Psycho II is the terrifying sequel to one of the most suspenseful films of all time, Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. Anthony Perkins makes a horrific homecoming in his role as the infamous Norman Bates, who, after years of treatment at a mental institution for the criminally insane, still can’t quite elude the demands of “Mother.” Vera Miles also returns a the inquisitive woman who is haunted by her sister’s brutal murder and the ominous motel where it all occurred. Meg Tilly and Dennis Franz co-star in this fiendish chiller.
Psycho II 8.5
In a previous entry, I admitted to seeing ‘Psycho II’ prior to seeing the Hitchcock original. I can’t say that I’m embarrassed by it, but it does defy tradition. Frankly, I’m glad that I did, though, because I may not have had the same expectations (let alone ever found out that the sequel existed – never imagining that someone would ever dare).
And I think that expectations matter in this case. After seeing a classic like ‘Psycho’, two types of reactions would normally rise forth at the notion of a sequel: 1) I want more of the same, 2) they shouldn’t mess with a classic – so, leave it alone (actually, that was also the response generated by Gus Van Zant’s 1998 remake!).
Honestly, I think that a great sequel must avoid the pitfalls of recreating the original film, and should take the characters to the next natural step in their evolution – whether it makes viewers happy or not, and whether it sustains a franchise or not. For a film to be truly compelling the story has to ring true on a very basic level: would all the characters actually be in there, doing the things they’re doing?
In ‘Psycho II’, I believe that they got it right.
The film was released and is set 22 years after the original film and story. Norman Bates (again played by the irreplaceable Anthony Perkins), is being freed after years of therapy and rehabilitation. Of course, there is opposition to his release, particularly in the form of Lila Loomis (once again played by Vera Miles), whose sister was murdered by Bates in the original.
Bates has been treated by Dr. Bill Raymond (played by Robert Loggia) and he is now deemed healthy and completely cured. In fact, when we meet Norman, we find a gentle and fragile man who has a brand new life before him, and understands the place that he holds in society; Bates is very aware of the harm that he has caused and how the echoes of these acts will be with him everywhere he goes. But he begins work in a diner, makes new friends and… goes back home again, to the creepy Victorian-style home where all his troubles began.
Of course, as one has to expect, his world then starts to crumble apart.
The genius of this film is that it plays with the audience on two counts: it questions what Bates is seeing/experiencing and it makes us wonder if he’s lost his mind again – or if he’s just caught up in circumstances out of his control. So, not only are trying to comprehend the mystery before us, but we’re also trying to gauge whether or not there actually is one in the first place. It’s basically a case of deconstructing the story on two levels while watching the film.
Death eventually does come knocking, but director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland manage to hold that off for as long as possible, stringing a number of tense cues back-to-back to make the audience think that something is about to happen – even if it’s not the case. I like this because the suspense builds and one can never really know for sure when to expect a murder.
Because there are murders. A few of them.
There are more murders on screen than there were in the original film. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a product of its time; the early ‘80s were in the throes of the slasher genre (thanks to the success of Halloween, Friday the 13th, …etc.), and the silver screen was abundant with mindless mass murderers trying to outdo one another in more and more grisly fashion. ‘Psycho II’, thankfully, does not push the envelope, even if it does cross the line from suggestive to (mildly) exploitative along the way.
But, behind the killings, beyond all the twists and turns, there remains the story of Norman Bates, a character whose mind has yet to fully heal and who is really only trying to get his life back on track – to a time before Ms. Bates and all the madness. Honestly, I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy: he looks so ill-fitting in his own shell, afraid of his past and of himself. In the end (or, at least, on the surface), he just wants to be normal and lead a normal life.
But will life allow him be normal? Or is he doomed to a fate he would rather escape? It’s not your average slasher film, and not your average sequel, so I will let you watch it and find out for yourselves. Similarly to films like ‘Memento’ and ‘The Machinist’, this is one of those tales that is best left slightly undisclosed – because the fun is in the unwrapping of its multiple layers. Not that this one is nearly as complex, but still…
All things considered, I think it’s one of the best of its genre. And, amongst the entries of that particular era (post ‘Halloween’/pre-‘Scream’), it’s certainly at the top of the pile – with the only real challenger being the original ‘Halloween’.
Whether you’ve seen Hitchcock’s film or not, this film stands on its own. And it’s worth checking out at least once.