Perkins' last venture in the ' Deep Woods'

October 26, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Norman Bates cast a long, long shadow over Anthony Perkins' acting career.

And Norman is with Perkins and us tonight "In the Deep Woods," an NBC made-for-TV movie that includes Perkins' final performance before his death last month at age 60.

Perkins isn't the star of the film. Rosanna Arquette ("Desperately Seeking Susan") is the lead, playing an illustrator of children's books who becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer after her friend is murdered. In a dramatic sense, Arquette's performance is the best thing about this film that goes for one too many Hitchcockian twists and ultimately falls on its face.

But let's talk about the face of Perkins and this one last look at it that NBC is offering tonight at 9 on WMAR (Channel 2). In a pop-cultural sense, it is something to look at, and then savor as the reverberations of shared memory splash across the edge of consciousness.

Perkins plays on the edges of the film. After the first grisly murder, he starts popping up in too many of the same places as Arquette's character. He's always seen in a trench coat -- silent, staring, wearing a dark, enigmatic look. Is he or isn't he the killer? Is he stalking her? The face is a bit ravaged by the years and illness, but the minute you see it, you are looking at Norman -- nervous, troubled, boyish, defiant, frightened Norman.

Of course, this is what the filmmakers are playing with. Grisly serial killings plus woman-in-danger must equal Norman Bates as the murderer. The only questions are how long before she takes a shower and where's Mom. Hitchcock took so many of us as children in 1960 and programmed us like Pavlovian dogs with "Psycho" that any other reflexive response is out of the question.

To say any more about Perkins' role would totally spoil the suspense that "In the Deep Woods" tries for. This is a film feeding off the leftovers of the banquet that was Hitchcock's greatness. Its tastiest scraps are in the iconography and memory of Norman.

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