Anthony Perkins will forever be remembered as the man who played Norman Bates in “Psycho” and an improbable number of “Psycho” sequels (three). But he also left behind a rich, oily legacy of lunatic characters in stupid movies like “A Demon in My View,” which has a great title and is based on what sounds like a good novel but which is a crappy movie. I’m sorry, you know I hate to be blunt, but there it is.
Like many atrocities of the 20th century, the film is a German production. It’s in English, though, filmed in London with mostly British actors, plus a few random Germans, plus Anthony Perkins. But it feels like a German movie because the leading man, Uwe Bohm, has a thick, unnavigable German accent. Also, according to IMDb, director Petra Haffter’s first feature was called “Madness: The Whole Life Is Madness,” which is possibly the most German title I’ve ever heard.
Anyway, this Bohm fellow plays Anthony Johnson, a mumbly German grad student working on his dissertation in London while waiting for his girlfriend, Helen (Sophie Ward), to work up the nerve to leave her husband and run off with him. The very first image in the movie is of Anthony and Helen tenderly a-doin’ it, in soft focus and accompanied by soapy music, as if “A Demon in My View” were some kind of unbearable romantic drama rather than a grossly incompetent psychological thriller. This introductory scene sets the tone for the movie, which in general is going to focus more on Anthony and Helen’s boring affair than it should (i.e., at all).
The apartment house that Anthony Johnson moves into is also inhabited by Anthony Perkins’ character, a persnickety fussbudget bachelor named Arthur Johnson. Pay attention here: Anthony Perkins doesn’t play Anthony Johnson; he plays Arthur Johnson, who lives upstairs from Anthony Johnson. The plot ends up hinging on the two A. Johnsons being mistaken for one another and getting each other’s mail, so you know it’s pretty thrilling. Few films are brave enough to tackle the controversial subject of Postal Service errors. Fewer still are bold enough to have Character A’s animosity toward Character B stem entirely from Character B moving into Character A’s building while having a similar name.
Arthur has lived in this building for 20 years and is a humorless busybody who keeps to himself while eavesdropping on everyone else. In the cellar he has a mannequin that sometimes he’ll talk to, cuddle with, or strangle — which might sound weird, but don’t worry, the mannequin is female. He also sometimes has flashbacks to when he was a young boy and his stern aunt scolded him. One time he jabbed a baby with a diaper pin! These flashbacks help us understand Arthur as a person who feels emasculated by women and shouldn’t be allowed near children, both of which were obvious from looking at him.
Meanwhile, German Anthony befriends a couple of other tenants whose function is to provide backstory (and who don’t resent him for his name). It seems there was a notorious strangler in this neighborhood 20 years ago! It is a chilling tale: the fiend murdered a whopping total of two people and then stopped. The cops never found him, so he’s still out there somewhere, continuing to not kill anyone anymore. Why, right this minute he could be planning to not kill YOU!
Obviously, Arthur is the killer. Obviously. Nothing has ever been more obvious. The movie acknowledges the obviousness of this fact by only stalling for another hour before openly revealing it. In the meantime, Arthur starts taking German Anthony’s mail — first by accident, then on purpose. When Anthony’s beloved Helen writes to him, Arthur intercepts, reads, and then burns the letters, pretty much just to be a wiener.
Trouble arises when German Anthony lets some neighborhood kids go into the cellar and take whatever junk they can find to use for their Guy Fawkes bonfire, and Arthur’s mannequin girlfriend ends up at the top of the heap. I don’t know much about Guy Fawkes Day observances, and a tradition that encourages children to gather flammable objects and start fires in public seems ill-advised, but it’s worth it for the amusing sight of Arthur watching aghast as his one true love goes up in flames.
Well, it’s all downhill for Arthur after that, mental health-wise. Without a mannequin to use as an outlet for his impulses, he is soon back to strangling people. One person, anyway. Two murders 20 years ago, and now a third one. Arthur Johnson is on a rampage! Why couldn’t he get a new mannequin? Are we to understand there was something special about this particular mannequin, and that he’d been strangling it/making love to it for 20 years? Hoo boy, what a story that mannequin would have to tell if she could talk, and if those boys hadn’t set her on fire for Guy Fawkes Day.
There’s only one way for this story to end: Helen’s jealous husband shows up, mistakes Arthur Johnson for Anthony Johnson, and shoots him dead. The end.
What you need to understand about “A Demon in My View” is that it’s 110 minutes long but only has about 20 minutes of story. The alleged protagonist, German Anthony, doesn’t do anything except pine for his girlfriend. The character we should be most intrigued by, Arthur, is snippy, petty, indecisive, and weak (not to mention a sociopath, though we’d overlook that if he were entertaining, like we do with Kanye West). There are a million side characters who add even less to the story than German Anthony does: the landlord, who has endless pointless conversations with Arthur about rent prices; a Chinese prostitute who lives in the building; an impudent co-worker at Arthur’s office job; a Jamaican tenant who marries the film’s only other black character; etc. Fortunately, Anthony Perkins’ legacy remained intact. If three “Psycho” sequels couldn’t kill it, nothing could.