Vintage Cable Box: “Psycho II”, 1983

New VCB Logo

“It’s starting again.”

Psycho II, 1983 (Anthony Perkins), MCA/Universal

psycho_ii

On occasion, you would have dual premieres of movies. HBO and Cinemax, at the time, aired new releases on the same night, usually a Saturday. One such summer Saturday, HBO debuted National Lampoon’s Vacation and Cinemax aired Psycho II. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to watch, and back in those days, you couldn’t Tivo your troubles away, so we went with Psycho II. I had not seen the original Psycho but was well aware of the famous shower scene. It would be a couple of weeks later that I finally watched the original Psycho, and to this day, nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates. That goes for Michael Meyers, Charles Manson, and Donald Trump. I repeat: nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates!

I remember a few years ago, somebody made the point (maybe it was me) that Norman Bates never truly existed; that whatever Norman was, only appeared to be an extension of his mother, the famous Mrs. Bates. When you look at Norman, even in advanced years, played by the extraordinary Anthony Perkins, he’s nothing more than a “man-child”, consumed in fear of disappointing his mother and telegraphing an all-consuming shyness around women he deems attractive, women he is driven to be attracted to – starting in 1960’s Psycho with Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane.

Norman’s mother had gained a peculiar form of immortality by being so endemic an image in her son’s mind that she devoured him whole and implanted her own personality. It has taken 22 years for Norman to become his own man, and sadly, there are those who still wish to destroy him. Once released from the custody of the State, Norman tries to pick up the shattered remains of his life and run his motel. He fires sleazy manager Mr. Toomey (a hilarious Dennis Franz) and makes a new friend in Meg Tilly.

Of course, all of this is a veneer; a curious effort to drive Bates mad so that he will be taken away again. Meg Tilly is the niece of Marion Crane and she and Crane’s sister (a shrill Vera Miles) take turns phoning Norman and dressing up as his mother to make him crazy. Meanwhile, very real murders are being conducted by a mysterious third party, who is revealed at film’s conclusion. As with the original Psycho, you can’t help but feel for Norman as his mask of sanity slips away gradually.

psycho202

Meg Tilly (at first) sides with her mother in discrediting Norman, but as she sees the struggles he tries to cope with, she develops an affection and attraction to him, ultimately protecting him from her mother’s cruel scheming. Anthony Perkins’ promising career was destroyed by Psycho. He was forever type-cast, as either yet another psychotic personality, or a borderline “heavy” in most movies after Psycho. Like Leonard Nimoy before him, he decided to wholeheartedly embrace his legacy by directing 1986’s Psycho III and appearing in the promising, but ultimately illogical Psycho IV.

Richard Franklin does an admirable job directing this first sequel to the horror classic, and having to weather the storms of vicious film critics, who bemoaned a lack of originality in Hollywood they perceived had to rely more and more on sequels to make easy money. As we know, this was only the beginning, but Psycho II is a well-crafted, labyrinthine thriller with elements of mystery and suspense worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Tom Holland’s script is intelligent, sympathetic, and thought-provoking.

Next up: Amityville II: The Possession

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Advertisements

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “The Big Chill”, 1983

New VCB Logo

“Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.”

1983-the-big-chill-poster1

The Big Chill , 1983 (Kevin Kline), Columbia Pictures

It’s bizarre and more than a little morose when I think about the fact that I am older than the central characters in Lawrence Kasdan’s classic coming-to-terms-with-things epic, The Big Chill. All in their mid-thirties, more than a few of them established and respected pillars of their respective communities (except rebel-boy Nick), they reunite for the weekend in South Carolina after the suicide of their friend, Alex (Kevin Costner, not appearing in this film). Kasdan made a name for himself, penning screenplays like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. His first film as director was the brilliant film-noir spoof, Body Heat starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.

The Big Chill is a movie that resonates with a different age group – that of our parents, the “Baby-Boomers”, children of the war and the “Greatest Generation”; those who turned their backs on what they perceived was a mindless emphasis on patriotism, imperialism, and consumerism (lots of -isms). As they grew into adulthood, they chose an uncomplicated path to self-destruction through drugs and the concept of free-love because they saw those same failings in themselves. A good portion of The Big Chill fixates on this idea. This is where my conflict comes in. I’m the product of a lost generation: the children of the “boomers” who don’t relate to these internalized conflicts, because we’ve nurtured apathy and despair and saw the hypocrisy in our parents long before they did. I’m sorry, this is getting preachy.

The cast of this movie is exceptional. Kevin Kline is Harold, a successful businessman. Glenn Close is his long-suffering wife, Sarah (who once had an affair with Alex). Handsome Tom Berenger is Sam, a television star. JoBeth Williams is bored housewife, Karen. William Hurt is the aforementioned rebel-boy, Nick. Jeff Goldblum is Michael, a writer for People magazine (who once published a hatchet-job on Sam), obviously a stand-in for Kasdan. Mary Kay Place is a successful attorney, unlucky in love. Meg Tilly is Alex’s much-younger girlfriend, Chloe. Shot in a real house in Beaufort, the cast lived together for several weeks before shooting commenced, which explains their unbelievably easy chemistry and mutual affection.

William-Hurt-in-The-Big-Chill-william-hurt-29451689-1200-867

Kline and Hurt’s characters are disillusioned in their adulthood. Berenger is clingy after his recent divorce. Goldblum is looking to scam his friends out of money so he can open a nightclub. Mary Kay Place wants to have a baby. JoBeth secretly loves Berenger and wants out of her dead-end marriage to boring, dependable Richard. Glenn Close is the emotional center of the group, weeping for Alex. Meg Tilly’s Chloe is the innocent; blissfully ignorant of the group’s woe.

Because these characters tend to run together with their fears and motivations, Chloe is the one truly unique person under this roof. She is sensitive and idealistic, but also lazy and giggly. Chloe is a part of her own lost generation, not quite old enough and not quite young enough. It’s only logical she connects the most with Hurt’s disaffected Nick, because he seems to be closest analog to the mysterious Alex. Alex is another matter entirely. Completely missing (even in spirit) from the film, he appears to be the glue that held this little community together, and without his gentle sway, everything falls apart.

It’s interesting in that I was eleven years old watching this movie (this is a movie explicitly not made for me) for the first time with my mother, who laughed at every joke, and cried at every somber moment, instantly identifying with these characters. The reason I enjoyed the movie had more to do with the very witty dialogue and what’s more, I appreciated the friendships, the connections, and the warmth of the performances. When I watch the movie now, I still think I’m a kid and couldn’t possibly understand the dilemmas of The Big Chill even though I’m much older than I’m younger than that now.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.