You may recall that I recently reviewed a book by Communion author Whitley Strieber called The Grays. In that review I did a short recap of Strieber’s greatest hit and noted that The Grays was a new approach to the material with which he’d become most associated. To whit: Strieber claimed that the things he wrote about in that book were, in fact, true but that he was not able to substantiate them adequately enough to include them in a nonfiction book. Consider this for a moment and decide what you think. Is it possible? Even likely? Probably not, but it is an interesting way of approaching subject matter that’s gone fairly stale over the decades.
Strieber includes no forward or afterword in this book, Hybrids, that makes any similar claim, but I can only assume given its contents that we are meant to take seriously at least some of what’s included. I know, as it happens, that Strieber has expressed a great deal of trepidation about human-animal hybridization going on at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, off the coast of Connecticut. You may recognize the name Plum Island from The Silence of the Lambs, though Thomas Harris never worried about the stuff we’re concerned with here.
Hybrids is about human beings using alien technology to create programmable human-animal hybrids that are faster, smarter and tougher than normal humans. The purpose is ostensibly to create a better soldier, but things go too far very quickly and what seems more likely is that the creator of the hybrids was fixated more on making the perfect being. A next stage in evolution, if you will, only skipping the whole “natural selection” part of the equation.
Twenty-three years passed between the releases of Psycho (1960) and Psycho II. That’s a really, really, really long time in movie years and I’m still a little amazed that Hollywood actually did such a thing. I’m glad they did, though, because Psycho II is an excellent sequel, even though it’s not as good as the original film.
Only three years would go by before Norman Bates and his infamous motel graced movie theaters again. Psycho III would be the last time there’d be a Psycho sequel on the big screen, which is probably too bad, because Psycho III is every bit as worthy as Psycho II.
From what I understand, Anthony Perkins could only be lured back to the role of Norman this time if he was offered the opportunity to direct. I’ve already said twice that the very best thing about the preceding films is Perkins’ nuanced acting work, and it turns out that Perkins was also a director of some talent. I take nothing away from Richard Franklin, who directed Psycho II, because he did a great job, but Psycho III is first-rate visually and features a couple of transitions that are nothing short of brilliant. Psycho III is a far, far prettier film that anyone had any right to expect.
I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen Psycho II during the 30 years you’ve had the opportunity to, but unfortunately I have to spill some of the beans in order to talk about what happens in Psycho III. To whit: Norman is absolutely off his rocker again, and Mother is back in full force as a consequence of a late-film interlude in Psycho II that certainly took me by surprise when I saw it.
These days if a certain amount of time has passed since a movie’s release, sometimes as little as ten years, the word on every studio head’s lips is “reboot” or “remake” or some variation on a theme. They certainly don’t say sequel, largely because studios are in the business of appealing to the broadest audience possible, and if that audience is restricted only to older people who are familiar with the last installment(s) of a series, that means less money to go around. That said, it does happen that movies get sequels well after their sell-by date would seem to have been exceeded. I mentioned recently how too much time had been allowed to elapse between Die Hard entries, and in the case of the Psycho series, a whopping twenty-three years would pass between the first and second films.
If you read my earlier review of Psycho (1960), then you know that I think very highly of it. That’s not exactly going out on a limb, as I don’t think I’ve ever met or heard of anyone who doesn’t like it, but I have a real fondness for that picture that’s carried over into many viewings. I always enjoy watching it again for its distinct late ’50s, early ’60s feel and the sharp performances, not least by Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. It’s just an all-around good movie of the sort that doesn’t crop up that often and, really, everyone should see it at least once.
So where does that leave Psycho II? Not only was it released more than a generation after the original, but it had a totally new director and screenwriter and was even (gasp!) in full color. It also had the misfortune of coming out right in the middle of the slasher-film boom, a filmic trend that many trace back to the original Psycho, though that’s an interpretation I have some dispute with. Could any sequel live up to the standard set by the 1960 film? The answer is no… and yes.
O, Steven Seagal giveth and Steven Seagal taketh away. That much you must know by now, but you will probably never see a better illustration of this when looking at the two films, Driven to Kill and Against the Dark. As it happens (read my review), Driven to Kill is surprisingly solid for a direct-to-video Steven Seagal film, even accounting for Seagal’s not-so-great Russian accent and weird, orangey tan. And yet, in the same year we received Driven to Kill we also got Against the Dark, and Against the Dark is double-plus ungood.
On paper it doesn’t seem like too bad of an idea: Steven Seagal fights vampires. It worked out pretty darned well for Wesley Snipes in the Blade movies, so why not give some vampiric love to the jowly master of aikido? After all, he knows how to handle a sword and does stoic with the appropriate amount of intensity. What could possibly go wrong? Funny you should ask.
Against the Dark reveals its first and most critical flaw very early on: this is a Steven Seagal movie without much Steven Seagal in it. Viewers of Seagal’s films — be they fans or, like me, semi-fans with a morbid fascination with Seagal’s post-theatrical decline — know his movies can usually be relied upon to deliver at least a decent minimum of Seagal-related action, and yet I would probably guess that only ten minutes of the film’s 93-minute runtime are taken up by the portly one. Despite his prominent placement on the DVD jacket, clad in leather with sword in hand, surrounded by evil vampire faces, Seagal basically performs a guest-star role in his own movie.
So who are the stars of Against the Dark? Well, they’re a bunch of actors you’ve never heard of, including the cousin of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In what are essentially cameo roles, we have Linden Ashby and Keith David of all people. I can’t imagine what Keith David is doing in this movie at all — the man has a Tony Award, for God’s sake! — but there he is, dutifully adding Against the Dark to his resume. It’s kind of surreal.