Psycho II (1983) / Horror-Mystery

MPAA rated: R for strong, bloody violence, nudity, sexual references, brief drug content, and language
Length: 113 min.

Cast: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Frank Loggia, Vera Miles, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin
Director: Richard Franklin
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Review published February 7, 2013

Psycho II Anthony PerkinsPsycho II has the unenviable task of following up what had already been considered a cinematic masterpiece at the time of its release in 1983 (Psycho), and one that few outside of studios looking for an easy buck in the wave of slasher movies were asking for a follow-up. Nevertheless, it was a modestly successful film, both commercially and critically, and did more than just rehash the same events of the first film. A big part of the reason why comes though the casting of the original Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins (The Black Hole, The Trial), who, along with the return of Vera Miles (The Wrong Man, The Searchers) as his main nemesis, is more than enough to give the project the credibility it deserves.

In the film, Norman finally gets his release from a California mental institution after he is found guilty by reason of insanity for the heinous murders he committed over 22 years prior. Lila Loomis (Miles), sister of one of Bates' victims, has her pleas for a non-release fall on deaf ears. Having been declared of 'sound mind' again, Norman returns to his gothic childhood home and Bates Motel near Fairvale, CA, and takes up a job while on parole at a diner nearby. Norman becomes fast friends with a waitress there named Mary Samuels (Tilly, Agnes of God), and he ends up offering her a room for a while after her boyfriend tosses her out for someone new. However, as much as Norman tries to put the past behind him, he is beginning to get that old feeling again, as he begins receiving handwritten notes and phone calls from his mother, as well as her appearance in the house at various times, and people begin to start dying once again.

Not nearly as great as the original film, but better than most of the slasher sequels to come out during its original run, Psycho II is a valiant effort that often goes awry, and yet still manages to entertain thanks to its undercurrent of dark humor beneath all of the implausible developments in the rather convoluted plot line. It's a new era in filmmaking, which means that there is more emphasis on gore and shocks for entertainment value that had not been evident upon the original's 1960 release. And boy does the gore get nasty, featuring a few wince-inducing moments as faces and mouths get stabbed at the other end of a butcher knife. There's even a bit of gratuitous nudity tossed in, and your typical horny teenagers who smoke dope and engage in carousing in the fruit cellar, which, in slasher film lore, automatically puts their heads on the proverbial chopping blocks.

Tom Holland's (Cloak & Dagger, Fright Night) script is full of interesting twists, though some of them are so farfetched, it's probably a requirement not to contemplate on each one too long or the entire film would fall apart long before an end that comes completely out of left field. The film is directed by self-described student of Hitchcock, Richard Franklin (Hotel Sorrento, F/X 2), who had already made a Rear Window remake of sorts with the Australian film, Roadgames, which features Janet Leigh's daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis; Curtis was an original actress in mind for the role of Mary Samuels, but it never panned out. Franklin sorely lacks the styles and ability to generate suspense of the Master, filming with specs that occasionally feel as though Psycho II is a made-for-television production (indeed, it was conceived for television until Perkins' got on board and upped the stakes). The best thing about Franklin's approach is that he doesn't go off on a fool's errand by trying to outdo Hitchcock with his own premise. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to see what a Hitchcock-homage virtuoso like Brian De Palma might have done with the flick with the same talent on board.

While Perkins is in fine form, playing a Norman who looks much older but seems the same nervous lad we were introduced to, and Miles' inclusion is a great touch, Meg Tilly feels a bit out of sorts with the rest of the material, playing it mostly straight when the screenplay can't support anything but a tongue-in-cheek take on the outlandish things that occur around her. (Trivia: the name of her character, "Mary Samuels", is an homage to the false name used by Marion Crane in Psycho, as she signs in the motel registry as "Marie Samuels". The score by Jerry Goldsmith (First Blood, Poltergeist) is workmanlike and never comes close to approaching the greatness of the Bernard Herrmann original, which is a bit of a shame, as it is practically synonymous with the tale of Norman Bates.

Psycho II is a film strictly for fans of the original who aren't going to mind a just-for-fun continuation of the Norman Bates story. The scenes of Norman coming back after being away are nicely handled, and Perkins' performance -- nervous, twitchy and stuttering just from having to say the word, "cutlery' -- while going intentionally over the top to keep the tone somewhat on the fun side, is worth the price of admission for nostalgic Psycho aficionados.

-- Followed by Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning Details regarding the making of this film are featured in the documentary, The Psycho Legacy.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo