Film review by Jason Day of Psycho II, the 1983 sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, 1960 horror movie about a deranged killer who dresses up as his deceased mother. Starring the original actors Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles.
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23 years after he was sent to a mental institution after being found guilty of killing several people, the outwardly mild-mannered psychopath Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released, deemed no longer a threat to society.
But as he slowly returns to society and ‘normality’, there are forces at work conspiring against him. Chief among them is Lila Crane-Loomis (Vera Miles) the sister of Marion Crane – one of Norman’s victims – who is fiercely determined to have him recommitted.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
It takes a writer and director with stupendous and pendulous balls to take on Alfred Hitchcock.
Gus van Sant, on the evidence of his pointless, disastrous, patronising shot-for-shot remake of Psycho (1998) – whose big selling point was that it was made in colour! – must have no balls at all. He has directed only a handful of feature length movies during the intervening 22 years, although he did helm the Oscar-winning Milk (2008), so all was not entirely lost for him.
But that is still a good example of the difficulty movie maestros can get themselves into when creating movies based on the work of a director who, for some us, created his own form of cinema, cementing his uniqueness and genius.
To their eternal credit director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland don’t ever approach sequelising the great man’s work with nothing other than a hugely respectful nod.
They don’t try to better him and Psycho – because they know that’s impossible – but they do know they can reference and incorporate bits of him and it in a narrative that goes off in a different direction and harnessing the schlock, slasher horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s (that were also influenced by Hitch’s original 1960 work).
In some regards – for instance its sexual frankness and character development – this sequel manages to push further than Hitch did. You can imagine him alternately dancing in his grave at the teenagers trying to fuck in the basement where Mrs Bates used to be stored and then wincing that Vera Miles, the actress he tried to groom for stardom and was infatuated with in the late 1950’s, shows that with a little legroom and a loopy enough script, can be a steely and impressive an actress after Hitch all but destroyed her career (but that’s another story).
The chief, novel conceit in this set up is that Norman – the barmy hotelier who killed his beloved Ma, dug her up, impersonated her and killed women when they inflamed his ‘parts’ – is completely sane and everyone around him is totally bonkers.
During his long spell inside, the world has gone mad and Norman must be returned to madness in order for our sanity to resume.
Miles’ character is clearly unhinged, perhaps understandably. After all, she did uncover Norman’s mummified mother in the basement of his house and was nearly killed by him.
She also isn’t averse to stepping into her sister’s shoes. Marion (Janet Leigh) intimated to her illicit lover Sam (John Gavin) that Lila was a bit of a killjoy and would help her “boil a steak” for their dinner rather than leave the two of them alone for some sexy time.
But Lila went on to marry Sam, had a child with him and, it is suggested, may have driven him to an early grave with her neurotic campaigning about her dead sibling whose fella she stole.
Later, she hisses at her daughter when she grabs her arm. “He’s slipping into insanity. I can hear it in his voice” she says with maniacal glee of her prank calls.
Even the Sheriff comments, “If Norman Bates is crazy, there’s a whole lot of people in this town running him a close second.”
The references to the first movie are alternately subtle and blunt as a brick.
Norman makes sandwiches and milk for Mary, just as her did for Marion in his motel backroom all those years before.
Times have sure changed because he may have peered at Marion undressing through a hole in the wall ironically obscured by a copy of Whistler’s Mother, with stuffed animals adorning the wall, but Denis Franz’s greasy interim manager has replaced those with pornographic calendars, ashtrays and takeaway food cartons.
Norman made Perkins an international star, although his subsequent career never quite lived up to the huge boost he got with that. The 70’s and early 80’s saw him relegated to a series of plum supporting roles in big budget films, so Psycho II at least gave him leading man status again.
Again, there is a harking back to events in the first movie, but delicately done. Norman stumbles over saying the words cutlery and bathroom, despite being given the all-clear by his far too relaxed psychiatrist (Robert Loggia, who never wears a tie with his shirt). He see-saws a sandwich instead of just slicing into it, as he has done so easily in the past with human flesh.
His performance overall is schizo – he’s callow and rather dull to begin with, then on surer ground as his mind unravels – so totally in keeping with the character. But if we take Psycho II on a performance level, it’s Miles’ movie all the way.
The campy feel is rounded off by composer Jerry Goldsmith’s lumpy score and, of the glut of movies like this that came out at this time, it’s one of the smarter offerings.
Producer Hilton H. Green was Second Unit Director on the original film, Hitch’s Marnie (1964) and many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He’d go on to produce the next two, lesser movies in the franchise.
Cinematographer Dean Cundey was a dab hand at filming horror movies, having previously served as cameraman on the first two Halloween movies and The Thing (1982).
Cast & credits
Director: Richard Franklin. 1 hr 53 mins/113 mins. Universal/Oak/Oak Media. (15)
Producer: Hilton H. Green.
Writer: Tom Holland.
Camera: Dean Cundey.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Sets: John W. Corso.
Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Claudia Bryer, Robert Alan Browne, Ben Hartigan, Virginia Gregg.