Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates
Meg Tilly - Mary Samuels
Vera Miles - Lila Loomis
Robert Loggia - Dr. Raymond
Dennis Franz - Warren Toomey
Hugh Gillin - Sheriff John Hunt
Claudia Bryar - Mrs. Spool
Genre - Horror/Slasher/Thriller
Running Time - 113 Minutes
If there's one horror film discussed in film schools today, it's Alfred Hitchcock's legendary 1960 PSYCHO. The film that's widely considered the "Granddaddy of Slasher Films", PSYCHO has become an icon in cinema for its direction, storytelling, and the chills it gave its audiences 51 years ago. While I disagree [VERTIGO is my favorite Hitchock film], many others consider this the ultimate Hitchcock film. This is probably because it's the most well known, due to homages, parodies, and the fact that the shower scene is discussed in length in many universities.
However, there were some people who wanted more of Norman Bates story, feeling there was more to tell. No one really knows whether or not Hitchcock would have been appreciative of a second installment to Norman Bates' life, as sequels weren't really a big deal back in his day. However, after he passed in 1980, Robert Bloch [who had written the novel that PSYCHO was based on] released a second novel, Psycho II, in 1982. Depicting Norman Bates escaping a mental institution dressed as a nun, leading him towards Hollywood once he learns that a film is being made of his life, the novel did quite well on the Bestsellers List. However, Universal Studios [who owned distribution rights to PSYCHO and its sequels if they sought fit] disliked the novel since it criticized the very profitable splatter/slasher film craze at the time. So Universal hired Tom Holland, who would later become more famous for his direction and writing on 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and 1988's CHILD'S PLAY, to write a script not related to the novel. The studio also hired Australian filmmaker and 1981's ROAD GAMES director Richard Franklin, who was a long time devotee of Hitchcock's and even became good friends with him during the last years of Hitchcock's life. With Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles returning to reprise their roles from the original, PSYCHO II was finally released on June 3, 1983 to generally positive critical and commercial success.
The question, even after 28 years, is whether PSYCHO II needed to exist at all. Was a sequel really necessary? Would Alfred Hitchcock have approved of this? Does the film still hold up after all these years? Let's return to the Bates Motel and see if we can find any answers.
Twenty-two years have passed since Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was arrested for the murders he had committed as his late mother. Being rehabilitated at a mental institution, Norman is considered "sane" by the law and is released to the dismay of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) - the sister of Marion Crane. He returns to live at the Bates Motel, still somewhat haunted by the events of his past, while trying to move on with his life by taking a job at a local diner.
At the diner, Norman meets a young waitress named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). After she splits up with her boyfriend, who kicks her out, Norman offers Mary free room and board at the Bates Motel. As soon as Mary stays at the hotel, weird things begin to happen around Norman. He starts receiving weird notes, supposedly written by his dead mother. He also receives phone calls from his mother. And of course, there are the murders of people associated to Norman in some way or another, making Norman look guiltier even though he proclaims his innocence. This starts to take a toll on Norman, driving him insane and making him wonder if he's picking up where he left off, or if someone close to him is behind this whole mess.
Let me get it out of the way: PSYCHO II should have never been made. While Robert Bloch can write how many novels about Norman Bates he wants since it's his story anyway, to do a sequel to a film that's considered iconic is not only ballsy, but pointless if the original film doesn't need a follow up. The original PSYCHO is a masterpiece that had a story with a clear beginning and a clear end. Norman Bates' story arc went full circle and left you satisfied. PSYCHO II is nothing but a cash-in on PSYCHO's popularity, sort of like TRON LEGACY was to TRON and those STAR WARS prequels were to the original trilogy. Were the newer stories interesting? To an extent. But were they necessary? Probably not. Yet even though it was made for money, PSYCHO II is a very well made sequel that not only manages to continue the story started in Hitchcock's film in a realistic and logical way, but manages to stand on its own through its crafty narrative that keeps you guessing what's real and what's not.
Tom Holland's screenplay is strong in many ways. For one, it never insults the original film. In fact, it embraces the elements and moments that made it such a huge phenomenon and pays homage to them. For example, Mary Samuels is obviously a play on the pseudonym Marion Crane used when she signed in to the Bates Motel in 1960 ["Marie Samuels"]. Speaking of names, Lila Loomis proves that she married Sam Loomis, who was her sister Marion's boyfriend in PSYCHO. Also, PSYCHO II's first murder doesn't occur until 40 to 45 minutes into the film, which follows the original's structure in terms of that film's first murder. We also have director Richard Franklin pulling a Hitchcock by appearing in a cameo playing a video game at the diner where Norman works. Tom Holland does the same, playing one of the Deputies. We also have a similarly structured shower scene, with peep hole watching but no murder this time. A car is pulled out of the same swamp Marion's car was sunk in, with a dead body inside. And someone gets stabbed at the top of the stairs and falls over the bannister, which is sort of similar to one of the death's in PSYCHO. Even some of the dialogue and a lot of Norman's habits seem to be taken right from the original film. It gives the viewer a sense of nostalgia and fondness for the original film, while admiring that the sequel reinvents these things to create its own look and feel.
As for the ending, which many PSYCHO fans still are not fond of, it doesn't bug me all that much. Yes, it sort of changes what was established in the original film. But I kind of feel that it just adds a whole new element to Norman's story. It doesn't take away what was done in the original film. It just puts a new twist on what we know about Norman's family, which really wasn't much at all. Do I think it needed to be done? Not at all. But I think it's an interesting twist that reveals what was really going down once Norman returned home, which gives insight to Norman's character and how things could have been prevented if he was just left alone. Plus, we get a sweet shovel swing because of it. So I'm good!
Another reason why the screenplay works so well is because of the characters, mainly Norman, Mary, and Lila. Norman, in particular, is just written wonderfully in PSYCHO II. Here's a guy we know is certifiably insane and dresses like his dead mother when he murders people. This is a person we should despise and expect will fall off the wagon and start killing people again. But Holland manages to make Norman the hero of the film, giving him a ton of sympathy and purity that the original PSYCHO also did but in a lesser manner. We watch Norman try and be a normal person. He works at a diner. He fires the Bates Motel's new manager because he's running the place to set up people with somewhere to sell drugs and sex, which makes Norman admirable with a set of morals. He invites Mary to stay at the hotel, knowing she needs a place to stay. In fact, he panics when she attempts to leave a few times because he's lonely and wants a friend he can confide in. Norman is quite the likeable guy until he starts receiving the calls and notes that aren't a figment of his imagination. He wants peace in his life, but outside forces won't let him achieve that. You can only push a man so far before he snaps, especially when he was very fragile to begin with. Norman is very much a fleshed out character even before this sequel, but the new problems he faces really give him more dimension.
As for Mary, she also comes across as likeable, even when we learn her true intentions with Norman. She seems like a normal girl with family and boyfriend problems, willing to protect Norman from anything bad by covering for him when cops begin to accuse him or murder and comforting him when he starts to lose it. Yes, Mary has ulterior motives when it comes to befriending Norman due to her connection with Lila Loomis [which I won't reveal how if you haven't seen the sequel for whatever reason]. Her job is to drive Norman mad and make him look bad in front of the community, but she has a conscience and begins to realize that Norman is just a normal person who just wants to be understood and loved. Obviously Norman soon learns what Mary's true purpose for being at the Bates Motel is, which doesn't lead to anything good. But Mary just seems like a regular girl who is caught up in a situation she signed up for but no longer wants any part of. In a lot of ways, she's like Marion Crane - she's done a bad thing, but has enough sense to realize it and wants to change to make things right. But knowing this is a continuation of the PSYCHO story, things don't always happen the way these characters want them to.
The real villain of the film is Lila Loomis herself. Ironically, she was one of the considered "heroes" of PSYCHO, as she helped reveal Norman's crimes to the world in order to get justice for her sister's murder. In PSYCHO II, Lila still wants justice but does it in a way that makes her worse than Norman ever was. She schemes to drive Norman nuts. She uses Mary as a way to find out info on him to use it against the guy. I get that Lila is still upset that the man who murdered her sister was released, but she just takes it a step too far. Instead of letting Norman live his life after he did his time, she wants to ruin everything he worked so hard for 22 years. She comes across as bitter, delusional, and even more crazy than Norman at times. A lot of PSYCHO fans were upset that Lila was changed this way in terms of character, but it's honestly realistic and just gives Lila depth. She believes she has good intentions, but her execution is severely flawed. It's human.
Unfortunately, there's not much focus on the other supporting characters. All of them, especially Mrs. Spool, Warren Toomey, and even Dr. Raymond, all come across as different and interesting. But there's just not enough depth to any of them, coming across more like archetypes rather than fully fleshed characters. Toomey is a sleazeball, a drug, and misogynistic - but that's as far as it goes. Dr. Raymond cares a lot for Norman and is quite likeable, but that's all we really know. And Mrs. Spool doesn't get to do a whole lot, even though she happens to be a very important part to the story when it really comes down to it. Obviously you can't focus the same spotlight on everyone and these characters are really meant to be cannon fodder at the end of it [after all, this is a thriller/slasher film]. But I think more attention on them, especially on Mrs. Spool, would have been great.
I think what makes Holland's script so powerful is that all the twists and turns that the film goes through really work. I won't go into detail about any of them, but they really make PSYCHO II its own film rather than trying to cash in on PSYCHO's success. The connection between Mary and Lila, the reason behind the notes and phone calls, whether Norman is really crazy or not - all these things plus others really structure the movie quite effectively. Just when you believe one thing, it ends up being something else. PSYCHO II feels more like a psychological thriller rather than a slasher film, which this film is and was intended to be. The movie is not about Norman Bates returning to the scene of the crime to recreate it with newer victims. It's about the mystery surrounding his return and the consequences that the answers have on Norman and his future. I wish more slashers had deep stories like this one has.
Speaking of slashers, PSYCHO II was made to capitalize on the slasher film boon of the early 1980s. While it's tamer than other slashers around this time, PSYCHO II still manages to have some sweet kills nonetheless. We get a knife right through the mouth, stabs in the back, a decapitated head, hands getting stabbed, a shovel to the head, and probably my favorite - someone getting stabbed in the chest that causes this character to fall, which pushes the knife in deeper. It's not a gore fest but it's violent enough to be effective, especially when the murder scenes aren't frequent.
The direction by Richard Franklin isn't as good as Alfred Hitchcock [who is really?], but it's still incredibly solid. The film is two hours long and it feels much less than that. The film looks great due to Director of Photography Dean Cundey, who's most famous for working with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN and other Carpenter films, as well other popular movies. Cundey helps Franklin make every frame and composition matter, washing out the film as well to create a moody atmosphere that Hitchcock would be proud of. I especially love the scenes that focus on the outside of the Bates Motel with the grey clouds moving overhead. Pretty chilling shots. Franklin, while paying homage to Hitchcock in certain scenes [loved the scenes shot overhead, like in the original PSYCHO], manages to make his own mark by maintaining a very focused film that happens to be quite suspenseful and gripping. He should be proud of his work on this sequel. I think Hitchcock would have been as well.
The score by Jerry Goldsmith isn't as good as Bernard Herrmann's in the original, but it works for the most part. Interestingly enough, one of Goldsmith's tunes was used in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE when Franklin rejected it.
The acting in PSYCHO II is very good. Anthony Perkins does an amazing job portraying a much older Norman Bates, making him more sympathetic this time around. Perkins has more to play with than he does in the original PSYCHO, truly being able to flesh out Norman as a character - one we can like and wish to succeed, but be scared of at the same time. And when Perkins plays a crazy Norman, it's amazing and captivating to watch. Even though Perkins was typecast in these type of roles, he always made the most of them and PSYCHO II is no exception. Meg Tilly does well also as Mary. Her character isn't complex as Norman's, but it's layered for sure. She comes across as sweet and likeable at times and conniving during others. I thought she did a great job. Originally, Jamie Lee Curtis [daughter of PSYCHO shower victim, Janet Leigh] was offered the part but Curtis was ready to leave the horror genre at this point. Would have been interesting to see how she would have portrayed this character, but Tilly is solid in the role.
Funny bit of trivia: Perkins and Tilly didn't like each other on set. Apparently, Tilly had never watched PSYCHO at the time and didn't see why Anthony Perkins was such a big deal. Also, Perkins didn't like how good of an actress Tilly ended up being, worried that she would get the spotlight over him. The two would constantly bicker on the set, which caused a bit of frustration for Franklin. Pretty funny, if you ask me.
Vera Miles does really well, reprising her original role of Lila Loomis. Instead of playing the worried sister/detective, she's now the antagonist who can't believe Norman was released and will scheme to make sure he goes back behind bars. I really liked the change of character and thought Miles handled it quite well. Robert Loggia was cool as Dr. Raymond. Loggia is one of those guys you'd want in a film because he brings it every time. Dennis Franz played a douchebag quite convincingly. Not a huge cast, but all of them were great actors.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE ALWAYS LISTENING TO WHAT MY MOTHER TELLS ME
- Lila Loomis wanted people to protest and sign a petition to keep Norman Bates locked up for his crimes. Where was she when O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, and Casey Anthony were released? Oh, they were "innocent" of their crimes. Allegedly.
- Warren Toomey, the new manager for the Bates Motel, has been using the location as a base for drugs and sex. Even after 22 years, people were still being penetrating at this infamous motel.
- A drunk Dennis Franz scares me. In this state, he's most likely to show his bare ass and I don't need to feel NYPD Blue while watching this.
- Norman's toilet and sink were leaking blood. I guess the bathroom isn't pregnant.
- Mary and Lila are scheming together to drive Norman nuts again by calling his phone, leaving strange notes, and even dressing up like his dead mother. Usually if I dress up as a dead person, it's Elvis Presley. But whatever floats your boat, I guess.
THE FINAL HOWL
While the sequel isn't as classic nor a masterpiece like Hitchcock's original film, PSYCHO II is still a fantastic film that's better than it has any right to be. It takes real balls to follow up such a classic and iconic film, but I believe Richard Franklin and company did a phenomenal job helping create a sequel that's respectful to the original. It didn't change the horror genre like PSYCHO, but it still manages to be film that PSYCHO and horror fans should definitely check it out. Not just a solid sequel, but a solid horror film in its own right.
4 Howls Outta 4