Psycho II (1983)

Psycho II (1983)

It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is finally coming home

After twenty two years in an institution, Norman Bates is finally deemed sane and released back into the wider world, much to the disconcert of Lila Loomis, the sister of Marion Crane who was brutally stabbed to death in the shower. However due to budget cutbacks, Norman isn’t sent to a halfway house and instead finds himself returning home to the Bates Motel, where a social worker pops in to see him from time-to-time. He gets a job working in a local diner and befriends a young waitress who agrees to move in with him. But it isn’t long before he starts getting mysterious phone calls and notes left for him by ‘Mother’ and homicidal feelings that he had managed to suppress begin to resurface.

 

How do you follow up one of the most influential films of all time? Well you wait until the original director has died before you tackle the material. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most critically-analysed films ever made but a sequel whilst the director was alive was never going to get off the ground – Hitchcock would never given the green light to a sequel for any of his films. So out of respect, it was only after Hitchcock died in 1980 that attempts were made to follow up his landmark Psycho with a sequel, a daunting task for anyone.

Psycho II was made at the height of the slasher era where Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and soon-to-be Freddy Krueger and their numerous copycat killers were slicing and dicing their way across hordes of the teenage landscape. So what better era in which to bring back the original slasher himself, Norman Bates? Psycho II could have pandered to the masses and turned Norman into a bodycount maestro but director Richard Franklin resisted the urge to cash-in on the current trend and instead crafts together a masterfully-conceived horror film which does Hitchcock’s original huge justice.

Right from the start (well technically not true as it recaps the shower scene from the original but you know what I mean), Psycho II never once pretends to be aping Hitchcock. This is its own film, not designed to recapture the artistic talents of Hitchcock but to further on the story of Norman Bates, nothing more. With this mindset in place, Psycho II then proceeds to deliver a gripping story which continually asks the question of whether Norman has slipped back into his insanity or whether he is being played for a fool by someone who wants to see him back in the asylum. Wisely constructing the film around another standout performance from Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the film weaves an intricate tapestry of questions which don’t leave you with the answers until late in the day. One minute you think he has snapped again but the next minute you’re not so sure. The film keeps pulling the rug out and introducing new evidence for and against both scenarios and isn’t happy until the final reel. It will keep you guessing right until the end and even then, you’re not so sure.

This said, there are plenty of nods to the original. The homecoming scene where Norman finds himself coming face-to-face with the creepy house on the hill for the first time in years is fantastically spooky. Seeing the motel again, that shower, the stairs where Martin Balsam was murdered….it all brings back powerful memories of the original for not only Norman but the audience. The running shots of various knives around the diner and the house keep our expectations firmly at the forefront of our minds. We expect Norman to go crazy at some point and use them. In a perverse twist of logic, we the audience actually want Norman to be turn out to be crazy. It’s a fine line between protagonist and antagonist that the film keeps skirting over by reflecting on our memories of the original and our preconceptions of what is going to happen here.

Psycho II is  a character-driven film which avoids capitulating to the 80s requirements of over-the-top splatter and gratuitous nudity. Whilst Psycho II resists the urge to turn Norman into another Michael Myers, the success of the slasher film during this decade didn’t go unnoticed here and so the film is slightly more violent and graphic than the original but nothing overly gory. The time lapse between the original and Psycho II really help the authenticity of this one to shine through. Though the original would have been replayed countless times on the television over the years, the gap between cinematic releases (and thus allowing for the natural aging of Anthony Perkins and returning actress Vera Miles) keeps the film feeling fresh – this isn’t just a rush-job sequel made two years later.

Anthony Perkins owns the film. Whilst his Norman Bates isn’t the fresh-faced, seemingly-innocent young man he was in the original, he has managed to retain the nervous stutter, twitchy eyes and general sense of likeability. Norman has been through hell in the asylum and goes through hell as he tries to readjust to normal life. Perkins’ performance has the uncanny ability to draw sympathy from the viewer. We know he’s guilty of the horrific crimes he committed in the original yet we can’t help but feel sorry for him as his fragile mental state breaks and he slowly slips back to being a complete fruitcake.

Helping him along the way is the immensely likeable Meg Tilly who plays the waitress who moves in with him. For all intents and purposes, she is the audience for the film. At first she’s apprehensive of Norman after finding out about his past. But then as the film progresses, she grows to like him and feel sorry for him as he seems like a decent guy deep down. But then towards the end, she’s not so sure whether it’s all an act or not. Tilly’s character arc travels the same way as the audience and it’s effective in eliciting a response from us.

The only thing that is missing is the infamous Bernard Herrmann score. It is like having the Jaws sequels without John Williams’ infamous shark theme, the Star Wars sequels and prequels without the Imperial March or the Halloween sequels without John Carpenter’s trademark theme. Granted there is no replication of the shower sequence for it to re-appear but you’d have thought they would have found somewhere to put it, even for posterity.

 

Psycho II is perhaps the most underrated sequel of all time and really deserves more critical acclaim than it has had. When it’s only major flaw is that it isn’t Psycho, then you know you’ve got a great film on your hands. A worthy successor to Hitchcock’s film which stays true to its spirit, Psycho II continues the story of Norman Bates with delicious menace and skilful delight.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

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One single comment

  1. Mark Spangler says:

    The Franklin-Holland-Block trio really do manage to pull this one off quite nicely and have the uncanny ability to make Norman Bates a sympathetic character in spite of his murderous antics.

    This film, as the review points out clearly, does not attempt to ape Hitchcock at all. This would have been such an obvious mistake that it almost goes without saying – except that in today’s climate, it is totally possible that somebody could have easily taken that route. Thankfully, this movie was made thirty years ago.

    This is a cute little horror film that pulls back on the gore and wisely examine the Bates character as a central core of the story. In this way it actually is similar to the original, but it does so in a different way. Hitchcock went for shock value – and certainly delivered – but the filmmakers of the eighties were aware that the kind of shocks the master dealt out would have failed in a new, permissive climate. Instead, Franklin decides to use humor, a storyline that is sympathetic to Bates and the Meg Tilly character to involve the audience into Norman’s life. We really are pulling for him, while knowing all the time that he’s going to slip off the deep end at some point and start hacking away.

    We come away from “Psycho II” fulfilled in that its everything we want it to be, and nothing that we don’t want it to be. It’s a great B-movie, not in the same league of he original, but clearly a fan of it’s descendant.

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