Psycho II, 1983.
Directed by Richard Franklin.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, and Tom Holland.
22 years after he was incarcerated for murder Norman Bates is declared sane and released back to his motel but Mother isn’t likely to let him live a peaceful life.
Sequels to acknowledged classic movies often bring about derision and a bit of a sniffy attitude, especially belated ones not made by the original crew or featuring different actors, but every so often a worthy successor appears just to prove there are exceptions. Psycho II appeared in 1983, 23 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal original, and reunites original cast members Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles but with Hitchcock having died in 1980 Universal Pictures turned to Richard Franklin, one of his students, to helm the project, based on a script written by Tom Holland (Fright Night/Child’s Play).
22 years after he was sent to a mental institution, schizophrenic Norman Bates (Perkins) is declared sane and released back into society, much to the displeasure of Lila Loomis (Miles), the sister of his shower victim Marion Crane. Returning to his motel Norman discovers that the business has been put in the hands of new manager Mr. Toomey (Dennis Franz – Die Hard 2), who has turned the Bates Motel into a sleazy retreat for drug users. Bates fires Toomey and begins to restore the motel, along with the old house that stands behind it, while also taking a job at the local diner under the guidance of his doctor Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia – Over the Top/An Officer & a Gentleman). Norman befriends Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly – The Big Chill), a waitress at the diner who finds herself without a place to stay after a row with her boyfriend so Bates offers her a room at the motel but it would appear somebody isn’t happy with the arrangement as Norman begins to find notes apparently written by his dead mother, both in his home and at the diner, forcing him to confront his demons once again as people start to disappear and Norman becomes the chief suspect.
Whereas Psycho was mostly Marion Crane’s story, Psycho II is fully Norman’s and the combination of Tom Holland’s writing and Anthony Perkins’ sympathetic performance fully realise the character that has become ingrained in movie history and popular culture over the past six decades. Expanding on the character traits that Alfred Hitchcock gave to him – the Norman Bates in Robert Bloch’s original novel was very different to the film version – Perkins fully rounds out Norman as a man who has sunk to the lowest depths and risen up again to try and reclaim his life, not forgetting what he has done but coming to terms with it and trying to move on. His facial tics, vocal stutters and kindly mannerisms make this Norman Bates a character that is easy to get invested in, especially as the story has many twists and turns to keep you guessing as to who is trying to break his mind, and even when he begins to snap you know it isn’t all his fault and Perkins gives what is probably his greatest performance as the confused Norman begins to slip into insanity once again.
Because it originally came out when it did, Psycho II is framed very much as a slasher movie – albeit one with a bigger budget, the polish of a studio product and a fantastic set design – and it does contain a bit of ‘80s-style violence, which helped put the film on the radar of those people renting Friday the 13th VHS tapes back in the day and also helps update the overall story, but thankfully Richard Franklin holds back and only gives us what we need to see at the precise moments we need to see it, much like what Hitchcock did in the original, and he also uses a few of Hitchcock’s camera tricks to help keep the feel and tone consistent, as well as a few of his own such as a shot near the end of the film of somebody walking up the steps to the house that just adds a layer of dread that words never could.
If there is a criticism of Psycho II then it could be that the plot tries a little too hard with the mystery element and crams in one twist too many as Norman is tormented to breaking point. The final reveal of the movie is generally the one bit of the plot that is viewed negatively by fans and in the big scheme of the whole franchise it does feel a little bit incongruous but take it within the context of just this movie and it isn’t that offensive; in fact, the way it plays out is one of the highlights of the film visually, offering up a glimpse of what makes Norman such a terrifying yet compelling character and Anthony Perkins plays it beautifully with an ice-cold calmness and show of brutality that gives us the glimpse of the real Norman that Alfred Hitchcock probably couldn’t have gotten away with back in 1960, despite how taboo-breaking that original movie was.
With a crisp and fresh feel to the picture quality – that creepy house on the hill has never looked so alive thanks to the level of detail – and a clutch of extras including an audio commentary with writer Tom Holland, an exclusive never-heard-before audio interview with director Richard Franklin, a panel discussion about Psycho with Tom Holland, director Robert Galluzzo (The Psycho Legacy documentary) and filmmaker Mick Garris (Psycho IV: The Beginning), an archive interview with Anthony Perkins and a reprint of the Psycho II chapter from Richard Franklin’s unpublished autobiography, Arrow Video have put together a package that is sure to please the faithful and anybody looking for the answer to the age-old “Name a good movie sequel” question could do a lot worse than seeking out this underrated gem for an answer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★