Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bates Motel (1987)

Bates Motel is a made-for-television film, and though it came out a year after Psycho III, it completely ignores both Psycho II and Psycho III, and has Norman Bates die before ever being set free. According to this story, he befriended Alex West (Bud Cort), and left the motel to him in his will. At the funeral, Alex stands up and tells those gathered: “To the world, he was a murderer, but to me, he was my friend. And I only hope that in your lifetimes you will all be lucky enough to have one friend like him.”

Yes, the film at times is a bad comedy. For example, at the reading of the will, the man gives a nice long pause after “being of sound mind.” And the first item bequeathed is a frozen turkey. The old woman who receives it looks up and says “Thank you, Norman.” His record collection goes to a man who taught Norman the Twist. And the man does a little dance move as he collects the records. Norman is spoken of almost as if he were some kind of saint, particularly by Dr. Goodman (Robert Picardo). Then later there is a routine where Alex asks for directions to the motel, and is told by each person in turn that he or she is new to the area and so doesn’t know. We also have Lori Petty dressed up in some kind of mascot costume and living in the Bates house. (Check out the awful score accompanying this scene – and every scene, actually.) And there is – I am not kidding – a 1980s musical montage as workers fix up the motel (including a shot of Bud Cort dusting off one of Norman’s stuffed birds, and a couple of shots of Lori Petty working on a fountain and then giving up and sitting in it, fully clothed).

Alex keeps Norman’s ashes in an urn, and when they finish fixing up the motel he says, “We did it, Norman.” But at first no one stops in, leading Alex and Willie (Lori Petty) to talk about making the sign bigger. Geez, it’s more than an hour in, and you think, “Hey, if there are no customers soon, could you two just kill each other?” Bring on the horror! But first there is the suspense over whether Alex will be able to make the first payment to the bank by the 25th. Willie says, “The 25th? The 25th is tomorrow!” Uh-oh! Sounds like the movie needs another musical montage.

Even though this movie seems to ignore Psycho II and Psycho III, it borrows a scene from one of them – where a woman tries to kill herself in the bathtub and is interrupted. Interestingly, it’s the first halfway decent scene in the film – at least until another guest tries to get her to do the Twist. Yeah, the movie goes off in an odd direction at this point, as teenagers have a 1950s-style party, and get the would-be suicide to join them. Jason Bateman plays Tony, a shy boy who is set up with the woman. Everyone circles around to watch them dance. Meanwhile, Alex is nervous because they’re running out of punch. Oh, the horror! At this point, I just give up. I mean, what the hell is this film doing? Only eighteen minutes left, and there have been no scary moments whatsoever. And why are we focusing on these two new characters so close to the end of the film? They dance once, and then we have a long break-up scene. Seriously, it’s longer than the one dance they shared. “I’ll always be grateful to you,” she says to the boy whom she met only five minutes earlier. Would someone please take a shower?

Anyway, the woman returns to her room and is still intent on killing herself. But the girl appears in the room to stop her. “I don’t get it,” the woman says. Hey, join the club! The girl tells her, “There’s nothing to get.” Ah, now you tell me. That line should have been at the start, as some kind of warning, not eighty-four minutes into the movie. But get this: the girl reveals that she committed suicide herself. “The night of my senior prom. And we’ve come here to tell you that it stinks.” What a great script! What a great message! Suicide stinks. Where is Alex? Hasn’t he finished making the punch? And if these kids are all ghosts, will their money be any good? After all, Alex has to pay the bank $10,000 the next day. So, let’s see. There are twelve cabins. So if each occupant, living or dead, pays $833.33 for the room, everything will be fine.

Well, each ghost introduces himself or herself to the woman. One of them wears a cute angora sweater, which I appreciate. But what the hell? It’s like someone had a vague idea for a Psycho movie and a vague idea for a Twilight Zone episode, and then just put the two together, one after the other, and called it a day.

Anyway, just before the end, we go back to Alex, and there is a Scooby Doo ending. Yup, look, it’s the bad guy dressed in a ghost mask trying to scare Alex off. It is ridiculous. And goddamnit, no one gets killed in this movie. No one even peaks at anyone through a hole in the wall. And at the very end, Alex talks directly to the camera, asking us to come by. “Nobody ever said life was easy. But nothing really worth it ever is. But you know, I think with a little luck, we’re going to do okay here. I think Norman would have liked that. Oh, by the way, if you ever need a room, come on by. Can’t say for sure what you’ll find, but that is what makes the world go round.” What the fuck?

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