this? I just seems very off to me, as if Bloch was trying to shock for the sake of trying to shock. It never felt organic really. As mentioned, you can feel a sense of petty resentment toward Hollywood and film-making too. It feels like Bloch never really got over having his idea turned down for a sequel movie. There’s quite a few completely unnecessary chapters that could’ve easily been cut to help with the pacing. There’s one chapter that has the lead actor of the film within the book going to a gay bar to research the fact the Norman Bates dressed as his mother. But Norman dressing as his mother had nothing to do with being gay. It was a pointless chapter that added nothing to the plot, plus the gay bar featured big Hollywood actor look-a-likes… why? I think with a bit of editing and a not so bitter attitude toward Hollywood and this could’ve been amazing. But as it is, it’s a decent enough read, a little long winded and thin on actual plot. Nowhere near as great as the first book, but still worth a read with a good ending.

For a while, I thought that was all the Psycho books, but there were a couple more.

Psycho House

Psycho House

Robert Bloch is back with his third book in the Psycho franchise, released in 1990. Again, a new story not connected to the films, but serves as a sequel to Bloch’s Psycho II.  Set ten years after the events of the Psycho II novel. The plot revolves around how the Bates Motel has been turned into a tourist attraction, based on the infamy of it’s history and Norman Bates’ story. Amy Haines, a plucky writer looking to pen a novel based on the Bates Motel turns up to get some background information and a little inspiration for her book. A teenage girl is found stabbed to death at the infamous house and Amy decides to investigate who is behind the murder. The town is full of suspects and whenever Amy questions someone, they turn up dead soon after. Someone is out there trying to keep the mythology of Norman Bates alive… but who?

Robert Bloch’s Psycho: Sanitarium

Psycho Sanitarium

Despite his name in the title, Robert Bloch did not write this one… on account that he died in 1994 and this novel was released as recently as 2017. In the writer’s chair for this one is Chet Williamson. So this book is both a sequel to the original Psycho and a prequel to Psycho II. Telling to story of Norman Bates’ incarceration in the mental asylum. Norman Bates is gone, taken over by the murderous mother persona following the events of the first novel. Dr. Felix Reed works closely with Norman to try and bring him out from under the shadow of mother. It is rumored that the asylum itself is haunted and when a series of murders begin to happen, the place is not short of suspects, including Norman himself who still has a few dark secrets yet to be revealed.

Now to be honest, I’ve not actually read either of these books, not yet anyway. Which is why I’ve not offered my opinion on them. But I’ve done some snooping around and the general consensus is that Psycho House wasn’t very good at all. A far cry from Bloch’s previous Psycho books, that comes off as a pretty lazy ‘whodunit?’ kind of thing. But Psycho: Sanitarium is said to be great. Despite not being written by original author, Robert Bloch, the novel does maintain the style set up in the first book and even goes on to elaborate and even extend on certain plot points set up in Psycho. All told, it seems like Chet Williamson has put together a worthy sequel to the original book after so many years.

So now the movies and books are out of the way, that just leaves TV…

Bates Motel 

Bates Motel Show

Interestingly enough, and before I really get into this show. The other Bates Motel, the TV movie from 1987 was meant to kick-start a TV show called Bates Motel. Only due to the poor and very much deserved low reception of that TV movie, the show itself was cancelled before it got started. Then just a short twenty-six years later and Bates Motel the TV show finally existed… only this show was nothing to do with the TV movie of the same name. So this show is a prequel of sorts telling the story of young Norman Bates and his mother. Only it’s not a prequel to the films or the books. It’s a kind of an all new re-telling of the history in a more contemporaneity setting. I’m not going to go over each and every episode as that would take way too long, so just a quick summary of each season instead I think.

Season One: After the death of Norma Bates’ (Vera Farmiga) husband, she buys a motel and sets about beginning a new life with her son, Norman (Freddie Highmore). When the former owner of the motel breaks into the house and attacks Norma, she fights back and stabs him to death. With the help of Norman, Norma hides the body and covers up the killing. The town sheriff, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) begins to sniff around after the missing person, Norma and Norman do their best to keep their secret.

Season Two: Norman’s teacher is murdered and suspicions begin to build around the Bates family. Norman’s estranged brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot)  starts asking questions about their family history. While Norma begins to worry about Norman’s state of mind.

Season Three: Norman’s mental health begins to get worse and worse, yet he denies that anything is wrong. Norma increasingly becomes worried about what is happening to her son and grows increasingly more concerned about just what he may be capable of. While Alex Romero’s suspicions on the Bates’ continues.

Season Four: Norma fights to find some professional help for Norman’s state of mind. Norman’s grip on reality begins to slide more and more. Unable to pay for expensive treatment, Norma agrees to marry Alex Romero for financial support to help her son. An enraged Norman learns about the wedding and attempts a murder/suicide of his mother and himself. Norma dies, but Norman survives.

Season Five: Norma has been dead for two years and Norman is alone to run the motel. Out in public, and Norman seems to be coping well, but it’s when he’s behind closed doors when he loses his grip on reality. He begins talking to his dead mother and her to him. A beautiful young woman called Marion Crane books in for a stay at Bates Motel… but just how will Norman Bates react?

Bates Motel Show Marion

So I did start watching this show and made it to about halfway through season three… then I just got bored. Now, I’m not saying it’s not a good show, the problem is me. I just can’t get into these long winded American TV shows. I just found this whole thing crammed with filler and fluff to pad everything out. Yes I know the history of Norman Bates and his mother isn’t really a deep one… and that’s the issue I had with this show. Five seasons, each season with ten episodes at around fifty minutes each. It was just too much. If this had been a three seasons, six to eight episodes each, then I probably would have held my interest more. There’s the main story of Norman losing his grip on reality and his relationship with his mother… that was great. Both Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma being utterly fantastic. But then there’s all this guff going on with Norman’s brother, drug dealing, love triangles, etc. I just didn’t care about to be honest. From what I watched, I really did enjoy this show, but I soon got bored and just didn’t bother with season four and five. And as far as I understand, season five is where the plot catches up with the whole main plot of the first film. But just to be clear, this isn’t a prequel to the film series or the books. It’s a re-telling of the whole Norman/Norma history and when the show does get to the meat of Marion Crane turning up at the motel, it does things very, very differently. If your a Psycho fan, then this is well worth checking out. 

Okay, so there is one final thing to take a quick look at… a Psycho video game. Yes, a video game…

Psycho

Psycho Game Cover

Oh yeah, there was a Psycho game. Developed by Starsoft Development Laboratories, published by Box Office, Inc. and released in 1988. Psycho saw a multi-platform release on the home computers including the C64, Amiga and Atari ST.

The game was an action/adventure type thing that uses a verb interface, telling a new story ‘inspired’ by the film series. You play as a detective hired to find a missing curator of a museum. I’ll let the back of the box cover the plot…

Precious jewels and an unwitting curator have been hoisted from the Metropolitan Showcase of Art. Tracing the crime to the menacing Bates Motel, you are the only detective willing to take the case…

Travel to the Bates Motel to unravel this strange mystery. Enter both the Motel and the forbidden house on the hill to search for clues. Keep your eyes alert and your back to the wall as you encounter the psychotic Norman Bates and his curiously silent mother. Prove yourself worthy of the title, Master Detective, as you plot your escape with the stolen jewels, captive curator… and your skin intact!

Just a couple of things I want to quickly cover with that description. You never go to the motel at all, the whole game takes place in the Bates’ home. Plus Norman/mother don’t make much of an appearance either, only twice in fact. Your biggest enemies in the game are not the main character(s) but dogs and ghosts.

Psycho Game Mother

It’s one of those search everything kind of things with a few little puzzles thrown in to annoy you. Kind of like one of those classic Lucasarts adventure games… only not as polished or as well written and designed. The Amiga and Atari ST versions both feature some fairly nice (for the time) digitised images taken from the first film and the presentation is pretty good. But the game itself is a slow, cumbersome mess. Even so, if you know what you are doing, the game can be finished in five minutes or so. I mean, here’s a complete walk-through for the game from start to finish…

Look in mailbox to find and read a letter.  Open the door of the house go inside. Find a vase, dig and search it to find and take a key. Go through the middle door of the foyer to the kitchen and open the dumbwaiter. Use the dumbwaiter to go up, take the gun and ammo you’ll find. Go down in the dumbwaiter to the second floor and open the bathroom door to the right and take the caffeine pills. Down in the dumbwaiter again to the gardener’s room and search the pile of coal for a key. Open the door on the left to find the missing curator. Back to the dumbwaiter and up to the second floor again. This time, go into the master bedroom on the far left. Open and search the closet for some medicine. Back down in the dumbwaiter and use the medicine on the curator, hell give you a combination. To dumbwaiter again and go back to the bathroom on the second floor. Shoot ‘mother’ with the gun. Go upstairs to third floor, then through the door on the left and open the attic. Shoot ‘mother’ again. Open the safe with the combination you got from the curator, take the jewels and leave out the front door you came in by. Done.

Psycho Game Screen

There you go, the entire game covered in a single paragraph. Psycho wasn’t very well reviewed when it was released. Nor should it have been, it’s horrible.


And so, that’s everything Psycho related. From the original novel in 1959, through the movies, other books, a TV show and even a little known video game. Psycho has been a pretty long and successful franchise. A franchise that has spanned from 1959 – 2017, fifty-eight years of Norman Bates and his mother.

I hope there’s still more Psycho to come too. Personally, I’d love to see another remake more in line with the novel. I didn’t hate the 1998 remake as many others did, but I will always say that doing a shot for shot re-enactment, with a modern day twist was very much redundant. So I would very much like to see someone else interpret Robert Bloch’s novel their own way and make a new version of the story. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books that I’ve missed up to now, as bad or as great as they may be. I just love me some Psycho.

Psycho Fanart

Okay, so one final Psycho thing to go over for it’s sixtieth birthday. I explore and try to explain why the teaser trailer Alfred Hitchcock created for the film is the greatest movie trailer ever made.

We all Go A Little Mad Sometimes: Psycho At 60

One of my all time favorite films turns sixty years old today. Psycho is a masterwork of cinematic genius, and I aim to celebrate it’s birthday with a handful of articles. One will look at the Psycho franchise as a whole, one will examine the film’s trailer and this one, will take a look at some of the behind the scenes stories of this classic Hitchcock flick.

Back in 1959, writer Robert Bloch penned one of the greatest thrillers ever written, Psycho. Okay, so the book wasn’t a huge hit at first, but it soon became one after some fella called Alfred made a movie based on the book, and that film went on to be one of the most loved pictures ever. A masterclass of suspense and ground breaking film-making.  But before I do look at how the film was made, I just want to take a quick glance at Robert Bloch’s novel.

The Book

As I write this, I’ve recently finished re-reading Psycho and it’s sequel (more on those in my other article). The book isn’t a long one, you could easily make your way through it in one sitting. Plus if you know the film, there’s hardly any surprises outside of some slightly different narrative ideas and a character name change. The ending is the same and the plots of both book and film are virtually identical.

Psycho Book

A quick synopsis for and those not in the know. Psycho tells the story of motel owner, Norman Bates and his taut, strained relationship with his overbearing and controlling mother, Norma. When young and beautiful woman, Mary Crane stops off for the night in Bates Motel, Norman becomes fascinated by the female… to the ire of Norma. While Mary hides a few secrets of her own, they’re nothing compared to Norman’s. Mary’s stay at Bates Motel kick-starts a series of events that slowly reveals Norman and Norma’s checkered history as Norman’s darkest secrets are brought to light.

I really do enjoy reading Psycho. As I said, it’s a quick read and a very enjoyable one too. But there is a misconception I quickly want to cover. It has been said that Psycho is based on the real life crimes of the infamous Ed Gein. It’s one if those long running tales attached to both the book and film… but it’s not strictly true. See, Robert Bloch didn’t even know of the whole Ed Gein case while he was writing his book. You have to remember that were talking about the mid-late 50s and communication back then wasn’t like today. There certainly wasn’t the internet to spread news in an instant, there was radio and TV of course, but even then, news reports were nothing like today and didn’t really make it out of their own towns, cites and countries, unless it was a major worldwide event. Unless something had happened in the town you were living in, then you didn’t really hear about it until much later, if at all. Bloch lived around forty miles away from where Gein had committed his crimes and was eventually arrested in 1957, by which time, Bloch had already pretty much finished writing his book. It wasn’t until he had finally finished writing Psycho when he heard about the Gein case for the first time.

So where does this rumor that Psycho was based on Ed Gein come from? Well from Robert Bloch himself, though not intentionally. See, after Bloch had finished his book and learned about Gein, he then threw in a very quick reference to the whole affair at the end of Psycho.

GEIN SNIPPET

That’s it, that’s the only mention or reference to Ed Gein in the entire book. So people assumed the whole book was based on the Gein case, when the truth is that Psycho had already been written by the time Robert Bloch heard about Gein’s crimes.

And now that’s out of the way, I can now yak on about how one of my favourite films, Psycho was made. Before I do crack on, I’m going to offer one of my usual SPOILER warnings right here. Yes, I know the film is sixty years old now and pretty much anyone who has seen a movie ever knows the ending to Psycho. But I’m a firm believer that a SPOILER is still a SPOILER no matter how old or famous.

The Movie

So anyway, Robert Bloch’s novel wasn’t a huge success at all, not at first anyway. It sold okay and was seen as a quick, disposable, pulp fiction read that people would forget about not long after reading it… and it was just that for the most part. However, Peggy Robertson, assistant to famed and respected TV & film director, Alfred Hitchcock, read a positive review of the book and suggested that Hitch should read Psycho himself, he did and loved it, so much so that he secured the film rights to the book soon after. I mean, the book was first published in April of 1959 and Hitchcock began shooting the film in November of the same year. That’s how fast the turn-around was on this thing. Hitchcock even asked Robertson to buy up all or as many copies of the book as she could find so people wouldn’t have the ending of his film spoiled for them.

Taking his pitch for the movie to Paramount Pictures, Hitchcock was soon shot down. He’d had a bit of a bad run the last couple of years and despite his past successes, Paramount didn’t have faith that Hitchcock could produce a hit film, he’d recently lost the studio a fair bit of cash over two aborted films, Flamingo Feather and No Bail for the Judge. Plus there was the fact that he was sixty years old in 1959 when he wanted to make the film. It’s kind if hard to think about it now, but when he was trying to make Psycho, Hitchcock was thought of as a has-been, past his prime as many industry insiders believed. Yet, Alfred Hitchcock was so sure he could make a great film from this pulp fiction novel that he offered Paramount a deal they really couldn’t refuse. He waived his usual $250,000 director’s fee, which was a huge sum back in 1959, around $2.2 million by 2020. Not only that, he said he would fund the film shoot himself and asked that Paramount only distribute the picture when finished. From a money point of view, Paramount had nothing to lose.

Hitch Pic

Obviously, not being paid $250,000 to direct and having to fund the production himself left Hitchcock with a major issue, money. Making films wasn’t cheap, there’s the pay for all the cast and crew, writers, equipment, music, catering, locations, sets to build and everything else. The budget for Psycho was said to be around $807,000 ($7.1 million in 2020), which was a huge chunk of cash in 1959, especially when Hitch himself wasn’t even being paid. Hitchcock put up his house as collateral to help raise money for the flick. He was putting a hell of a lot on the line, his career as a director was already a bit shaky and now his very home was at risk too. If Psycho as a film flopped, his career was certainly over and Alfred Hitchcock, along with his wife, Alma, would be homeless. It was a completely mad deal to make, but we all go a little mad sometimes.

To keep costs low, Hitchcock used his cheaper TV crew instead of a film crew and chose to shoot the film in black & white, all of which were lower cost options over how other films were being made back then. So he had the production under control, but there was another problem. The sound stages at Paramount Pictures were fully booked with other films being made, he may have had a plan to get the movie made cheaper than usual, but Hitchcock had nowhere to actually film it. That’s when Universal Pictures stepped in and offered their sound stages for the production. Ever wonder why a film distributed by Paramount had an attraction at the rival Universal Studios theme park? Now you know.

So (almost) everything was set. Hitchcock had his crew, he had a studio to film in but he was still missing some pretty big pieces. He didn’t have any actors signed on for the roles and nor did he have a script, just the Robert Bloch book. As the man himself once said…

“To make a great film you need three things. The script, the script and the script.”

– Alfred Hitchcock

First things first, Hitchcock needed a screenplay to show to potential actors to fill the roles. Sticking to his idea of using his TV show crew, Hitchcock gave the job to James P. Cavanagh, who was a writer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show. All told, the screenplay was terrible, Hitchcock felt it didn’t read like a movie but more like an episode of his show. It lacked the depth of character he was looking for and had none of the slow burn of tension and suspense he craved. Cavanagh’s screenplay was too short, to shallow, too TV episode-like… well he was a TV show writer after all. Enter Joseph Stefano, a young man with only one movie script under his belt at the time, the perfect writer for Hitchcock. Stefano may have lacked movie screenplay writing experience, but he had a little, plus the fact he was young and inexperienced meant he was cheap. Given the finance situation of the whole film, Hitchcock had to be frugal.

Anthony Perkins

Joseph Stefano’s adaption of Bloch’s novel was exactly what Hitchcock was looking for. Faithful to the source material, but still bringing new ideas to the table. Both Hitchcock and Stefano worked on tidying up the screenplay, adapting it to fit more with Alfred Hitchcock’s vision. First was changing Norman. In the book, Norman is a middle-aged, over-weight drunken pervert that you feel very little sympathy for. Hitchcock already had an actor in mind to play that part, Anthony Perkins, who was far removed from Norman of the book. Young, good looking, charming and erudite, everything Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates wasn’t. So gone were Norman’s more disgusting traits to be replaced with Perkins’ boyish good looks and charm. The opening was to change too. The book begins by introducing the reader to Norman and his mother, Norma from page one. Hitchcock thought it would be better to leave the introduction of Norman until much later in the picture and until after his leading lady had been introduced.

Plus there was the fact that Hitchcock also wanted Marion (Mary in the book) Crane’s back story to be expanded too. In the book, Mary’s story only really takes up two of the book’s seventeen chapters. In the film though, Marion is ‘seemingly’ the main focus… for good reason too. Hitchcock knew he had a film with a great twist ending, but he wanted to pull the rug from under the viewer before that ending, as to give them a double surprise. He and Joseph Stefano worked on the idea of making Marion the star of the film, put the focus in her and her backstory, then when the now infamous shower scene happened, the audience would be shocked that they just killed off the leading lady. The focus of the film could then turn fully onto Norman, who up to this point in the film, was pretty much a secondary character. It was one of the biggest shocks in cinema history and to help pull off the shock, Hitchcock needed a big name.

See, Psycho’s cast are or were relatively unknown at the time. Even Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins, wasn’t exactly a big movie star then, yeah he’d been in a few films but he was known more for his stage work. But Janet Leigh was huge. By the time filming on Psycho began in November, 1959, Leigh had already appeared in over thirty films. And it wasn’t just the acting that made her famous back then, she was also very well known for her marriage to big screen superstar actor, Tony Curtis too, they were Hollywood royalty. Leigh could’ve easily been counted among other big name female movie stars back then. With her name and face on the movie posters, it was a surefire way to make people believe they were going to see a Janet Leigh film… and how they were shocked at around forty-six minutes into the film when the leading lady decided to take a shower and was brutally killed off with a kitchen knife. It’s one of the greatest surprises in cinematic history.

Janet and Tony

So Hitchcock had his two main characters cast, filling out other roles were Vera Miles as Lila Crane, Marion’s sister. John Gavin as Sam Loomis, Marion’s lover and Martin Balsam as the private investigator, Milton Arbogast. The core cast where now in place as other minor roles were also filled out. But there was one bit of casting that Alfred Hitchcock had a lot of fun with, Norma Bates, Norman’s mother. Now I know what you are thinking as you read this… but yes, Hitchcock wanted to cast someone in the role of mother… kind of. This of course was what Hitch was great at, leading people down the garden path. Hitchcock put word out in the industry that he was on the look out for an older woman to play Norma Bates. He even mentioned two actresses by name for the role, Judith Anderson and Helen Hayes. But it was all a ruse to keep people unaware of the film’s finale. Alfred Hitchcock even had a cast chair made up for Mrs Bates with that name printed on the back too, he then had all the cast have their picture taken in that chair for publicity shots… all the cast except for Anthony Perkins.

Hitch Mrs Bates

So everything was now in place and shooting for Psycho began on the 11th of November, 1959 at Universal Studios, California… well most of it was, a few establishing/location shots aside. The house and motel from the film still stand on the back-lot tour at Universal Studios, California too.

The shoot was a relativity easy one with very few issues. Beginning on the 11th of  November, 1959, and finishing on the 1st of February, 1960, so it was a pretty short shoot really. All through filming, Hitchcock would place various mother corpse props hidden around the set for the cast to find, just to test how scared they were and how loud they screamed.

Perhaps the most famous scene in the film was the pivotal shower one. As simple as it looked, it was one of the hardest in the film to shoot. All in all, that one scene lasts a little over three minutes from start to end, yet it contains a total of seventy-seven different camera angles, over fifty separate cuts and took a whole week to film… for one three minute scene. It’s the fast edits and the multiple camera angles that gives the scene it’s sense of madness and frantic pace as the knife stabs and slashes. Plus the fact Hitch chose to shoot with fifty millimetre lenses on thirty-five millimetre cameras gave the scene and overall film a specific feel, similar to that of human vision. This meant the audience felt closer to the action and characters, especially when someone is being brutally stabbed in the shower, that helped to make the audience feel uneasy.

Shower Scene Stroyboard

There has been some debate over just who was in the shower for the stabbing itself. Janet Leigh had always said she was the girl in the shower for the whole scene, she stated a s much the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. But the book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower contradicts this by stating that a body double was used named Marli Renfro, who was actually in the shower for all the body shots that didn’t involve Leigh’s face. This is a claim back up by Hitchcock himself too. But then, Rita Riggs who was in charge of wardrobe on the film has said that it was Leigh in the shower the whole time. There seems to be a lot of confusion over just who was in the shower to be honest… not that it really matters as the scene is perfection on film regardless of whoever was playing the role at the time.

There there is another matter worth looking at. It has been said that in order to get Janet Leigh to scream just right, Hitch insisted on using ice-cold water for the scene. Bearing in mind that the whole shower scene was shot over a week in late December too, it would’ve been chilly (for California anyway) already. But Leigh has shot this down herself. According to her, Hitchcock used hot water to keep her as comfortable as possible and that everyone there for the shoot were extremely professional and helpful to her needs. Do I really need to bring up the fact that Hitchcock used chocolate sauce for the blood in this scene? Surely that’s a tit-bit famous enough already?

Then there is one of the biggest myths of the most famous scene to look at too. According to Saul Bass, who designed the opening credits to Psycho and other Hitchcock films, and also drew up the storyboards for many of Hitch’s movies. According to him, he directed the shower scene and not Hitchcock. It’s one of those movie rumors that’s been going on for years. Yet despite Bass’ claims, he seems to be outnumbered by everyone else on the film.

“Absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I’ve ever given. I’ve said it to his face in front of other people. I was in that shower for seven days, and believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots.”

– Janet Leigh

“There is not a shot in that movie that I didn’t roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass.”

– Hilton A. Green (assistant director)

Then anyone who knows anything about Hitchcock and his methods, his perfectionism. Anyone would tell you that there would be no way that he would let anyone direct one of his scenes, especially one so important to the plot of the film and it’s impact, it’s reason for existing, it’s surprise factor. Basically, it seems that Saul Bass was talking utter shit.

Then of course, one can’t talk about Psycho’s shower scene and not mention ‘that’ music from legendary composer, Bernard Herrmann. I think perhaps what’s the most interesting thing about the now iconic music is the fact that Hitchcock never wanted it. His original vision for the shower scene was for it to be untouched by any music, he wanted the scene to speak for itself. Just the sound of the running water and Marion’s screams as the knife stabbed away at her flesh… a sound effect done by stabbing melons, a casaba melon if you really want to know. Still, Herrmann wanted to do something for that scene and asked Hitch if he could. They made a deal, if Hitchcock didn’t like the music, then they would discard it with no hard feelings. After a few days, Bernard Herrmann had his music written and record and played if for Hitchcock over footage of the shower scene. Hitch loved it and insisted it be used.

Everything about the shower scene is amazing, the music, the directing, the acting… everything. I’d quite happily argue that it’s the greatest movie scene ever caught on film.

Hitch Shower Scene

Psycho met with quite a fair bit of controversy when it was released in 1960. Things that seem very tame by today’s standards, but back then? There were issues that caused the censors to become inflamed due to the then Motion Picture Production Code, mostly due to it’s use of sexuality and violence. The now seemingly innocent opening scene of Marion and her lover, Sam caused a lot of upset. Firstly, Marion and Sam were not married, and showing them just lying in bed together was a serious taboo in 1960. Plus there was the fact that Marion was shown in her bra too. Quick aside, have you noticed that in the film, before Marion takes the money and runs away, she’s wearing a white bra, but after the theft, she’s seen in a black bra? Subtle. Other issues where the fact the film’s main plot was revealed to be about a man dressing as a woman. The censors even got upset about the fact the word ‘ transvestite’ is used in the finale to describe Norman.

Marion and Sam

Perhaps one of the silliest arguments Hitchcock had over censorship was the fact he dared to show a toilet in the movie… and have it be flushed too. Seriously, Psycho was the first American film to show a flushing toilet. Hitch got around being able to show the toilet being flushed by ensuring it was part of the plot. He had Marion tear up her calculations she made to return the money, and dispose of them in the toilet to then flush it. This meant he couldn’t cut the scene as no one would know what Marion was up to or why she decided to return the money and come clean. Then there was also an issue with the shower scene. When Hitch showed the film to the censorship board, several of them said they saw Janet Leigh’s naked breast in at least one shot. If showing a flushing toilet was an issue, you can bet anything that showing nudity was also one. Still, Hitchcock insisted there was no such shot in the film, his argument fell on deaf ears and he was ordered to cut the offending breast from the scene. So he did… kind of. Hitch went away with his film, just held onto it for a few days and cut absolutely nothing from it. He then took the exact same cut of the film back to the very same censorship board and resubmitted it for approval. The same people re-watched it and this time, none of them saw the offending breast. Despite the fact Hitch cut nothing from the film, he just let the board think he did. Just for the record, no Janet Leigh’s naked breast is not in Psycho, nor was it ever. It’s just that the censorship board saw it in their mind’s eye. The film was passed for general release with no more problems.

I do want to look into perhaps one of my favorite things about the release of Psycho, it’s strict ‘no late admission’ policy. Back then, the way films were shown at the cinema was very different from today. Now, you wouldn’t think about just buying a ticket and walking into a film at any point. These days you buy your ticket and sit down before the film starts to watch the picture from begining to end. Well that’s not how things worked back then. Cinemas would show a film all day long, this was also before multiple screens too, so one cinema would show one film and another would show a different film. So anyway, the cinema would screen a film, which would be book-ended with a newsreel, a small feature, a short serial or even a cartoon. Then the film and it’s bookend would be shown all through the day on a continual loop, no real start or end. You could buy a ticket and just walk in whenever you wanted. Twenty minutes in, the middle of a film, the start, the end, wherever. You could buy a ticket and just sit in the cinema all day watching and re-watching the same show over and over if you liked. Have you ever heard of the phrase “this is where we came in”? Well it originates with cinema back then. Someone would walk in to watch a film, say at the mid point, watch until the end and then just sit there and watch the start of the film they had missed by walking in at the mid point. Say “this is where we came in” and then leave, now having seen all the film… all be it out of sequence.

Well anyway, Hitchcock  instilled a firm rule of not allowing anyone in to the cinema once Psycho had begun. He did this to not spoil the film’s twist ending, as if you walked in to watch Psycho ten minutes from the end, you’d have no idea what was going on. But there was also the fact he didn’t want to ruin his ace up his sleeve. Janet Leigh being killed off. Remember, Leigh was the big draw, the reason people would’ve gone to see the film in the first place. So if anyone who wanted to watch the latest Janet Leigh film walked in after the shower scene, they’d have no idea that Hitchcock just killed off his leading lady and would’ve ruined one of the biggest shocks in cinema history. So no one was allowed in after the film had begun, breaking cinema tradition back then.

Hitch ensured cinema managers stuck to this rule of not letting anyone in after Psycho had started personally by attending every single screening and telling people they were not allowed in. Okay, so he may not have traveled the world attending every single screening, be he had cardboard cutouts of himself made with his personal statement made very clear on them. All done in that Hitchcock dry humor.

Psycho No Admittence 2

“We won’t allow you to cheat yourself! You must see Psycho from beginning to end to enjoy it fully. Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture.  We say no one – and we mean no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!”

– Alfred Hitchcock 

There were a few variants of this idea but they all pretty much said the same thing. No one was to be admitted entrance to see Psycho one it had begun. There were the previously mentioned cardboard cutouts of Hitch himself. There were also posters and other standees all saying pretty much the same thing. I suppose you could say that Alfred Hitchcock created the idea of watching a film from the start that we all take for granted these days.

Originally, cinema managers hated the idea as they felt they would lose money if people couldn’t come and go as they pleased, but they soon changed their tune when Psycho opened and queues built up around the block for hours of people eager to see the picture.

Psycho No Admittence

Given the fact that it was Alfred Hitchcock that funded the film himself, this gave him a certain freedom when it came to promotion. No studio could interfere with his plans, because it was his money, his movie. Aside from the ‘no admittance’ thing, Hitch had a lot of fun with the promotion of Psycho. First, he forbid either Janet Leigh or Anthony Perkins to do any interviews for TV, radio, papers, etc, as to not give away the twists. No one could talk about the film in interviews except for Hitch himself. He also didn’t allow critics to see advance/private screenings of the film for reviews and made them go to normal viewings with the public… which the critics hated doing… which was probably why the initial critic reviews for the film were not good. Plus, Hitch created what is quite simply, the greatest movie teaser trailer ever. I’ll have more to say about this trailer later as a nice little bonus article.

The film was a huge hit, despite early reviews claiming it was not very good and lacked that Hitchcock quality. But the general public loved it. The success of the film helped push sales of the book and in turn, the book helped to get people into the cinema to see the film. Psycho even got a re-release into cinemas in 1965.. and 69… and more recently in 2015. Psycho has, of course, gone on to be cinematic gold. One of the all time greatest ever films. It’s a film that can be analysed for so many reasons. From it’s masterful film-making ideas and concepts, to it’s deeper themes, motifs and psychoanalytic interpretations. Psycho is a masterpiece and despite all that Alfred Hitchcock had going against him at the time, he made his finest work ever and silenced his critics.

Perfection in cinematic form and a film that I don’t think that will ever be bettered, because while there are some amazing visionary and creative directors working today, none of them are Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitch Shaddow

“I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something. I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.”

– Alfred Hitchcock

After Life 1 & 2

So how’s this whole lock-down/staying at home working out for everyone? I genuinely hope this virus hasn’t effected you too much. We are in the midst of uncertain times and plenty of us are sitting around without much to do. TV has been a last bastion of sanity for many folk recently.

Last year, Ricky Gervais let loose his latest TV show, After Life and it met with huge praise. Now, I have a very love/hate relationship with Ricky Gervais. Sometimes I think he’s the funniest man on the planet. I adore his bluntness, his honesty and he can be extremely observant. But then he can also comes across as very hypocritical and sycophantic at times too.

Truth be told, I’ve never much liked his work as an actor. His multi-award winning TV shows have never really done anything for me. The Office, Extras, Derek, etc have always gotten a big no from me. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a film with Ricky in that I’ve honestly enjoyed either. But when he’s being himself, when he’s just being Ricky Gervais, he can be one of the most heart-warning and entertaining people on the planet. His live Twitter broadcasts which he’s been doing since the lock-down have been really entertaining… just because Ricky is being Ricky. He talks shit, but it’s really interesting shit.

Anyway, I’m kind of drifting off on a tangent here. The point of this article is because series 2 of Ricky Gervais’ After Life aired on Netflix recently. I watched the first series out of sheer boredom last year and I thought… well I’ll get into that later. I wanted to watch series 2 and offer my opinion right here. But then the idea to re-watch series 1 and then series 2 back to back came to mind. So I thought I’d do a full rundown of each episode and give my view on the series as a whole.

Thankfully, one of Ricky’s talents is to know not to run something into the ground. His shows have always been short, a couple of series with only 6 episodes each (specials aside). I honestly don’t have the patience to sit through your average US TV show, 20+ episodes per season with dozens of seasons. I just lose interest due to the fact they needlessly drag things out. After Life follows that Ricky Gervais formula. 6 episodes and 2 series (so far). Which means I only have 12 episodes to sit through, and then they’re only 30 minute episodes too. Short but sweet that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

So here I go, all 12 After Life episodes watched and me offering my opinion on each series overall. I’ll be re-watching series 1, but this is the first time I’ll be watching series 2. But before that, a quick synopsis of what After Life is all about for those not in the know.

Synopsis

So After Life is a black, bittersweet comedy following Tony Johnson (Ricky Gervais). Set the fictional small town of Tambury, Tony works as a reporter/writer for an independent, free, local newspaper The Tambury Gazette run by his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden), the kind of free paper that covers inane local news. Tony recently lost his wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman) to breast cancer, but she still talks to him via a pre-recorded video guide offering him life advice. Tony is in a pit of depression, he’s had enough, he’s suicidal due to his depression with his only real companion being Brandy, Lisa and Tony’s dog. Tony wants to try to set the world to rights, he says what he thinks with no censor, he has no moral compass anymore since the death of his wife. His ‘superpower’ as he calls it, is his cantankerous funk as he feels he can’t be any lower, so can’t be dragged down anymore, he has nothing to lose. Every time the people around Tony try to lift him, he just undermines them as much as he can. Tony is strangely content in his depression and no longer cares for anyone or anything… except Brandy.

Before I crack on, I’ll just pop up one of my obligatory SPOILER warnings here. If you’ve not seen After Life, then stop reading and go watch it now.

Series 1
Episode 1

Tony beings to adapt to life without Lisa. His sink is full of dirty washing up that’ll never be done. There’s no food in his house, not even for Brandy. On his way to work Tony meets his new postman called Pat (Joe Wilkinson)… yes postman Pat, who seems to have an issue with putting post though people’s letterboxes. Tony get’s called a peado by a 10 year old boy… and has a very cutting response, which really sets the tone of the character he is. Stopping off to see his psychiatrist (Paul Kaye) where Tony outlines his bleak look on life.

After Life Sandy

Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon) is the new reporter hired by the paper and she finds Tony’s downbeat attitude hard to take. Tony crosses paths with a local drug addict Julian (Tim Plester) on his way to visit his father, Ray (David Bradley) who is in a nursing home and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Ray is looked after by nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen). Tony and his father’s relationship is strained and Ray keeps asking to see Lisa. Matt takes Tony down the pub with Lenny (Tony Way), photographer at the Tambury Gazette in an attempt to help him out of his rut. Matt sends both Tony and Lenny to cover a big story for the newspaper about a man who has received the exact same birthday card five times (typical local news), the kind of non-stories that make Tony resent his work. As minor as the story is, the recipient of the cards gives Tony something to really think about.

When Tony is accosted by two young muggers on his way home, he soon sets them straight in his own unique, uncaring way… with the help of a tin of dog food. Lisa offers him more life advice through one of her recordings.

Episode 2

Sitting in the bath, Tony holds a razor blade to his wrist… until Brandy walks in looking for food. The only thing really keeping him alive is his love for his dog. Going to visit Lisa’s grave, Tony meets Anne (Penelope Wilton), an older widow who often sits on a bench talking to her dead husband at the graveyard. Visiting his father again, Tony begins to feel sorry for nurse Emma and just how/why she has to look after elderly people who no longer remember their relatives, but he massively misunderstands her motivation.

On his way back into work, Tony crosses paths with drug addict, Julian and arranges to try heroin for the first time later that day. Matt asks Tony to babysit George (Tommy Finnegan), Tony’s 10 year old nephew. After covering a story about a teenager who can play two recorders with his nostrils, Tony tries to work out why people want to be famous and get in the paper. In the newspaper office Tony is hounded by talker of bullshit and head of advertising, Kath (Diane Morgan), Sandy the new reporter and Tony find some common ground and actually get on as she begins to understand his attitude and straight talking, not caring demeanour.

After Life Anne

Matt drops George round at Tony’s place and the two hit it off. Taking George to a cafe for something to eat, Tony gets into an argument over why he can’t order a meal from the kids menu for himself but manages to get one over on the obnoxious waitress. Back at Tony’s place and Matt is late in picking up George… and Tony has Julian coming round with the heroin. After giving Tony a cannabis joint with heroin (as it’s safer than injecting), Tony passes out as Julian helps himself to Tony’s money from his wallet and leaves.

Episode 3

Just about managing to remember that Julian stole from him last night, Tony confronts the druggie on the street and learns he has spent the money on more drugs. Tony meets prostitute… sorry sex worker, Daphne aka ‘Roxy’ (Roisin Conaty) who is a friend of Julian and will do anything for £50. Tony hires her and takes her back to his place, but it’s not sex that he’s after. Tony spends £50 and asks Daphne to clean his house. The pair chat and Daphne opens up and tells Tony all about her life and teaches him a thing or two about sex worker myths.

On another visit to his father, the subject of Lisa is brought up again and nurse Emma suggests that Tony should just humour his father always asking to see the dead Lisa. Emma also gives Tony a few home truths about his attitude towards other people. Tony and Anne meet at the graveyard again and she imparts some worldly advice on losing someone close. Visiting his psychiatrist again, Tony gets some pointless advice… stop feeling sad. Matt arranges a works outing to a new comedy club that night. Meanwhile, Brian (David Earl) is (as Tony calls him) the ‘local nutter’ who wants to be in the newspaper. He brings what he claims is Freddie Mercury’s tooth, which Tony dismisses.

In one of her videos, Lisa tells Tony to take the dog to the beach for a walk. He does and Brandy enjoys herself, running around, playing catch. But Tony has other ideas, just walk into the sea, kill himself that way. As Brandy sits on the beach, Tony tries to kill himself again only for Brandy to begin barking. He can’t so it, he can’t leave his best friend so Tony gets out of the water. At the comedy club, a comedian begins making jokes about someone committing suicide. Noticing Tony isn’t enjoying the jokes, the comic picks him out in an attempt to ridicule him… big mistake. Tony just unloads, calmly, and tells the comic how his wife died of cancer and how he wants to kill himself, putting the comic in his place. Matt begins to really worry about Tony’s frame of mind.

After Life Comedy Club

Julian turns up at Tony’s place with a peace offering… more drugs. Tony thinks they have a lot in common until Julian sets him straight as they share a cannabis/heroin spliff.

Episode 4

Tony’s battle with postman Pat and his issue with not putting post though through the letterbox continues. Tony and Lenny cover more inane local news stories, one at the same hospital where Lisa died. Tony’s degrading of his job continues as he asks just why Sandy wants to be a journalist. Matt reveals that he has set Tony up on a blind date, a date he really doesn’t want to go on because he’d rather be dead with Lisa and resents Matt for trying to interfere with his life.

Tony visits his dad again and apologises to Emma for his attitude and behaviour. The two bond over the rather risque behaviour of Ray recently. Tony confides in Emma that he’s being set up on a blind date and she suggested he should go. At the graveyard, widow Anne offers Tony some dating advice and help as Tony agrees to go on the date. Sandy takes Tony shopping for date clothes and he realises just how out of touch he is. Tony gives Sandy some rare positive advice on her career. Bumping into Daphne on the street, she convinces Tony to give her the keys to his house as his ‘cleaner’ in front of Sandy, where as she most probably wants to use the house for her sex work. When Tony finally returns, worried at exactly what she has done in is home, he finds Daphne has completely cleaned his house and for free too.

Tony goes on the date and his date calls him out on his suicidal tendencies, claiming he’s putting it on. She ridicules Tony for putting his dog first after claiming Brandy is the reason he hasn’t killed himself yet. After ending the terrible date, Tony confronts a pair of muggers on a bike who try to steal a woman’s purse. They drop a claw hammer they were using as a weapon and Tony picks it up. Back at Tony’s place, Julian turns up again with more drugs. The two philosophise as Julian reveals more about his life. Julian tells Tony how he wants to kill himself with drugs after all he has been through if only he could afford it. Tony gives him a large sum of cash and Julian leaves, stopping off at a drug dealer with the intent to end his own life.

Episode 5

Walking past the school, Tony learns that his nephew, George is being bulled. Tony threatens to kill the 10 year old bully with the hammer he took from the muggers. At the nursing home, Tony tells Emma his his date was a disaster and the two agree it’s best to be single. Matt tells Tony that Julian has been found dead from a heroin overdose and Tony confesses that he was the one who gave Julian the money. Tony makes a second visit to the nursing home, not so much to visit his father, but more so to talk to Emma… but he has nothing much to say.

Tony and and Lenny cover a story about a woman who makes rice pudding with her own breast milk and bread with her virginal yeast. Top-notch journalism. Tony sends postman Pat a postcard to be delivered to his (Tony’s) place to prove that Pat keeps reading Tony’s post. After another fruitless visit to his psychiatrist, Tony puts an annoying street clipboard warrior in his place. The local nutter, Brian finally convinces Tony put him in the paper. Taking Tony, Lenny and Sandy to his house, Brian shows off his rather worrying hoarding. Tony says there is no story to publish, not even for a free, local non-story newspaper and leaves but Sandy stays wanting to find a story as Brian ‘entertains’ Lenny and Sandy with an off-beat puppet show.

Matt calls Tony into the newspaper office as he received a call from the school about a man threatening to kill a 10 yer old boy. The two have a heated debate over why Tony acts like this and Matt says that if Tony continues his destructive behaviour, he can no longer see his nephew. Tony meets Anne at the graveyard again looking for advice about how to deal with the pain he is in and she seems to get through to him… a bit. Back at the newspaper, it seems Sandy did find a story to write about Brian. She shows her story to Tony who thinks it’s brilliant, worth publishing. He even suggests it could be front page material.

Tony meets up with Daphne and offers her a shoulder after the death of Julian.

Episode 6

Matt asks Tony to cover a story about a baby who looks like Hitler. Finding a fatal flaw in the story Tony picks it apart. As stupid as the story is, Tony finds some humour in it and begins to lighten up. The newspaper talking bullshit machine, Kath begins to question Tony on his lack of religious belief. She tries to put up a good argument but Tony manages to easily answer all her queries. Tony goes to the crematorium to see off Julian but misses the service. Daphne is there and Tony says how he is going to ask Emma out on a date as Tony slowly begins to see a way out of his depression.

At the nursing home, Ray’s Alzheimer’s disease is getting worse, thinking Tony is someone called Charlie for sometime… he eventually remembers Tony as his son… kind of. Tony finally calls his psychiatrist out on his bullshit and gets shot of him as he was doing nothing to help with Tony’s life anyway. Tony learns that Matt’s marriage is on the rocks and talks to him offering some help. Realising how much of an awkward pain he has been to everyone, Tony begins to apologise and tries to right the wrongs he has been responsible for since Lisa’s death.

Tony goes back to the nursing home and asks Emma out on a date. She doesn’t say yes, but she doesn’t say no either and Tony leaves her to think about it. Tony and Anne meet at the graveyard again and she revels how happy she is despite being a widow. Anne comes out with more worldly advice that really gives Tony a lot to contemplate as he realises that life is actually worth living.

After Life Emma

Emma agrees to the date and the two walk off into the sun as Tony finally finds happiness after Lisa.

Overall

I could do this the short way. After Life is one of the most amazing pieces of modern TV.

The longer version is more worthy though. I laughed, I cried. After Life features some of the best writing I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a TV show… ever. Now, this show will not be for everyone. There is that Ricky Gervais humour, that use of swearing… lots of harsh swearing, he can be a bit preachy too and that style of humour is not for everyone. But under the crassness of some of the jokes is a real, emotive story about a man struggling with the loss of a loved one.

The dialogue between the characters feels very real and often heartbreaking, even when it’s being funny and lighthearted. The way Ricky as penned these scripts and story is amazing, truly masterful work. The characters are all memorable, from the main cast to the secondary and peripheral ones. The tricky subject of depression is handled very well and the pit Tony finds himself in is completely believable, even when he’s being his arsehole best, he’s still utterly charming. You will go from hating this guy to loving him and back again. The acting throughout is top-drawer stuff, even Brandy (Anti) the dog puts in a great performance.

The subject matter may not appeal most people, especially if you are currently going through a loss yourself. Yet some may even find it a rather cathartic release. After Life takes a very prickly subject matter and yet presents it in such an engrossing and endearing way.

“But get this through your head. I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her, all right?”

–  Tony Johnson

So here we are with series 2. Now, I just re-watched the first series and loved it just as much as the first time, but I do have some trepidation going into this second series. See, I feel the first one ended perfectly, Tony made amends for all his wrongs, he apologised to those he upset and (possibly) found happiness with Emma. Roll credits, a perfect ending. As I write this bit right here, I’ve not yet seen any of series 2 (except a trailer) and I’m just kind of concerned it’s going to be a bit superfluous.

Tony’s journey in series 1 was (for want of a better word) perfect. A miserable story told beautifully that ended just as it should have. In my mind, there is no need for another series. One and done. So I’m not really sure if I’m looking forward to seeing this second series to be honest. I’m sure it wont be terrible or anything, I just feel it’s going to have to undo several things resolved in the first series for Tony’s story to continue, a bit of retcon if you will.

After Life Poster 2

Well, here I go. All 6 episodes of Series 2 of After Life… I’ll offer my thoughts at the end.

Series 2
Episode 1

So Tony and Emma didn’t really work out, they’re friends and nothing more because he’s still not over losing Lisa and their dog, Brandy is the only thing keeping him sane. Everyone is still pretty much where they were before, no one has moved on any… except for nut case Brian who now deliverers the newspaper. Tony and and Lenny cover a story about the oldest woman in Tambury and what a mouth she has on her too. Tony is still in his depressive funk and decides he needs to be more Zen. While Matt’s marriage is all but over and he is living in the newspaper office.

After Life Old Lady

Tony visits his dad and the Alzheimer’s is getting worse as Ray doesn’t recognise Tony as his son (again). Anne is still at the graveyard as her and Tony exchange wisdom, Tony confesses he’s still no better then he was but no longer thinks about suicide anymore and really wants to try to move on and improve as a person. Matt begins to see Tony’s old (and useless) psychiatrist in order to help him with his marriage problems. 

Postman Pat stops off at Tony’s place to ‘use’ his bathroom, which tests Tony’s patience. Tony and Matt attend a Zen meditation session and the instructor’s personal habits bring out the worst in Tony as he loses his cool, which puts Matt on edge. Tony begins to drink more than usual as he gets emotional over an old video of Lisa.

Episode 2

Tony does his best to stick to his goal of improving but it gets harder each day. At the newspaper office, Matt quizzes Tony on his drinking, a talk Tony doesn’t take much notice of and quickly deflects. Kath starts badgering Tony on her beliefs again and of course, Tony makes short work of her inane rantings. At the graveyard, Tony tells Anne how everything went wrong at the Zen session and how he decided to get drunk afterwards.

James (Ethan Lawrence), the son of Lenny’s girlfriend is taken on at The Tambury Gazette on work experience. James suggests that the newspaper could cover the local amateur dramatics, The Tambury Players, an idea Sandy thinks is a great one. Tony, Lenny and Sandy all turn up to find a story where Tony meets a face from his past. With help of the organiser of the amateur dramatics, Sandy decides to write a gossip column in the paper and also cover their up and coming cabaret show. Matt goes to see his psychiatrist again for more completely pointless help.

At the nursing home, Emma is getting very friendly with the son of one of her patients, Simon (Bill Ward). something Tony begins to notice. Tony admits he’s trying to move on, trying to improve to Emma, but he’s just not ready to move on from Lisa yet. Back at Tony’s place, he and Daphne share a meal. Tony realises just how useless he is without Lisa after cooking a terrible meal. As a favour to Pat, Tony puts in a word for him with Daphne in an attempt to get them together.

Episode 3

Tony tells Pat all about Daphne, including the fact she’s a sex worker. That tit-bit of info just makes Pat more interested and a date between the two is arranged. Tony’s nephew, George begins to worry that his parents are going to divorce and Tony sets his mind at ease. It’s Sandy’s 30th birthday and she’s feeling down about getting older, Tony does his best to cheer her up, but the topic of discussion soon turns to Lisa.

After Life Lisa

Emma and Simon seem to be getting on better at the nursing home, as Tony learns… perhaps a little jealousy is creeping in? Emma confesses she likes Simon, but she doesn’t feel the same way about him as she does about Tony. Just a shame he’s too scared to commit. Back at the psychiatrist’s, Matt is told he needs to get back out there and find a woman. Meanwhile, Tony and Lenny talk to a woman for the paper who claims she can talk to cats. As crazy as the woman seems, she has a few nuggets of wisdom for Tony that gets him thinking.

The owner of The Tambury Gazette, Paul (Peter Egan) tells Matt that the newspaper is losing money and he wants to close it down and sell the building. Everyone will be out of a job if The Tambury Gazette ends publication and Sandy takes the news badly. Tony promises to save the paper and keep everyone (especially Sandy) in a job. Matt thinks Sandy’s gossip column could save the paper… with a bit of embellishment. Matt asks Tony to join him for a drink and back him up on his desire to find another woman. Down the pub, they bump into the psychiatrist and his rather obnoxious friends and the night doesn’t go very well… especially when Emma turns up with Simon.

Pat and Daphne meet up for their date. The two really hit it off and a second date is arranged. Tony consoles himself on his bad night in a bottle of wine and more videos of Lisa back at his place with Brandy for company.

Episode 4

Pat and Daphne arrive at Tony’s place for breakfast… uninvited of course. Back at the psychiatrist, Matt gets more useless help as his life unravels as the shrink is more interested in talking about his sex life than Matt’s failing marriage. Tony and Lenny interview a woman addicted to cosmetic surgery for the newspaper with disturbing and funny results. Back at the office, Kath asks Matt out on a ‘date’ to the cabaret being held by the amateur dramatics society, which he pencils in just to get rid of her and then tries to use Tony’s suicidal tendencies as an excuse not to go.

Tony spends some quality time with his father at the nursing home before talking to Emma about her and Simon in the pub last night. She really likes Tony, but says that she can’t put her life on hold because he still can’t move on from Lisa. Matt’s wife turns up at the office and he asks her to go with him to the cabaret to get out of going with Kath and maybe to help patch up their relationship? Noticing she is fed up, Tony asks Kath out for a coffee to try and cheer her up. Taking a detour to the shops, Tony buys a bottle of wine and after drinking half a bottle on the streets, he heads to the graveyard again to talk to Anne who tells him he shouldn’t drink alone. Tony breaks down taking about Lisa, saying how he feels like nothing without her. He strives to be ‘normal’ but just can’t do it.

Tony bumps into Paul, the owner of The Tambury Gazette and asks him to not close down the paper and sell the building. But the money he will make from selling the building is too great to turn down. Tony manages to convince him to hang on for a year and give the newspaper another chance, if things don’t improve, he’ll sell it then. Sandy is covering the cabaret for the newspaper when Tony tells her that the paper and building aren’t being sold… for at least a year anyway.

Episode 5

Tony has a particularly worrying visit with his dad, asking Emma if he’s okay as he looks a bit worse for wear. She tells him that he’s fine and that he has his good and bad days, this is a bad day. Tony asks Emma if she wants to go to the amateur cabaret with him, but she’s working so can’t go. At the graveyard, Tony and Anne share a few laughs. After asking Anne if she’s lonely, Tony invites her to the cabaret, Paul also agrees to tag along.

After Life Ray

It’s the night of the big (and very poor) armature dramatics cabaret and everyone is there… except Emma who is back at the nursing home looking after Ray. Tony tries to, very slyly, set up Anne with Paul, which doesn’t quite work out. Brian is on stage trying his best and his version of ‘comedy’, which goes down as badly as you’d expect. The whole show is a complete disaster. Emma sends Tony a message for him to call her, he leaves the show and phones her… she tells him that his father has died. A very clearly upset Tony begins to reminisce over his childhood to Emma back at the nursing home. Tony finally admits he feelings toward her.

Back at his place, Brandy does her best to cheer Tony up.

Episode 6

At the psychiatrists, Matt says how his marriage could be on the mend and it turns out that maybe the psychiatrist needs a shrink himself. Sandy sets about writing her story in the paper covering the cabaret last night. Tony delivers the news to Matt his dad died. Now his father has gone, Tony has even less to live for, he asks for space from his friends and co-workers, not sympathy.  With Ray now dead, Tony has no reason to come to the nursing home and see Emma anymore, but Tony tries to rationalise their (lack of a) relationship.

Daphne pops round to see Tony and worries about his state of mind after finding a bottle of sleeping pills, concerned he’s back on the suicide idea. At the newspaper’s office, Kath didn’t get the memo that Tony doesn’t want sympathy. Tony and Lenny cover a story about a 50 year old man who identifies as an 8 year old girl.

After Life Tony

At Ray’s funeral, Tony delivers a rather moving eulogy and thanks Emma for looking after his father. Tony is home alone, just him, Brandy and another bottle of wine. After watching some old family videos of Ray and Lisa, Tony gets very emotional and rediscovers those sleeping pills…  And… that’s where I’m leaving this one. Despite my earlier SPOILER warning, I just don’t want to spoil how this all ends… But I will say it’s a hell of a heavy and emotional ending.

Overall

So I may as well get right to this. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this series as much as the first. I’ve been pin-balling around in my mind why that is… and I think I have it. But before I explain that…

Series 2 has been just as funny/offensive and just as emotional as the previous one. I decided to not cover the end of the last episode in my round up simply because I feel you need to experience it for yourself. After everything Tony has been through, you need to not have the end ruined. The last few minutes of the episode are extremely satisfying and my watching all the episodes back to back made it even more impactful.

Also watching the episodes in one long run also made me realise how much Ricky took from his old XFM/podcast broadcasts that he used to do with Stephen Merchant and Karl Dilkington. Honestly, direct lines of dialogue, conversations and even character traits have been lifted from their conversations. It’s pretty clear that Tony is based on (an exaggerated) Ricky himself. Matt is definitely has some Stephen Merchant about him and the annoying Kath with her inane questions and beliefs is Karl Pilkington to a T. The idea of postman Pat reading Tony’s mail comes from a chat the trio had 20 years ago. Anne telling Tony the fable of the frog and the scorpion also came from those podcasts… look, I could go on and on, but if you go back and listen to their old chats, you’ll find loads of stuff from them that have been incorporated into After Life.

Series 2 really has some great moments… which is partly why I don’t think it’s as good as the first. This one is some great moments, where as series 1 was just simply 6 great episodes. Yup, series 2 is still a brilliant bit of TV, but it certainly lacks what the first series had in places.

One of my concerns about this series was the fact Tony realised he was a prick and needed to move on from Lisa, not forget about her, just move on. The fact he apologised to those he had wronged at the end of series 1 and the fact he and Emma went out on a date was something I thought Ricky may have to retcon to continue the story. Thankfully Ricky Gervais doesn’t hit the reset button… but he does give it a bit of a tickle. I don’t know, but the slight U-turn of the character at the start of this series and the fact he then has to try to better himself… again just took me out of the story a bit.

But onto the main reason I didn’t like this one as much as the first. The whole series felt like an afterthought, maybe it was? It felt like Ricky hadn’t planned on a second series so by making Tony find redemption and a slice of happiness at the end of the first series, he had painted himself into a corner, hence the tickling of the reset button. A lot of the main plot points of series 2 felt, from an organic storytelling perspective, as if they should’ve really happened in the middle of series 1. I just think most of the story in this series would’ve made more sense in series 1 as apposed to being here.

Yes I enjoyed this series, but just not as much as the first. The humour is there, the characters are there and the writing is just as good, if not, in places better…. but for me, it just didn’t feel right as a whole series. Not as much as the first one did anyway. I’d have been more than happy if there hadn’t been a second one (as good as it is). For me, Tony’s realisation at the end of series 1 of how he’s been acting, his apologising to everyone, the little things he did to make people smile and then with he and Emma walking off together was just prefect. It didn’t spell everything out, but it gave us the viewers just enough information to paint our own future for the character and I really liked that.

As much as I did enjoy series 2, for what it was, it still felt superfluous. Not bad, not at all… just kind of unnecessary. I loved series 1 and I loved re-watching it for this article and I can see myself watching it again in the future. But I just don’t get that with series 2, I’m really not sure I’ll re-watch this one. I may re-watch the odd episode for the moments I really enjoyed, but not the series as a whole. As much as I enjoyed it, I’m happier with Tony walking off with Emma at the end of series 1 and me painting my own future for him than the one Ricky has painted for me here.

After Life Tony And Brandy

But all that aside and looking at the whole damn thing. After Life is an amazing piece of TV. The writing is sharp and bitter, it’s funny and heart breaking. Ricky Gervais as a writer and director has done his very best work here… and I don’t think he will ever better it. As an actor, he had me laughing at Tony’s attitude toward others, his manner of speaking, his directness was like Victor Meldrew times infinity. The emotions Tony feels through the series, I felt them too. I felt happy for him, sorry for him and I cried with him too. After Life is Ricky Gervais’ Sistine Chapel, yeah it has a few cracks, but it’s still an astonishingly beautiful piece of art that everyone should see. It’s (almost) perfection in 12, half hour episodes.

As I said in the intro to this article, I’ve never really liked Ricky as an actor… but this? This is a whole different level and I’m happy to eat my own words. Quite honestly, Ricky Gervais deserves every bit of praise, every award After Life is sure to win.

After Life Tony And Lisa

You’re in lock-down, you’ve not got much else to do. So binge watch After Life.

“I used to drink when I was happy. That was all right, but now I drink when I’m sad. That’s not so good cos it happens more often.”

–  Tony Johnson

Honor Blackman

Yes I know I’m a little bit late on this, but I’ve been busy with other writing projects. Still, I had to make time to remember Honor Blackman.

Honor Blackman was born on the 22nd of August, 1925. When Honor turned 15, her parents paid for acting lessons for her at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. While holding down a clerical assistant job and following her graduation from acting school, Honor appeared in a few stage plays in small roles. Hungry for more, she began seeking out a career in acting.

Her film acting career started when she appeared as Emma in the 1947 film, Fame Is the Spur, in a minor, non-speaking uncredited role. But it was the 60s when Honor’s film career really took off. A very memorable performance as the Greek goddess of women, Hera in the classic Jason and the Argonauts from 1963 got her noticed and she began to land more roles in both TV and the movies. In 1968, she starred in the western flick Shalako, alongside Sean Connery… not for the first time.

Honor also went on to find TV fame with The Avengers. Bowler hat and umbrella used as a sword The Avengers not Iron Man punching Thanos in the face The Avengers. A show where Honor played Cathy Gale, the first female partner of slick British spy, John Steed. Of course one can’t talk about Honor and The Avengers without mentioning…

Honor also appeared in the greatest TV show of all time Columbo, alongside the legend that was Peter Falk in the Dagger of the Mind episode. Other TV roles include Dr Who, Minder on the Orient Express, a spin-off from the British TV show Minder, Casualty and perhaps her most famous TV role (that wasn’t The Avengers), The Upper Hand. The British version of the popular US sit-com, Who’s the Boss?

Honor Blackman’s acting career continued through the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s. 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary featured Honor Blackman and she also appeared in the comedy/zombie flick Cockneys vs Zombies in 2012. Her screen acting career spanned eight decades.

Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. Honor Blackman was my all time favourite Bond girl in the quintessential James Bond flick, Goldfinger (1964). There’s just something(s) about this particular Bond film that make it a classic.

Pussy Galore

You have the best actor playing James Bond with Sean Connery, then you have Bond iconography such as the Aston Martin DB5 with all it’s gadgets which has gone down in cinematic history. There’s the greatest Bond song of all time sung by Shirley Bassey and then there’s the bad guy, Goldfinger himself with that immortal comeback line…

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”

–  Auric Goldfinger

Finally, we have Honor Blackman herself as the greatest Bond girl ever, Pussy Galore. She was sexy, straight talking and tough. Her introduction to the film is stuff of legend, the greatest Bond girl moment ever.

That sultry smile as Bond wakes up, those deep blue eyes and of course, that raspy voice. Honor was amazing in Goldfinger and more than held her own against Sean Connery.

Honor died of natural causes aged 94 in Lewes, East Sussex on the 5th of April, 2020.

Honor Blackman 2

“I’m told leather drives men up the wall. I like wearing it because it because it feels nice.”

– Honor Blackman

T-800 V T-800 – Fan Made Film

I love the classic sci-fi/thriller/action/horror film The Terminator. Released in 1984, the flick is still as amazing to watch today as it was 36 years ago. The sequels… I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. Yes even the mighty and massively popular Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a movie I’m not as keen on as others. It’s a great popcorn action flick… but it’s an awful sequel. Still, there has always been a question about the two films I’ve always wanted answered. Who would win in a straight up fight between the bad T-800 from The Terminator and the good T-800 from T2? Thankfully, that question has been somewhat answered by Mikhail Kramer on his YouTube channel, KRAMER’S MEDIA.

Mikhail has a bit of a penchant for creating fan made movies using Grand Theft Auto V‘s director mode and I love it when fans do things like this. Looking through the films he has made via GTA V is impressive. Mikhail has created short movies and trailers for The Matrix and I Am Legend plus others. He’s even had a go at making a Robocop 4. Using a cocktail of various mods, video/audio from the films he’s influenced by and of course GTA V itself, Mikhail has a few videos on his channel well worth watching. But it’s his latest video, Terminator 1984 Vs Terminator 2 that I want to give mention to here on my blog.

Arnie

There are a few issues with the film. Of course there are restrictions. I mean, Mikhail is directing these short movies with very limited resources. Then he also has his hands tied by the limitations of just what GTA V‘s director mode can actually do, it’s not a dedicated film creation piece of software, it’s just a fun addition to a game. Then there are slight graphical issues that are out of his hands due to how GTA V is programmed. I have a few personal niggles with some of the action in the film too, mainly the fist fights between the two T-800s. They just go on a bit too long and feature some questionable physics… you’ll see what I mean.

But minor niggles aside, this short flick shows some great cinematic moments and direction. The truck/semi chase is a particular highlight, using very film-like camera angles. Coming in at a little over 30 minutes, Mikhail’s Terminator 1984 Vs Terminator 2 is a very well made and observed little film. The fact it was made with a piece of software that’s not a dedicated film editor is even more impressive.

You can watch Mikhail’s video right here…

 

 

Honestly, that’s pretty damn good eh? Full of Easter eggs and references to the first two  flicks. Certainly a lot more entertaining than Terminator: Dark Fate and that shit cost $196 million to make. Also, don’t forget to check out Mikhail Kramer’s YouTube channel for more great GTA V made fan films.