Tag Archives: Robert Bloch

Bates Motel (1987, Richard Rothstein)

Bates Motel is one of those “has to be seen to be believed (but isn’t worth spending any time on)” movies. It’s even better because it’s a late eighties TV movie slash pilot with a lot of contemporary television personalities guest starring, “Love Boat”-style. But it’s also a sequel to Psycho.

It’s also a complete mess of all those elements.

First, there’s lead Bud Cort. Having grown-up in the eighties and nineties, I eventually heard of Bates Motel, but I thought it was about Cort being this creepy motel manager and Jason Bateman being his assistant, possible victim, young adult lead. Like a mystery show.

Nope.

Bates Motel is about how Robert Picardo, in a high contrast, black and white flashback, gives just institutionalized Norman Bates a friend. It’s ludicrous, but writer Richard Rothstein really runs with it. And since he also directed the Motel, he’s always very nostalgic for Norman. Cort carries an urn with his ashes around the entire movie.

It’s nuts. Only it’s saccharine. Because Bates Motel, which actually does a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end, isn’t about being scary. It’s about being life affirming. Rothstein writes it for the commercial breaks; the break provides some transition, whether in the present action or just in Cort all of a sudden becoming the protagonist instead of a possible psychopath. Then Lori Petty shows up and everything goes crazy in a different direction.

Both Cort and Petty are bad, but Petty’s doing a schtick. She’s trying to sell herself (or the network is trying to sell her) and she doesn’t do a bad job of being calculated and commercial. As far as her terribly-written part? Well, no, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s unlikable, but better than Cort. And still bad.

Even Moses Gunn is bad, but in his case it’s because Rothstein can’t stage a scene. Bill Butler’s photography is actually pretty good too. Bates Motel isn’t cheap (I had always assumed it was cheap, it isn’t); it has good production values. It just has a crap script, crap direction and crap acting.

Except from Khrystyne Haje. Against all odds, she’s good. Jason Bateman, who has no scenes with Cort, is terrible. As the primary “Love Boat” guest star, the one in need of life affirming, Kerrie Keane is bad. You want to like her, but you can’t. I guess she does earn some pity, but it’s for being in the movie.

The super sweet music from J. Peter Robinson just makes it even more of an awkward, unpleasant misfire. However, it’s hard not to watch the first act, as Motel desperately tries to engage a vague franchise awareness with its viewer, and see it as a proto-franchise reboot.

Bates Motel is, just as I always thought, a piece of crap. The only surprise–besides Haje being good and Petty being worse than expected–has to be Cort. I expected to have sympathy for him being wasted in this crappy TV movie knock-off Psycho, but I didn’t. His performance is so distant, so cocky-eyed, it’s like I’d never seen him before and had no attachment (big problem for a TV pilot, incidentally). Rothstein can’t do anything right, not even cast Harold as a socially isolated, middle-aged man intrigued with death.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Rothstein; teleplay by Rothstein, suggested by a novel by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Dann Cahn; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky; aired by NBC.

Starring Bud Cort (Alex West), Lori Petty (Willie), Kerrie Keane (Barbara Peters), Gregg Henry (Tom Fuller), Robert Picardo (Dr. Goodman), Moses Gunn (Henry Watson), Jason Bateman (Tony Scotti), Khrystyne Haje (Sally), Lee de Broux (Sheriff) and Kurt Paul (Norman Bates).


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The Indian Spirit Guide (1968, Roy Ward Baker)

The Indian Spirit Guide is an odd amalgam of two plot lines; at least by the end of the episode. Until the end, Robert Bloch’s teleplay juxtaposes them perfectly with just the right amount of interweaving.

Julie Harris plays a wealthy widow romanced by her “paranormal investigator,” played by Tom Adams (who’s a delightful sleaze). He’s dating Harris’s secretary (Tracy Reed) and charged with rooting out the fakes among the mediums Harris visits. Harris wants to contact her dead husband.

Reed’s in on it with Adams–alone with Marne Maitland, who’s great as another coconspirator–and she gets upset when Adams starts romancing Harris.

Director Baker does a solid job, especially with the talking heads; Kenneth Talbot’s photography is great. Guide looks good. It sounds good. Harris gives an excellent performance. Catherine Lacey’s awesome.

The episode needs a proper ending. Bloch (and Ward) try to get away without. They fail.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Ward Baker; written by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Kenneth Talbot; music by Basil Kirchin; produced by Anthony Hinds; released by Independent Television.

Starring Julie Harris (Leona Gillings), Tom Adams (Jerry Crown), Tracy Reed (Joyce), Catherine Lacey (Miss Sarah Prinn), Marne Maitland (Edward Chardur) and Julian Sherrier (Bright Arrow).


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Psycho III (1986, Anthony Perkins)

I’m a little upset. Anthony Perkins only directed two pictures and one of them–this one–was written by Charles Edward Pogue. Pogue’s a bit of punchline, but at least most of Psycho III is well-plotted. His dialogue, especially at the beginning, is iffy, but it might also have been Perkins getting used to directing actors.

Psycho III takes place a month after Psycho II. While II was a really sensitive attempt to follow up on a famous cinema character, it ended weakly. III attempts, eventually, to right the misstep. I can’t figure out why Maltin, for instance, says this one’s played for laughs. It’s even sadder in some ways than the second film, with Perkins’s Norman finding the hint of real redemption and real human concern, only to have it destroyed.

Perkins, I think, did stage work and he directs the good actors in Psycho III like stage actors. The scenes with him and Diana Scarwid, for example, are just lovely, the two of them really understanding how to share the space and the time. Scenes with Jeff Fahey, not so much. Fahey’s awful in Psycho III and it’s sort of shocking no one realized the attempted rapist–Fahey’s establishing characteristic–was a villain deserving of a spectacular end.

Though the IMDb trivia says he was supposedly–initially–the villain.

Unfortunately, the film ends on its own misstep.

But it’s a fine ride to it. Especially with Carter Burwell’s fantastic (synthesizer-heavy?) score and Bruce Surtees’s luscious photography.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Perkins; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue, based on characters created by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by David E. Blewitt; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Hilton A. Green; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Diana Scarwid (Maureen Coyle), Jeff Fahey (Duane Duke), Roberta Maxwell (Tracy Venable), Hugh Gillin (Sheriff John Hunt), Lee Garlington (Myrna) and Robert Alan Browne (Ralph Statler).


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