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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Psycho 2 (1983)

Normally, sequels tend to get a bad rep- though there are a few rare ones that either do as well as (or better than) the first installment.

After 22 years in a mental institution, Norman Bates is finally coming home.  As he tries to put his life back together, and move forward into a healthier future, a shadow stalks him and the house.  Soon, the killing begins.  Has Mother returned as well?

Considering that the original "Psycho" was such a hit- and is considered one of THE greatest horror/suspense films of all time, you certainly wouldn't be able to blame Universal for wanting to see if they could capture lightning in a bottle again.  But would someone OTHER than Hitchcock be able to pull it off?

Fortunately, Director Richard Franklin does a great job tackling this franchise.  Of course, it helped that the story itself was interesting, and took a look at Norman from a totally different angle: as the victim.  This approach brought a depth and fullness to the character that was engaging and unique.  It also showed courage on the part of the studio, since it would've been so much easier to simply have Norman killing everyone again.

The story is filled with suspense, and twists that keep you watching and thinking about what may be happening, might happen... and even if it did happen at times.  Is Norman the killer?  Is it the girl from the dinner that moves in?  Is it Lila Loomis- sister of Marian Crane, who was killed by Norman in the original?  Or has Mother come back somehow?

Of course, there ARE a couple of moments where physics and time collide with the needs of the story.  The biggest one involves Mother's room.  One minute it's all dusty, then set up nicely, then all dusty again.  But they are minor and are easily forgotten for the most part.

The characters are well done also.  I liked them and found them engaging.  I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of Norman and Lila's characters.  It was interesting to see the change 22 years had brought the two characters.  Norman has come out of it "cured" and sane- while Lila has grown obsessed with Norman and keeping him locked up.  Mary was a great character as well- she plays a subtle role at the beginning, but grows into a vital piece of the story.  Every character fit nicely into the story and served a purpose.

Meg Tilly did a wonderful job as Mary- she had a sweetness, and a touch of darkness to her that gave the character depth and realism.  Another great actress was Vera Miles- who plays Lila Loomis.  She brought such energy and intensity to her character that you could almost see her taking a knife to someone just to put Norman away again.  She switched between cold calculation and firey anger with great skill and smoothness.

And then there's Anthony Perkins.  His acting is what really tied the movie together.  Just a phenomenal piece of work by him.  The modulation of his voice, the way his expressions changed, and the way his body moved.  He made Norman more than just a slasher killer.  He made him human- and made watching him fall apart bit by bit a deeply engrossing event.  It was a shame that it was hard for him to get past being typecasted as a Norman Bates type character.  Just a master actor in my opinion.

This movie tip-toed the fine line between suspense and gore really well.  It would've been so out of character if they had simply gone a gorey route since the slasher horror film was so popular at the time.  Other than one scene, there is very little gore- it's all left up to your imagination.  Loved the suspense.

In the final analysis, I'm going to have to say that "Psycho 2" is one of the few sequels that lived up the expectations of its franchise by providing a quality story, while taking that story in a different direction.  I'm going to put it in "The Good".

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Alone in the Dark (2008)

You wake up after having been drugged, with no memory of who you are.  Soon afterwards, people start dying, and you are in a race against a dark organization to control the release of demons of Hell.  Who are you- and what is your connection to the evil that is razing New York?

This is going to be a very short review for "Alone in the Dark".  Why?  Because, to be honest, I wound up violating one of my rules for reviewing.  I became so frustrated with the game that I stopped playing.

It didn't take me all that long either, actually.

In fact, I didn't even get out of the building I woke up in at the beginning of the game.


It wasn't the story.  The premise was great: solve the mystery of who you are, and stop Hell from coming to Earth.  I'm down with that.

It wasn't the graphics.  They are phenomenal- especially the fire.  The way it looks, and the physics of how it interacts with the environment, etc was really good.  The details in side the halls, elevator shaft, and rooms that I did see where really good too.  While the NPC's could've been a bit more detailed, they were decent enough.

It wasn't even the music or sound effects.  I liked them.  The crackling of the fire, the footsteps, and the music really helped to set a good mood, setting, and tone to the game.

No, I didn't stop playing because of any of those things.

I stopped because the game mechanics were a bloody mess.  The manual dedicates FOUR pages to the controls. You had your Basic Controls (Hands-Free), Basic Controls (First Person View), Inventory, Focus on Item, Using a Rope, Gun Use, Vehicle, Bottle/Throwable Object in Hand, Handling Objects, and Gas Bottle/Extinguisher.  Seriously, does a game REALLY need that sets of controls?  Trying to remember what control set I needed led to me dying several times (15 times to be exact) in one spot.

Also, the game has a First Person option- but kept kicking me out of it into Third Person... which is harder to move around in.  This tendency led the game to kill me about ten MORE times in another spot... each death occurring pretty much right after I spawned.  I'd hit First Person, get kicked into Third Person, die.

If the developers had kept the game mechanics simple, and allowed me to stay in First Person when I selected that option, I probably would've enjoyed myself more.  As it is, I will never put this game into my X-Box again.  It's getting a big "Ugly" from me.