The Last of Sheila (1973)

the last of sheila

Rian Johnson listed this film as an influence on Glass Onion, his recent Knives Out sequel for Netflix (which is excellent, I highly recommend it) so I thought I’d give it a watch. Almost immediately the influences come flying right at you from the television screen.

The story involves a group of rich, beautiful, (mostly) young people who have found success in the movie industry. They’ve been invited by their friend Clinton (James Coburn) for a week aboard his yacht where he had prepared some delightfully complicated game.

The game involves revealing select secrets from each person (alcoholic, ex-convict, homosexual, child molester, etc) and will conclude with the revelation of who ran over Clinton’s wife one year prior and didn’t have the decency to stay with her and maybe call for help. Everyone more or less enjoys the game until someone actually dies and then it becomes a very real murder mystery.

Glass Onion is a lot bigger, a lot bolder, and a lot more fun, but The Last of Sheila is rather delightful in its own way. The cast includes James Mason, Ian McShane, Raquel Welch, and Dyan Cannon. It was shot on location in the Mediterranean. It was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins of all people.

Clinton is a movie producer and he has an idea bout making a movie about his dead wife’s life. He wants everyone he’s invited on the boat to help him make it. They, scriptwriters, directors, and actors all, desperately need him and this movie to help their sagging careers. It is full of twists and turns, mysteries and reveals. The cast is clearly having a good time.

It isn’t quite as punchy as I’d like it to be, and the direction by Herbert Ross never excites. He certainly doesn’t make great use of the beautiful setting. It feels very much of its time. One of the big secrets is the character is homosexual which wouldn’t be a big deal now, but in 1973 could be quite detrimental for a celebrity working in Hollywood. That is more scandalous within the film (as is being an alcoholic and a shoplifter) than the revelation that one of them is a child molester which is shrugged off by the characters and the film. But mostly the film is a lot of fun and if you liked Glass Onion I highly recommend it.

The Friday Night Horror Movie: Psycho II (1983)

psycho II

Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho is about as close to perfection as horror films come. I love it. I’ve seen it probably half a dozen times over the years. Yet, I’ve never had any desire to see any of the sequels. There was no need to, in my opinion. Psycho said everything that needed to be said about Norman Bates. Hitchock never indicated he wanted to make any other films and all of the sequels came about after he had died. The general consensus of the sequels is that they are pretty bad, and so I never bothered with them.

But then the other day one of my favorite critics, Keith Phipps, wrote a piece about Psycho II and it intrigued me, and so it became my Friday Night Horror Movie.

As it turns out Psycho II is way better than it has any right to be.

Set 22 years after the events of Psycho, this sequel follows Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he is released from the psychiatric institute he’s lived in since being found guilty of the murders from the original film. He’s been found mentally sound by his psychiatrist (Robert Loggia) and sent back to his (surprisingly still intact) home. The hotel is there too and so is Mr. Toomey (a never-sleazier Dennis Franz), a guy hired by the institute to run the place in Norman’s absence.

The hotel has never been much of a money maker so Norman gets a job as a cook’s assistant at a nearby diner. There he meets Mary (Meg Tilly). They get chummy and when Mary’s boyfriend kicks her out Norman lets her sleep (and shower) at his place. Things go ok until little notes start showing up from Norman’s mother. And somebody keeps calling his house claiming to be his mother, too. Then the bodies start piling up.

Is Norman going crazy once again? Or is somebody else trying to get him locked back up?

What I find interesting about the film is that Norman Bates is a true protagonist. The film takes his side, it makes us like him. Anthony Perkins’s portrayal is sympathetic. It was sympathetic in the original, but here we really like him. Or at least I did. The murders in the first film were due to a deep psychosis. We believe he is cured. That’s a really interesting route to take in this film.

Director Richard Franklin (who had just come off the terrific Australian thriller Road Games) knows what he’s doing. There are lots of visual homages to Hitchcock throughout the film, but he makes it his own. This is a film that didn’t need to be made, but it makes you glad it exists.