The 13th Floor

The Exploitation Of Anthony Perkins’ PSYCHO Connection

In today’s modern age of moviemaking and celebrities, it doesn’t seem that typecasting is as big a worry for actors the way it used to be. Sure, if you’re someone like Elijah Wood, it’s fair to assume that someone on the street would probably recognize you as Frodo from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies since, you know, everyone on the planet saw the LORD OF THE RINGS movies! But he’s remained fairly consistent in choosing a variety of unique, different roles ever since. Whether it’s in front of the screen in something like MANIAC, or behind the scenes as one of the co-founders of genre outfit SpetreVision, it doesn’t feel to me he considers the LORD OF THE RINGS movies to be specifically a blessing or a curse. Hell, even COOTIES poked fun at Wood’s previous Middle Earth counterpart.

And even in the superhero world, whereas Christopher Reeve and George Reeves before him were constantly pegged as Superman, today Chris Evans can play both Johnny Storm and Captain America. Ryan Reynolds can be Green Lantern and Deadpool. Ben Affleck can be both Daredevil and Batman, yet most people still refer to all of the above guys by their actual names. It’s interesting to go back and recognize just how drastic a problem this was for some actors.

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Anthony Perkins was already a fine, well established, consistently working actor and teenage heart-throb (with an album out and everything!) by the time he accepted a role in the 1959 production of PSYCHO.  He likely took the role, if anything, so he could work with the great Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. I’m sure he couldn’t possibly have realized when he took on the part of Norman Bates that it would become so indelible and forever linked with him as a person. People refused to accept the difference between the character and the performer.

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Having made a documentary about PSYCHO and its subsequent franchise, myself, titled THE PSYCHO LEGACY, and based upon both conversations with those that worked on those films with Perkins and judging from his comments in the rare convention footage I incorporated, I get the sense that he did come to peace with his onscreen alter-ego and accepted that he was, in fact, Norman Bates in most people’s eyes. In a clip from the doc, he admits that it was his resistance to being called “Norman” that actually made it a problem and when he accepted it, and just would politely acknowledge it, that’s when he came to terms with his legacy.

But imagine, for example, that every time Elijah Wood did a movie now, the director would pull him aside and say, “you know what would be great? We should totally make a blatant and obvious Frodo reference! Wouldn’t that be clever and fun?” I’m sure any of you reading this would think the same thing as me. No, it would not be clever, nor fun. It’s disrespectful to the performer and his body of work. But alas, that’s what happened to Perkins time and time again.

Out this week on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory is a double feature set featuring the films DESTROYER (1988) and EDGE OF SANITY (1989). The latter was a slightly more modern take on the DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE story from director Garard Kikoine, in which Perkins plays Henry Jekyll, a doctor that experiments with cocaine and unleashes a perverse & murderous alter-ego. The twist? His alter ego is actually Jack The Ripper! And of course, when he becomes “Hyde” or “Jack,” he goes… well, for lack of a better term, “psycho.” And that was the point. In the promotional trailers, they wanted to evoke and remind you that this is the guy that played Norman Bates in those PSYCHO movies! The trailer narrator says, “Mother’s gone away. Brother’s here to stay.” Granted, it’s a pretty good, sleazy little movie. But it’s indirectly a bit of a PSYCHO knock-off.

The first feature on the disc, I’d never seen before. I was familiar with the body builder with the skull-face image from the old VHS box cover, but I had no idea that Anthony Perkins was in this movie. DESTROYER falls in that small sub-section of horror films that feature a notorious killer that gets captured, sent to the electric chair and somehow comes back to continue their murdering spree! Renny Harlin’s PRISON came out in 1987, so this is just a bit after that, but still before 1989’s double whammy of the similarly-themed SHOCKER and THE HORROR SHOW. But DESTROYER has Lyle Alzado! Yes, the former NFL star. Oh, but also the crush-worthy Deborah Foreman (WAXWORK, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, VALLEY GIRL) and Clayton Rohner (I MADMAN, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS).

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Anthony Perkins plays Robert Edwards, a well-known horror director that’s shooting his latest film in the actual prison where famed madman Ivan Moser was executed. But with strange things happening on set, is Ivan back and terrorizing the production? I do love that Perkins is having a blast as the “director” within the movie. He had just helmed PSYCHO III a few years prior, as well as the black comedy LUCKY STIFF. So it was a bit of fact-inspiring-fiction. The one down side? Sure enough, mid-movie, there’s a moment where he actually says, “OK, let’s go shoot the shower scene!” Sigh.

Arrow just announced a Blu-Ray release (finally!) of Ken Russell’s 1984 cult film CRIMES OF PASSION. Kathleen Turner plays the introverted Joanna Crane, a fashion designer by day that then embodies the persona of China Blue, a prostitute by night in the red light district. Anthony Perkins plays the Rev. Peter Shayne, a crazed preacher that rants on the streets and begins stalking China Blue in his attempt to save her soul.

It’s been years since I’ve seen the film, so I remember very little about it, except the ending, which for the sake of my point, I’m going to spoil for you. So either skip to the end, or stop here if you don’t want to know… SPOILER WARNING!

Perkins character Rev. Peter Shayne emerges in the finale wearing a dress and a wig, ala his “Mother” persona in PSYCHO, only this is 2 full years before he’d do it again for PSYCHO III. I recall this being the most disappointing aspect of this movie. I know based upon interviews and vintage discussions with Perkins that he absolutely adored working with Ken Russell. But I can’t imagine the director going up to the actor and instructing him that he’d essentially be recreating the ending of PSYCHO after already establishing a great character with the Reverend before all that.

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Regardless of all of the above, I’ve always found Anthony Perkins to be such a terrific actor. And not every single movie forced him to homage Norman Bates. Primarily it’s just the horror movies in the 80’s after he reprised Norman Bates in PSYCHO II. He played the villain in FFOLKS, appeared in Disney’s dark sci-fi fantasy THE BLACK HOLE and also had an interesting flick titled WINTER KILLS. But it seems that after PSYCHO II, any filmmaker that worked with him couldn’t resist making some sort of exploitative PSYCHO connection.

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