Tagline: “It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home”
Duration: 113 minutes
Film Quality: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Gore Content: 2/5
When Robert Bloch, author of the original ‘Psycho’, wrote a follow up novel in 1982, Universal Studio panicked and swiftly commissioned a sequel of their own that wasn’t to be based on Bloch’s second tome. Bloch used his novel to satirise Hollywood and its’ persistent obsession with slasher movies, something Hollywood wanted no part of, employing Tom Holland to write the script and former Hitchcock protégé Richard Franklin to direct. It can’t be overemphasised what a daunting task this must have been; to revisit one of the slasher genre’s forefathers, a classic film in its own right and come up with a worthy sequel. Whilst they might not have performed a miracle, the film turned out to be far better than it had any right to be.
In a Nutshell
Set 22 years after the events in Hitchcock’s original, Norman Bates is declared sane and released back to his home, the Bates Motel. It’s not a decision that pleases everyone with Lila Loomis, Marion Crane’s sister, vociferously vocal against his release, certain that he will kill again. When strange things start to happen to Norman at his home, he becomes convinced his dead mother is once again trying to persuade him to kill and begins to lose his tenuous grip on sanity. Is it all a trick to get Bates recommitted or is Norman once again going slowly insane?
So, what’s good about it?
Here is a sequel that dares to do something different. It would have been very easy for them to do a simple re-tread of the first film but instead they focus on character and psychology which must have been incredibly refreshing and frustrating in equal measures for movie goers in the middle of the slasher movie boom. It almost plays out like a giallo, creating its own ambiguity by lending motive to both Norman through his previous insanity and Loomis through her anger over the killer of her sister seemingly getting away with murder. Throw in some serious mother issues, a twisty plot and you have a very taught, smart and psychological horror film.
Anthony Perkins initially refused any involvement in a sequel out of respect for the original and only came on board after agreeing to read the script. What a performance! It’s rare to see a horror film focusing on the psychology and character of the killer rather than the victim and Perkins turns in a performance of such vulnerability and sensitivity that we accept he may be the victim of an elaborate scheme. He’s all nervous twitches, sideways glances, awkward smiles, building into his performance a wall that we can’t quite see through…we don’t know any more than he does whether or not he’s killed these people. There are moments when we are afraid of him and afraid for him, it may well even top his performance from the original and it’s clear that Perkins has a tremendous affection for the character to play him the way he does.
Of course he has a wonderful script upon which to hang this performance which gives very little away. Just as we think we know what’s going on, Holland throws something in there that makes us doubt our own opinions. Holland had such a burden placed upon him to respect the original, a burden shared with director Richard Franklin who sought the advice and help of several of the original crew to recreate the set, finding several of the props, including the bird of prey that towers ominously over Marion Crane in the opening scenes. Their intention was for this to be a tribute to Hitchcock and I’m sure the great man would have approved.
Most of the cast do a serviceable job, including a very fresh faced Meg Tilly and Vera Miles reprising her role as Lila Crane/Loomis. Jerry Goldsmith provides a haunting and, at times, beautiful score that takes some of the musical cues from Bernard Herrmann’s iconic original. The set design is also superb with the Motel once again providing an ominous and imposing backdrop to what is about to occur, this time fulfilling a number of roles as the terrible place, lovers’ lane and both a place of sanctuary and danger for Bates and his damaged psyche.
Without giving too much away, just like the first film, the ending is an absolute knockout. There are a number of twists but, despite the signposts, I certainly didn’t see the final confrontation coming in what is a truly chilling conclusion. The cast and crew weren’t given the final few pages of the script until the last day of filming so this ending was concealed from them as well. I won’t say any more to preserve the outcome for any of you who haven’t seen it!
And what about the bad?
The film plays loose and fast with some of the events that occur within the film. It’s easy to accept that Bates would be declared sane after 22 years, after all it is a decent amount of time to have elapsed. However, would they really send him back to the very place that sent him insane in the first place and all of the memories, feelings and emotions that the place would inevitably trigger? It’s the equivalent of sending a recovering alcoholic to live in a brewery only on a potentially fatal scale! It’s clumsily written into the script that cutbacks prevent frequent social worker visits and I’m aware that there would be no film without this setting but it’s a bit of a leap!
Also, I know that the film has the courage of its convictions to succeed on its own merits but I’m not sure that replaying the original movie’s most revered scene at the very beginning is in the film’s best interest. It’s the equivalent of hearing an original recording of the opening of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ just before hearing another band cover it. Nothing can live up to the expectations of such a classic, horrific scene so why show it? Good though ‘Psycho 2’ is, there is no equivalent scene that lives up to that single, iconic moment from the original.
Despite wanting to move away from a satire of slasher films this film does subvert the genre. The character of Lila is a reflection of us, yet is displayed as the villain of the piece, manipulating Bates to question his own sanity. She wants him to lose control so that he can be recommitted, believing that normality for him IS insanity. But what do we want from ‘Psycho 2’? Is it to see Norman reintegrated into society and make a valuable contribution? Despite the fact that we can claim to be sympathetic to his situation and may be pleased to see him declared sane, the answer is ‘no’! We want, perhaps even expect, to see him slowly descend into madness again, just like Lila. At one point Lila says ‘People don’t change’ and for us, insanity would be normality restored.
It’s also an examination of how we are, ultimately, controlled by and consumed by the dead. We learn from the first film that Norman was unable to cope with the death of his mother by his own hand, internalising her strict and moralising stance on life, externalising it through murder. Lila has a similar problem, living her life through the grief and anger caused by her murdered sister. Even the film itself lives permanently in the shadow of its predecessor but isn’t that the case for all of us who have suffered a bereavement and experienced loss? That void has to filled with something.
The film suffered a few cuts for violence by the MPAA for its original cinema release although these brief moments, most notably the crowd pleasing knife through the mouth scene, have been restored for subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray releases. Some releases have been shortened further for nudity, specifically when Meg Tilly’s character gets out of a shower whilst being watched through a peep hole. As was the norm back in the early 80s, some additional scenes were filmed and included in TV versions to pad out the runtime, allowing them to fill syndicated slots.
Since ‘Psycho 2’ there have been a further two sequels and a long running origins TV series. Of course the original ‘Psycho’ was where it all started but it was the sequel that opened the door to what followed. Would anyone else have been brave enough to touch the original had there not been this sequel to open the floodgates?
‘Psycho 2’ has a good claim to the ‘most underrated film of the 80s’ and it will forever live in the shadow of the original but, for those who take the time to watch it, it’s more than a pleasant surprise. What Holland and Franklin have created is a thoughtful, well made and well written film that adds to the original by further exploring the Bates character without ever taking anything away from Hitchcock’s classic. In a decade full of needless sequels and pale imitations, the one that we probably needed the least turned out to be the best of the bunch.
Mary: ‘I think there’s someone else in the house.’
Norman: ‘Just don’t let them take me back to the institution.’
Norman: ‘No mother, I won’t do that…you can’t make me kill her.’
Norman: ‘Would you care to share my toasted cheese sandwich?’
You’ll like this if you enjoyed…
‘Psycho’, ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’, ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’
Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer – Click here for full review
Deep Red – Click here for full review
Beyond the Darkness – Click here for full review
Halloween – Click here for full review