Psycho II (1983)
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the shower!”
Director: Richard Franklin
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly
Synopsis: After twenty-two years of psychiatric care, Norman Bates attempts to return to a life of solitude… but the spectres of his crimes — and his mother — continue to haunt him.
It was inevitable that the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock would loom over Psycho II, the belated sequel to his 1960 masterpiece, but director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland certainly didn’t help themselves by starting their movie with the most infamous scene from Psycho. You know the one. You’ve probably seen it countless times, even if you’ve somehow contrived to have never seen the actual movie in its entirety. Talk about setting the bar high. Psycho II was always going to struggle against the public’s apparently inherent resistance to anyone tampering with a genuine classic, and in some ways a sequel is even more offensive than a remake (although you wouldn’t think so judging by the mauling Gus van Sant’s scene-for-scene remake of the original received in 1998). So it’s something of a surprise that Psycho II works as well as it does, and that it was reasonably well-received by both the critics and the public upon its release.
Anthony Perkins (Phaedra, Pretty Poison) reprises the role of Norman Bates, who is now fully recovered from the mental illness that had him donning his dead mother’s dresses and slaughtering any travellers unlucky enough to register at his motel back in 1960. In fact, Norman’s rehabilitation is so complete that he’s fit to return to society under the guidance and counselling of Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia — Scarface, Independence Day), although financial cutbacks means Norman won’t be spending any time at a halfway house to help him adjust to life on the outside, but will return to his old home immediately upon his release. I don’t know about you or Dr. Bill, but I can’t help thinking that’s just asking for trouble considering all the bad memories that place holds for Norman.
Raymond has secured a job for Norman at the local diner, where he becomes friendly with a young waitress named Mary (Meg Tilly) who, after some initial reluctance, accepts his offer of a room at his house. The Bates Motel has remained operational while Norman’s been away, but has deteriorated under the management of a semi-alcoholic slob named Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz — Dressed to Kill) whom Norman fires when he discovers he’s turned the establishment into an adult motel. Toomey retaliates by insulting Mary at the diner in an attempt to antagonise Norman into reacting. However, Norman keeps his temper, although he’s deeply disturbed to discover a note allegedly written by his dead mother amongst the table orders, and decides to quit working at the diner so that he can concentrate on refurbishing the motel.
But things go from bad to worse for Norman when he starts work on the place. He sees a woman in the window up at the house, and begins receiving telephone calls from his dead mother. Then, when Toomey returns to the motel one night to collect his things, he’s interrupted by the shadowy figure of an old woman with grey hair who’s wielding a vicious looking carving knife…
Tom Holland’s decision to turn Norman Bates into a sympathetic character here was something of a masterstroke. Reviving Psycho was daunting enough, and to simply deliver more of the same would undoubtedly have been a disaster. The original Psycho was light on physical horror but strong on character, and it was notable how Hitchcock had us rooting for Bates at times, even if we didn’t realise it (think back to that scene in which the car containing the body of the private detective who was searching for Marion Crane suddenly stops sinking while only half-submerged to see what I mean). Holland seems to have taken his cue from that aspect of the original, and presents Bates as a reformed, albeit psychologically fragile and haunted character. We want Norman to be well as much as he wants to be, and for its first half Psycho II plays out as a mystery, providing a breadcrumb trail of clues that seem to lead nowhere regarding the identity of whoever is tormenting Norman. But it can only maintain this mystery for so long before it has to start providing some answers, and unfortunately the ones it comes up with are not only far-fetched but don’t really stand up under close scrutiny. Despite that, Psycho II remains consistently entertaining, even when it reverts to standard slasher movie shocks in a curiously overcooked final reel.
Much of this is down to the performance of Perkins, returning after more than two decades to a role which both defined and stalled his acting career. The once boyish looks are tired and careworn here, but he retains that appealing diffidence while adding a few physical and mental quirks which signify both the inevitable changes Norman has undergone and the fragility of his apparent recovery. Perkins is provided with solid support from Loggia and Tilly, and from Vera Miles (A Touch of Larceny), who reprises her role from the original movie. Of course, Psycho II can’t compare to the movie from which it was spawned, but it nevertheless proves to be a worthy sequel.
(Reviewed 29th January 2014)