Thursday, May 2, 2013

Unnecessary Sequels: Psycho and Planet of the Apes

I come to you today with what will be the first installment of another little "series" of mine, in all of my sub-series of articles that this blog has developed in it's short life thus far. The theme this time around, is yet another that is near and dear to my heart. However, unlike most of the Retro Revelations catalog, which if you hadn't noticed by now remains almost strictly positive in nature, covering things that I have an avid and unabashed love and passion for. That certainly won't ever stop, and will more often than not be the case. But this new bit is going to have a slightly different flavor, bringing you a mix of my usual "I love it so here it is" formula, and an equal helping of "God damn I hate it why did they ever make it". In short, as the title already clearly explains, this is going to be dedicated to movies which I personally feel (quite strongly I might add), were great as stand alone films, but NEVER should have received sequels. To elucidate a little further, Hollywood for many decades (almost as long as it has existed, in fact), among it's many bad habits, has had the bad habit of loving money, so much so that when certain films become a "box office hit", the studio sees that as a cue to possibly make even MORE money by squeezing out a sequel. The logic, of course, is always that if it made money once, it'll make money again, and if a studio can create a cash-cow "franchise" out of a film, then that makes the corporate studio heads all the happier. Unfortunately, however, as I'm sure many of you fellow film buffs are aware, these sequels often wind up being not nearly as good as the original, and in some cases even manage to drag the original film down with them, either by overshadowing it, or simply being so bad that people always associate a certain film with it's shitty sequel.

So without further adieu, here is the first set of "Unnecessary Sequels".

Film: Psycho
Year: 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Unnecessary Sequels: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Most everyone who is even vaguely cognizant of film lore, whether they've actually seen it or not, is aware of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic "Psycho". Based on the 1959 Robert Bloch novel of the same name, it was a bit of a turn for Hitchcock, stylistically, who had done many murder mysteries and thrillers, but had never quite stepped fully over into the "horror" genre before this, which wound up becoming arguably his most famous film. Starring a career defining turn by Anthony Perkins as the creepy hotel manager Norman Bates, the film actually was promoted as a vehicle for actress Janet Leigh (mother of Jamie Lee Curtis), and indeed the first good chunk of the film starts off focusing solely on her character, Marion Crane. But (SPOILERS) that was done purposefully as a ruse by the genius of Mr. Hitchcock, for not twenty minutes into the film, Marion Crane is murdered by that nice-yet-awkward man Mr. Bates. This was of course the now infamous "shower scene", complete with equally infamous shrieking violins, a scene and image that has endured in film history to this day. What followed for the rest of the film was an expertly crafted piece of psychological thriller by Mr. Hitchcock, complete with an ending that not only leaves you chilled, but actually makes you think. And there you have it, one of the greatest movies of all time, so highly regarded that it was included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1992 for being an important and historical landmark film.

The iconic Bates home, creepy as ever.

But of course, as this article posited in the beginning, with the good must also sadly come the bad. In this particular case, it was a bit of dastardly work on the part of the movie studio indeed, for Universal Films actually waiting two decades until Alfred Hitchcock had died, finally started producing sequels that no doubt Mr. Hitchcock would have disproved of. First off, it goes without saying that some films simply do NOT need sequels, and Psycho was one of those films, a great and chilling stand alone piece. But what really makes the grade, as if often the case with needlessly long-running series, is that each successful unnecessary sequel just gets worse and worse, further and further making the "cannon" of the first film more deluded and dumb with each successive attempt to "flesh it out". In Psycho II, Norman Bates is let out of the mental institution after many years, being proven "cured" of his insanity and multiple personality disorder. He goes back to his old home and hotel, which is being run by some shitbag now, gets a job as a cook at a local diner, tries to prove he can have a normal life, meets a girl, etc. But naturally, shit happens, conspiracies abound, he goes (or gets driven) nuts again, and boom, more sequels. Psycho III gets even better, introducing a disturbed former nun that he falls in love with, and even more ridiculous intrigue involving just who his "mother" was and his family history, etc. etc. etc., which again naturally all ends in madness and murder. And if that weren't enough, they even made ANOTHER "sequel", this time having Norman once AGAIN "cured" and living out in the world, now married, and calling into some radio show to reveal through flashbacks his own accounts of his personal history. After some more BS and intrigue, he finally (SPOILERS) burns the goddamn house down, something they should have done after the events of the FIRST movie (let alone NOT keeping the Bates Motel where all the damn murders took place OPEN after his incarceration), and tidy-as-you-please he's finally better.

This is just, in my view, a PERFECT example of a classic film absolutely in no way needing a sequel of any kind, and what's more being dragged down by the outright silliness and stupidity introduced in the plots to said sequels. So anyone who comes along, sees them all, and takes it all as serious "cannon" (meaning taking for granted that all the silly shit in the sequels actually counts), would have what was a great and chilling mystery in the first film, at least in MY view absolutely watered down and ruined by not just BAD attempts at explaining everything with the sequels, but re-attempts at OVER-EXPLAINING and even "retconning" ("retroactive continuity, IE making shit up), what they'd already tried to pass off. Which equals horrible writing and just plain money grabbing nonsense. Sure, it gave the late Mr. Perkins more acting jobs and that's nice....but unfortunately it also helped to try and ruin a role that he had already made immortal and iconic. Thankfully, if you're able to outright IGNORE the existence of the shitty sequels, the original is such a sterling piece of film that it survives untarnished.

Film: Planet of the Apes
Year: 1968
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Unnecessary Sequels: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Based on a 1963 French novel entitled "La Plan├Ęte des singes", this 1968 film is, again, a complete classic in it's own right. The film was a major event of it's time, the screenplay being co-written by "The Twilight Zone" creator/writer Rod Serling, and of course starring one of film's most famous leading men, Charlton Heston, in what would go on to be one of his best known roles (and was in fact one of many science fiction films he did in a several year period, a genre he had not previously been known for). The movie of course, for the uninitiated, deals with a team of astronauts traveling in hyperspace, in cryo-sleep, and upon awakening crash land on what they think is a far-distant alien planet, which turns out to be ruled by apes, with humans being the equivalent of wild animals. Of course (SPOILERS) this turns out late in the film to be inaccurate, as it is revealed that the "alien planet" is actually Earth, and instead of traveling light years through space, they actually somehow space warped two thousand or so years into Earth's own apocalyptic future. This original film was a true classic, complete with great acting, a great cast (including one of my favorite character actors, Roddy McDowall as the ape "Dr. Cornelius"), a great score, great and very evocative cinematography, you name it, the film had/has no real blemishes to speak of. In fact it too was placed in the National Film Registry in 2001.

Apes and humans, living in....harmony?

But, again, studios like money. And the original Planet of the Apes indeed made a decent sum for it's day. So without undue haste, 20th Century Fox started producing 1970s direct follow-up, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which while not in the STARRING role, did see a return of Charlton Heston's character George Taylor. The new lead character was astronaut "Brent" (probably last name, as Heston's character was just known as "Taylor"), who had come on a second mission to find out what happened to the first. Brent, played by James Franciscus in a decent turn albeit more than a little "Heston-esque",  finds Taylor's mute female companion Nova, and goes off with her in search of his lost friend, and so the story goes. The thing about the Apes sequels, I must say, is that it's a different beast than the Psycho sequels, or many other unneeded sequels, in that they're none of them outright BAD films. In fact, for the most part, in spite of the fact that it's budget was halved by Fox, leading to shittier special effects and other assorted nonsense, "Beneath" is actually a pretty solid film. It isn't so much an issue that these sequels were horrible, but mainly just that they were utterly unneeded. The original film ended with such an iconic, thought provoking scene, that it literally never should have had a sequel of any kind, just standing on that scene alone for all time. Instead, they made a somewhat progressively sillier-by-the-sequel franchise out of it (and also later a short lived TV show). "Beneath" ended, quite literally, with a bang, as (SPOILERS) the astronauts discover an underground society of mutant nuclear war survivors, who worship an "Omega Bomb", that is powerful enough to wipe out an entire planet. And as madness ensues with mutants and apes in all-out war, Heston does the only logical thing (obviously), and blows the Omega Bomb up.

So naturally, you'd think after they blow future-Earth up, they can't possibly go anywhere else with the story, so no more sequels right? Wrong. Magically enough, friendly ape scientists Dr. Cornelius and Dr. Zira, husband and wife as it were, along with new inserted ape scientist Dr. Milo, somehow managed to recover Taylor's sunken spaceship from the "Forbidden Zone", and have repaired it enough to attempt space flight, which they do, right at the point in which they witness Taylor blow up their world. They somehow space-warp back in time to 1973, where we now get the role-reversal of civilized apes stuck in a world ruled by violent Man. "Escape" and "Conquest", were much different beasts than the first two films, with Escape seeing the apes in modern day 70s Earth, fairly low budget, etc., and Conquest set in a semi-futuristic point where their son Milo (or renamed "Caesar" to hide his identity as an intelligent ape from the humans), grows up to become an ape slave, as all apes have been made slaves of humanity to prevent them from taking over the earth. The series finally ends with "Battle For", and while again not a TERRIBLE film, it is the worst of the bunch, with probably the lowest budget, seeing Caesar lead a new post-nuclear society in which apes rule, humans live somewhat as prisoners, and some (what do you know) mutant survivors from the destroyed cities plan to make war on the apes. Shit goes down, lessons are learned, and apes and humans (SPOILERS) try to learn to live in harmony at the end.

All in all, not AS bad as the Psycho sequels by any stretch of the imagination. On their own, each one of the Apes sequels is at least a decent, and watchable film. They just shouldn't have been made, and they were, at the end of the day, just (literally) cheap cash-ins. All in all, the film world would have been a better place, had Psycho and Planet of the Apes never received unnecessary sequels (let alone eventually get remade, but that's a story for another time).

So that's all for now, folks! I'll return again at a later date with far more "Unnecessary Sequels". For now, cheers, and happy reading!

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