by Charles Beall
One must approach 1983’s Psycho II with an open mind. That is, there will never be a worthy follow-up to Psycho; that film exists and there is nothing that can top it. However, one can wonder what Norman Bates has been up to since his dirty little secret was discovered and that is precisely what Psycho II attempts to accomplish.
The film was released in 1983, a decade wrought with slasher films. Indeed, Psycho II arrives right at the tail end of the beginning of the gore decade and you can see it trying oh-so-hard not to be a slasher movie (but more on that later). What we have here is a film that respects its predecessor, but also tries to break out of its shadow by imitating the film it is trying so hard not to be (but really, really wants to).
The film starts off with the original shower scene, easing into the main titles while looking at the famous Bates mansion. Totally pointless, if I do say so- if you’re trying to break away from the original, you don’t start off your film with one of the most iconic scenes in film history. The shower sequence serves no purpose to the audience. What image comes to you immediately when you hear Psycho? A shower? Precisely. One must trust the audience.
As the catchy tagline so cleverly states, it has been 22 years since Norman Bates was incarcerated and we are witnessing his parole hearing as Psycho II truly opens. Bates (awkwardly played again by the legendary Anthony Perkins) has been deemed “restored to sanity” by the State of California and he is hereby released. “But what about his victims, don’t they have any say?” asks Lila Loomis (played by a deliciously bland Vera Miles), presenting a petition to the courts against his release. Her argument doesn’t hold up, and boy is she angry!
Norman is escorted back to his house on the hill by his psychiatrist (Robert Loggia), where he is immediately haunted by, you guessed it, Mama Bates. As part of his release, Norman is now employed at the diner down the road (the one Norman suggest Marion go to on that stormy night?) as a cook’s assistant. There he meets a waitress named Mary (an annoying Meg Tilly) whom he strikes up a friendship with. After a falling out with her boyfriend, Norman invites her to stay at his motel for the night, free of charge. She reluctantly agrees and walks home with Norman, eventually ending up spending the night in the house after Norman gets into a fight with the motel manager (an awesome Dennis Franz) that has been keeping an eye on the place.
This is the basic setup of Psycho II and it is one of the reasons why it works- to an extent. We are focused on a core group of characters, and there are really only two for the bulk of the film, Norman and Mary. The premise is promising, as Norman begins to receive calls from Mother and he slowly feels that he is losing his grip on reality. Mary attempts to be his rock (or pretends to attempt to), which brings a more human aspect to Norman than we have ever seen before. Perkins is such a brilliant actor, and even though some of the dialogue written for him is weak, he tries his best to humanize Norman in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The slow pacing of the film allows the character to develop even more, drawing the audience into the conflicted mind of Norman Bates. Then, of course, there is the twist that is a bit obvious, yet still clever for a film such as this (a sequel to a classic horror film).
Unfortunately, the film begins to unravel in the final act and the bodies begin to pile up as demanded by the 80s “horror” genre. Then, something totally comes out of left field, something so absurd that it nearly brings down the entire film (but obviously sets it up for Part III).
Psycho II is indeed admirable. Its intentions are of the purest form; director Richard Franklin respects the source material and tries his best to make it a solid mystery/psychological thriller like its predecessor. However, the ending to the film seems tagged on at the last minute and brings down everything the film was so sincerely trying to attempt.
Psycho II is not a worthy follow-up to the original Psycho– there will never be a film that can accomplish that. However, if you throw all of your preconceived notions aside and give it an honest chance, you will be pleasantly surprised if not disappointed at what could have been.
Grade: C+ (but an “A” for effort!)
Tomorrow, Norman Bates is back to normal, but mother is off her rocker…again. Check in, relax, and take a shower with the directorial debut of Anthony Perkins, Psycho III.