Blog Archives

What I Watched in… September 2017


Favorite of the Month: Colossal (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), B+
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), B
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), B+
  4. Tom Felton Meets the Superfans (2015), B
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), B+
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), A-
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), A
  8. Monster on the Campus (1958), C-
  9. Father’s Little Dividend (1951), B+
  10. Village of the Damned (1960), B-
  11. Shaun of the Dead (2004), A
  12. Medusa Against the Son of Hercules (1963), D
  13. Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), D
  14. Colossal (2017), A-
  15. It Came From Outer Space (1953), B+
  16. Year of the Scab (2017), B+
  17. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), B+
  18. The Muppets (2011), A
  19. DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017), A
  20. Dial M For Murder (1954), B+
  21. The Mummy (2017), C
  22. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), A
  23. Frankenstein (1931), A
  24. The Princess Bride (1987), A
  25. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), B+
  26. UHF (1989) A-
  27. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008), B-
  28. The Wolf Man (1941), B+
  29. Count Dracula (1970), B-

Remakes, reboots, resolve

Spider-Man HomecomingTom Holland was great, right? We can all agree on that. He was perfect as young Peter Parker, and we can’t wait to see what else he’s going to do for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that’s a good thing. He is the Peter Parker for our time.

With his amazing turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming, though, have come the inevitable thinkpieces, blogs and professional sites alike trying to rank not only the different Spider-Man movies, but the different Spider-Men themselves. How does Holland stack up against Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield? If you want to get ultra-nerdy, how does he stack up against Nicholas Hammond?

And I get it. I’m a nerd too. There’s something about being a lover of movies or comics or TV that makes you want to rate and debate and rank and “prove” to everybody that your personal favorite version of something was the best, and that debate is one of the driving forces of fandom. I’ve done it myself.

I’m here to tell you today, though, friends… I don’t think it needs to be.

War For the Planet of the ApesThis kind of goes hand-in-hand with my attempts to mentally reconcile the world of remakes. They’re not stopping, they’re not going anywhere, and it’s true that a lot of them suck. But it’s also true that not all of them do. The second Maltese Falcon is the one everybody remembers. Hitchcock himself remade his own The Man Who Knew Too Much into a tighter, more engaging adventure. And re”boots”? Well, that’s what gave us The Dark Knight. And the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies. And if there’s only one tentpole movie left this summer I absolutely HAVE to see, it’s War For the Planet of the Apes.

Here’s another analogy I like to use: they didn’t stop producing Hamlet after Shakespeare died, did they? And not just theatrically, but cinematically. There have been dozens — no, hundreds of films produced over the years based on his works, and a lot of them have been really good. Were it not for people reimagining older stories, we wouldn’t have Bela Lugosi as Dracula or Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, either. And when you ask somebody who their favorite Ebenezer Scrooge is, you can quite literally spend hours debating the merits of Alastair Sim versus George C. Scott versus Michael Caine versus Patrick Stewart versus Albert Finney versus Scrooge McDuck.

Day of the DoctorI’ve started to put superhero movies in the same category as these works. The same as James Bond. The same as Doctor Who. These are stories and characters, that, every so often, will go through a facelift and become something different. And I’m okay with that. We all should be. The real question — the important question — is therefore NOT “is the new guy better than the last guy,” but rather simply, “is the new guy good?”

This isn’t to say that every character should be recast. I’ve yet to see any evidence that someone other than Robert Englund should be allowed to play Freddy Krueger, for instance. And while I’m open to having new characters join the Ghostbusters (I’m not debating the merits of the 2016 movie, I just mean in general), I don’t ever want to see somebody besides Harold Ramis play Egon Spengler.

But times change and iconic characters can and should be refreshed for new generations.

That said, this means we also have to accept the fact that someday, people other than Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr. will play Wolverine and Iron Man. I know, that’s hard to hear. But it’s true. And when it happens, just remember what I’m saying here, and try to judge the new guy for who they are rather than who they aren’t.

What I Watched In… September 2016


Favorite of the Month: Rope (1948)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Pit and the Pendulum (1961), C+
  2. Superman (1978), A+
  3. Superman II (1980), B+
  4. Superman III (1983), C
  5. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), D
  6. Arachnia (2003), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), A
  8. Blazing Saddles (1974), A
  9. Maggie (2015), B+
  10. Sex in the Comix (2012), B
  11. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), A
  12. Contracted (2013), B-
  13. Contracted: Phase II (2015), C
  14. Coherence (2013), B+
  15. Sabotage (1936), B
  16. Trumbo (2015), B
  17. Deathgasm (2015), D
  18. The Phantom Carriage (1921), B+
  19. Black Swan (2010), A-
  20. Burying the Ex (2014), B
  21. Ex Machina (2015), A
  22. Lilo and Stitch (2002), B
  23. Psycho (1960), A+
  24. Psycho II (1983), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  25. DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year (2016), B
  26. Hitchcock (2012), B+
  27. Horror of Dracula (1958), B
  28. Riding the Bullet (2004), C
  29. Ruby (1977), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  30. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), B+
  31. The Fly (1986), B+
  32. Ghostheads (2016), B
  33. Holidays (2016), B-
  34. Monster House (2006), B
  35. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), B+
  36. Wayne’s World (1992), A-
  37. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), F; RiffTrax Live Riff, B+
  38. The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009), C
  39. Murder Party (2007), B
  40. Rope (1948), A
  41. Dreamcatcher (2003), C
  42. Trollhunter (2010), B

What I Watched In… March 2016

Batman V Superman Movie Poster

Favorite of the Month: Batman V Superman-Dawn of Justice (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Amadeus (1984), A-
  2. LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League-Cosmic Clash (2016), B+
  3. Age of Consent (1969), B
  4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), B
  5. The Guest House (2012), D
  6. H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2004), C
  7. Time Lapse (2015), B
  8. The Fast and the Furious (2001), B
  9. Batman: Bad Blood (2016) B+
  10. Vertigo (1958), B+
  11. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995), B
  12. Chaos on the Bridge (2014), B+
  13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), A-
  14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A+
  15. Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell (1988), D
  16. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016), B
  17. The Passion (2016), A
  18. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), C
  19. Batman: Year One (2011), A
  20. Wonder Woman (2009), B+
  21. Man of Steel (2013), A
  22. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), A

In addition to the list, this month my podcast (the All New Showcase) reviewed two of the new releases. Click on the links to listen to our thoughts on 10 Cloverfield Lane and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

What I Watched In… January 2016

Rear Window

Favorite of the Month: Rear Window (1954)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014), B+
  2. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), A-
  3. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009), B+
  4. Transcendence (2014), C-
  5. Galaxy Quest (1999), A
  6. Fever Lake (1996), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937), B
  8. Enter the Void (2009), D
  9. Hell and Back (2015), B
  10. The Revenant (2015), B+
  11. The Magnificent Seven (1960), A
  12. Rear Window (1954), A
  13. Icebreaker (2000), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  14. The Room (2003), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  15. Jaws (1975), A
  16. Alien (1979), A
  17. The Phantom Planet (1961), D, MST3K Riff, B
  18. Jupiter Ascending (2015), D

What I Watched In… June 2015

Jurassic World

TIE: Jurassic World

Inside Out

TIE: Inside Out

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

(NOTE: For the first time since I started doing this, I just simply couldn’t choose a single favorite of the month, so I awarded a tie. Inside Out had the wonderful emotional punch of Pixar’s best, but Jurassic World grabbed my inner six-year-old and made me gleeful in so many ways.)

1. The Next Karate Kid (1994), C
2. Big Hero Six (2014), A
3. Craigslist Joe (2012), B
4. Pet Sematary (1989), C+
5. Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension (2011), A
6. Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe (2012), B
7. Jurassic Park (1993), A
8. Jurassic World (2015), A
9. Batman (1989) B+
10. Batman Returns (1992) B
11. Batman Forever (1995), D
12. Batman & Robin (1997), F
13. Jason and the Argonauts (1963), B
14. Zoom (2006), D+
15. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) B+
16. Winnebago Man (2010), B
17. Starry Eyes (2014), B
18. Craig Ferguson: I’m Here to Help (2013), B+
19. The Painting (2011), A
20. Lava (2015), B
21. Inside Out (2015), A-
22. About Time (2013), B+
23. Chris Hardwick: Mandroid (2012), B
24. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
25. Hatchet (2006), B
26. Willow (1988), B-
27. Cars 2 (2011), B
28. Digging Up the Marrow (2015), B+
29. Nebraska (2013), A-
30. The Apple (1980), D; RiffTrax Riff, A-
31. The Hole (2009), B
32. War of the Worlds (1953), B
33. Monty Python Live (Mostly) (2014), B+
34. North By Northwest (1959), A-

Gut Reaction: Birdemic-Shock and Terror (2010)

birdemicDirector: James Nguyen

Writer: James Nguyen

Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Catherine Batcha, Patty van Ettinger, Rick Camp, Stephen Gustavson, Danny Webber, Mona Lisa Moon

Plot: Rod (Alan Bagh), a preposterously successful software salesman, meets Natalie (Whitney Moore), an up-and-coming supermodel. As the two begin a romance that was clearly written in the stars, legions of birds lose their minds and begin attacking humanity because Global Warming is a thing. Warning: Do NOT attempt to take this movie seriously. Normally I would also include a spoiler warning, because I will talk some spoilers, but with a movie this remarkably stupid they aren’t so much “spoilers” as they are “cautionary examples.”

Thoughts: For a couple of years now, I’ve heard people talk about Birdemic: Shock and Terror as the new “So Bad It’s Good” movie, placing it in the ranks of dubious classics like The Room, Troll 2, and the über-entry in that category, Plan 9 From Outer Space. There are a lot of bad movies, but for a movie to be so bad as to be entered into that pantheon takes an awful lot of effort on the part of a director that is seriously delusional and, more often than not, a cast that wonders what the hell it got itself into.

My friends. On that front, Birdemic: Shock and Terror totally delivers.

James Nguyen’s 2010 film is the clunkiest, least-effective attempt at a “nature gone bad” horror film I’ve ever seen, so bad in fact that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. It seems clear that Nguyen was attempting to emulate Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, which also featured a young couple that meets early in the film, a slow build to establish their relationship, and a sudden, inexplicable attack by birds that dominates the rest of the movie. However, Nguyen manages to take these elements that Hitchcock used in a masterpiece and screw every single one of them up.

Let’s take the slow beginning. In Hitchcock’s film, while it does start slowly, he’s building an interesting group of characters with dynamics, personalities and relationships that could probably sustain a movie even without the threat of lunatic bird attack. Not so Nguyen. Rod works as a salesman for a software company that gets sold for a billion dollars (an even billion, that’s right) right after he makes a big sale worth a million dollars (after giving the client a 50 percent discount). Natalie, meanwhile, is informed at the beginning that she’s been selected as the next Victoria’s Secret cover girl, which delights her mother, who also suggests she look into selling real estate as a back-up. However, despite the fact that these two people are remarkably successful, almost every location in the film (including their homes, motel room, and places of business) look like they were shot in the same spare bedroom of a cheap apartment with a half-assed attempt at decoration by changing the bedspread and swapping out laughably small signs the local print shop turned out for a grand total of sixteen dollars.

What’s more, their incredible success never factors into the movie. Rod’s salesmanship? His money? Natalie’s… covergirl-ness? Once the bird attack begins — an unforgivably long 45 minutes into this stinker – all of that immediately becomes irrelevant. Again, this is Nguyen at least trying to emulate Hitchcock. In The Birds, many of the circumstances behind Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor’s meeting (oh geez, Rod Taylor, I just realized what Nguyen was trying to do there) cease to matter, but the character dynamics and the local politics of the small town they’re in are still important. For example, we feel bad when Rod Taylor’s ex-girlfriend dies trying to protect his little sister. When the main characters of Birdemic find their two best friends (who also happen to be dating one another, although somehow neither Rod nor Natalie knew this when they started dating) dead in a car, the audience really only wonders what the point was in including them in the film at all, as they contributed exactly nothing.

The only thing worse than the writing in this movie is the special effects used to create the birds. From the first time we see a bird – a trio of parrots circling a tree – it becomes clear we’re in for a treat. This is the worst, weakest CGI I have ever seen, without qualification. On TV, in theaters, in direct-to-video releases, on viral videos on the internet, every human being who has ever attempted to make pixels on a computer screen move was more successful than the people who made Birdemic. The dancing baby from Ally McBeal looks realistic and lifelike in comparison to the birds in this movie. They attack in droves, sometimes, dive-bombing random targets and exploding, with fire that stays exactly in the spot the bird made contact and burns upwards in a perfect column. They hover – eagles that hover – in front of windows or cars. And whenever one of the characters manages to shoot a bird, that bird they hit inexplicably becomes the only one in the shot, popping in a manner reminiscent of an arcade-style duck hunting game circa 1991.

There is one aspect, however, in which this film clearly and deliberately rejects the framework of Hitchcock’s classic. In his film, as well as in the Daphne Du Maurier story upon which it is based, no explanation for the bird attack is ever given. James Nguyen turns this trope on its ear by giving us multiple, increasingly stupid explanations for what’s happening, all of which boil down to the same thing: Global Warming. That’s right, friends, everything in this movie is because of Global Warming… somehow. One random scientist they meet standing on a bridge blames Global Warming for a pile of dead birds on the ground, but then soundly rejects the notion that it could be responsible for the bird attack. A nutcase in the woods (wearing a wig so terrible that your delusional Uncle Morty suddenly will feel incredibly dapper by comparison) blames Global Warming for the deaths of certain trees and the explosion in the bark beetle population, which… also somehow made the birds go crazy?

Whatever, it’s obviously Global Warming, because we are told the birds are only attacking people in cars or at gas stations. Except for that one time it kills a girl trying to go to the bathroom in the middle of an open field. We also have to accept the danger despite the fact that in the background of almost every single shot we can see a steady, orderly stream of two-directional traffic completely unmolested by birds, because Nguyen couldn’t afford to shut the roads down when filming and couldn’t be arsed to find a road that didn’t have a lot of traffic on it. If that wasn’t enough, the characters sometimes pause the film to talk – in stilted dialogue that would get you kicked out of a high school drama club – about how great their hybrid cars are, including one that gets exactly 100 miles to the gallon, and walk around discussing how great they think the movie An Inconvenient Truth is. (This is an actual line of dialogue: “What a great movie. An Inconvenient Truth.” Because evidently Rod’s idiot friends forgot what movie they all just ostensibly watched together. Incidentally, I’m told that film is the perfect choice for a double-date.)

Everything about this movie is horrible, ill-made, and heavy-handed. By the time it was over I expected to see Al Gore, the Dancing Baby and Alfred Hitchcock (appearing as a Jedi ghost) to release a joint statement emphasizing that James Nguyen in no way speaks for them.

BUT… you gotta watch this.

Don’t watch it the way you usually would, of course. Don’t just turn it on as a bit of entertainment for two hours, because it fails on every possible level. But when you get your friends together with the intent of ripping into a crappy movie, this is a perfect choice. If you get the RiffTrax version of the film, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy give us one of the funniest riffs they’ve done in their decades of mocking terrible movies. Unlike some movies, which could be used for torture, this movie could be an alternative to taking anti-depressants. What’s better – popping a Xanax, or watching Rod and his friends use metal clothes hangers to try to fight off a flock of CGI birds that are hovering mere inches in front of their faces but that they cannot seem to hit, mainly because the computer effects team couldn’t move the birds somewhere that they might actually come close to one of the spastically-flailing hangars?

A while back, the TV show Mythbusters proved that – despite the old adage – it is in fact possible to polish a turd. They could have saved themselves the trouble and just watched Birdemic.

For my take on a much better film that uses some of these tropes, The Birds was one of the “bonus films” available only in the eBook edition of the first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen. It’s now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Mutants, Monsters, and Madmen Day 11: Psycho (1960)

psychoDirector: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Joseph Stefano, from the novel by Robert Bloch
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam

Plot: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer to help her boyfriend (John Gavin) pay off his debts. As she’s running to him, she stops overnight at a secluded hotel  run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), whose elderly mother lives with him in the adjacent house. When Leigh vanishes (following perhaps the most memorable death sequence in thriller history), her sister (Vera Miles) and boyfriend begin to seek her out, following the trail back to the hotel where she met her fate. A thrilling final confrontation reveals the true depths of Norman Bates’ insanity, jolting the viewers with shock after shock that still resonates 50 years later.

Thoughts: Truly, is there any thriller more classic, more iconic, more memorable than Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? The movie launched a whole new subgenre of terror, making the psychology of a killer a vital element to the story. (True, Peeping Tom did the same thing, but far more people remember Psycho.)

Let’s get the necessary stuff out of the way first, though. The film was amazing precisely because it broke so many off the conventions of the day. The film begins with following Janet Leigh as she steals the money and takes off. We watch her go through a red herring sequence where a police officer grows suspicious of her and watches her trade in her car (it adds nothing to the plot, but substantially increases the viewer’s false presumption that Leigh is the film’s protagonist and, therefore, going to be with us for a while). We don’t meet Norman Bates until about a half-hour into the film, and then – assuming you’re one of the three people left on the planet unfamiliar with this sequence – we’re shocked when “Mother” murders Leigh with a full hour remaining. How could this be? She’s the main character, she’s the one we’ve been following! Where will the movie go now?

The truth is that the story isn’t really hers at all, but that false assumption is incredibly effective at distracting us from the true star – Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Norman, as we learn, is the classic victim-turned-victimizer, repressed by an overbearing mother whom he later killed when he felt she was leaving him behind for her new lover. Afterwards, Bates develops a dissociative identity disorder, with “Mother” taking up residence in his head and murdering any woman he feels an attraction to, leading up to the climax of the film, where “Mother” takes over entirely.

Speaking – as I am wont to do – of the influence in both directions, Mother really strikes me as being a construct straight out of William Faulkner. Bates poisons his mother and her lover, then keeps Mother’s corpse with him in the house, carrying her from room to room, speaking to her as if she was alive. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that Robert Bloch wasn’t inspired here by Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” a short story where (in a twist ending — so, y’know, spoiler warning) we learn that the main character poisoned her lover years ago. He was planning to leave her, so she dosed him with rat poison and kept his corpse in her house – and bed – for the rest of her very long life. Something about that idea of living with a corpse, of sleeping next to the dead, is unfailingly creepy. It’s one of the short stories I most enjoy teaching to my 11th grade students every year, just because of the reaction when they get to the end. I wonder how these 16-year-olds would react to seeing Psycho. But more on that later.

Aside from just being a great story and screenplay, Hitchcock’s direction and Perkins’s performance combine to make this a movie that truly deserves the label “masterpiece.” Nearly every frame of the film is a work of art, expertly combining shadow and shape to create an all-pervasive feeling of terror. The 1998 shot-for-shot remake of the film was an abomination in many, many ways, but most notably because you simply can’t create the mood Hitchcock conjured up in a color film. This is a movie that needs to be in black and white to really work. The death scene in particular just isn’t as scary in color. Leigh steps into the shower, blissfully unaware of the figure in the long dress and wig creeping up on the translucent shower curtain. We see the knife raised and brought down, over and over again. The dripping blood (probably chocolate syrup or something of the sort) strikes the pure white tile of the shower and your brain fills in the rest of the blanks as it all swirls down the drain. Sure, we live in a world where the likes of the Saw movies do their level best to be as graphic as possible with the deaths of the characters, but Psycho proves you don’t need to do that to scare the hell out of people.

Janet Leigh – rightly – was given an Academy Award nomination for the film, but I can’t help but feel Perkins was robbed. As good as everything else in the film was, none of it would have worked if his Norman Bates wasn’t so remarkable. When we first meet the character, he’s very kind, polite, handsome, and instantly likable. In other films, he’d be the best friend the leads confide in during their darkest moments. But as the movie progresses, as we learn more about his dysfunctional relationship with Mother, our perception of him begins to change. He becomes an object of pity. With his tall, almost preternaturally slender frame, he somehow looks younger than he really is, almost childlike despite how he rises above Marion. The scene immediately following Janet Leigh’s murder really sticks out. Norman (who the unspoiled viewer doesn’t yet know is the killer) stands in the doorway to the bathroom, mop and bucket in his hand, to clean up the mess Mother made this time. His shoulders slump and we realize the jacket he’s wearing is far too big for his spindly body, making him look like a little boy trying on Daddy’s clothes in the hopes of looking like a grown-up. His discomfort and slip ups when speaking to a private investigator (Martin Balsam) are spot-on perfect, with the sense of unease slowly spreading across his face throughout the scene, leading into a pronounced stutter as his ball of lies becomes too large for him to control.

And then there’s the final shot of the character, once he’s been captured and institutionalized, with Mother’s voice doing the voiceover. The madness hardwired into his brain, projected through the speakers of a movie theater, would be creepy enough, but then Perkins looks up directly at the camera. This is a man that, an hour earlier, any person in the theater would have wanted for his best friend. But now the shape of his smile and the look of madness in his eyes sends an electric jolt of fear straight into the viewer’s brain. He’s clearly mad, clearly an abomination… and then the really chilling thought manages to creep in. If somebody as nice and kind as Norman Bates could be a mask for something so horrible, is there anybody we can really trust? Hitchcock finishes icing the cake as the scene fades and he quickly – almost imperceptibly – superimposes the image of Mother’s skull over Norman’s face. It’s so fast many in the audience probably don’t even consciously notice it, but they know something just happened to scare them even more.

There are only two things that really keep me from considering this a perfect movie experience – one of which is a fault of the film, the other a symptom of its success. The movie ends, after Bates’ capture, with an unforgivably long sequence in which his psychiatrist gets into a highly technical and totally unnecessary explanation of Bates’ psychosis. Any reasonably intelligent moviegoer has already figured out that Bates was insane and killed his mother, the first of his many victims. Giving a clinical explanation for it somehow makes it a little less scary. The few details this scene adds that we couldn’t have figured out – such as the fact that Bates killed at least two other girls between the death of his mother and that of Marion Crane – aren’t needed for us to appreciate the depths of his depravity.

The other problem is that the film is now so well known, so influential, that much of the shock has gone. Even someone who has never seen the movie likely already knows, before they even turn it on, that Norman Bates is the killer and that Mother is dead, a mummified corpse he keeps with him out of a twisted sense of love. In this sense, I almost envy my 11th graders. For many of these kids, 15- and 16-year-olds, any movie made before the turn of the century is practically ancient history, and not on their radar at all. They’ll probably have heard of Psycho, but not really know anything about it. If their apathy allows them to watch this movie for the first time with a blank slate… oh, for the first time, I envy them.

Moving right along, tomorrow we’ll tackle one of the cinema’s most chilling cases of sibling rivalry: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?