Psycho II

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  • Year: 1983
  • Director: Richard Franklin
  • Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly

Psycho II aka Psycho II: I Didn’t Know There Was a Psycho II was made in 1983, more than 20 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s original, and three years after his death.

THE ORIGINAL

Do you need me to tell you that Psycho is a great movie? I mean… yeah, it’s a great movie. It changed the way we watch movies, heck, before Psycho, audiences would just wander in 15 minutes into the movie. Psycho plays with our expectations by introducing our protagonist and brutally murdering her before the halfway point. Throw in one of the most iconic villains in movie history, and you’ve got a classic.

THE SEQUEL

How do you make a sequel to Psycho? It’s made abundantly clear at the end of the first (in a laughably long diagnosis scene that drags down the movie) that Norman Bates no longer exists and the mother personality has completely taken over. Well, Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho, released a sequel in 1982, and Universal released a film sequel in 1983. The film and book are entirely different, as the film does not involve Bates dressing up as a nun and escaping from a mental institution. That’s really what happens. Anyway…

Our movie starts out by showing us the shower scene from Psycho, just in case you forgot one of the most famous film scenes of all time. I get showing the climactic scene from the previous film in a sequel, but it’s kind of silly to show the shower scene.

The film proper starts in a courtroom, 22 years after Bates was institutionalized. The judge declares him restored to health, thanks to the work of the kindhearted Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), and allows him to re-enter society. Upon hearing this, Lila Loomis (formerly Lila Crane, Marion’s sister) stands up and protests him getting off so easy. Hold on, she married Sam Loomis? Her dead sister’s lover from the first film?

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I’ll be fair… she could have married Dr. Sam Loomis from Halloween instead.

What’s fascinating about Psycho II is that switches our sympathies with Norman and Lila. Norman is just trying to live a normal life, and now Lila Loomis is the antagonist in his way. Even before her greater plan is revealed, she is greatly outspoken against giving Norman a chance. This is the kind of fascinating development that sequels can allow for—her increasing bitterness over 22 years (including the loss of her husband) has led her to a point where she will stop at nothing to see Norman re-committed. She is the villain, but we definitely sympathize with her… at least at first.

On the flip side, Norman is the character we are now rooting for. He’s been cured of his delusions and just wants to live a normal life. Anthony Perkins of course returns in the role, and he’s the best part about the movie. This isn’t just a man returning home after a long time, but a man who has never had a normal life. He can’t even imagine what one looks like, but he’s going to try.

He gets a job at a local restaurant as a cook’s assistant, where he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), whose name should set off alarms for those familiar with the first film… or at least those who watched the films back-to-back like I did. Now, this is a clever tip-off to the audience that she’s lying, but why would she use this alias? Lila knows Marie Samuels was the alias her sister Marion used before, and obviously Norman knows. We learn about halfway in that Mary is Lila’s daughter, and while it’s not shocking that Mary Samuels is an alias, the twist is still pulled off pretty well.

Mary claims to be a young waitress with boyfriend troubles, so Norman befriends her and lets her stay at the house with him. He discovers that the Bates Motel (which he still legally owns) is now being managed by Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz in his only non-cop role, showing why he should stick to cop roles), who has turned it into a den of drugs, partying, prostitution, and bad acting.

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Bates quickly fires Franz and leaves his job at the restaurant, choosing instead to restore the Bates Motel to the strong family values establishment it once was. However, someone has other plans as Norman starts getting clues that Mother is still alive, starting with a note at the diner, followed by phone calls to his home.

Then the bodies start piling up. Up until this point, Psycho II really had my attention. The characters had believably developed over the 20+ years we’ve been away, and it seemed much more interested in their arcs than anything else. I was wrong.

As Dennis Franz packs his things up to leave the Bates Motel for good, he is murdered by a shadowy figure. Look, it’s immensely satisfying to see Dennis Franz get killed (see the “Goodbye Earl” music video), but what’s the purpose in this? He’s been fired, he’s had his public blowup, what is the point in killing him off? If they’re trying to tease that Norman killed him, what good would it do? The guy’s already lost his job. If it’s someone trying to frame Norman, why would anyone believe Norman would want to kill him? If it’s someone trying to protect Norman (which, spoiler, someone is), does he really pose a threat? Yeah he had a blowup, but he’s packing his stuff now. It’s just a character set up to be knocked off, and the original Psycho was above that.

When two teenagers are exploring the house, one of them is killed by someone dressed as Norman’s mother. This is the most obvious attempt to appeal to the slasher movie crowd, as these two have no characterization and, even worse than in Franz’s case, only exist to be killed. I don’t mean to criticize the slasher genre as a whole, because there are some incredible entries in it like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and many argue the original Psycho was a proto-slasher. However, cheap slashers tend to focus more on the kills than the characters, and that’s where Psycho II suffers.

There are a total of two murders in Psycho (Norman killed before, but these are not shown), and both happen to characters we have grown to like. We spend the first act of the film with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and when her redemption is cut short in the bloody shower scene, it’s shocking and sad. We only see Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) for just a few scenes, but Balsam shows us that he is both intelligent and well-meaning. He’s set up as the kind of character who would solve the case, but he’s stabbed to death in probably the film’s second most-famous scene.

In spite of the slasher aspects, there are still some decent scenes between Norman and Mary in Psycho II, as Mary starts to genuinely care about Norman’s well-being instead of spying for her mother. It never turns romantic (thankfully), but their friendship is nice to see. However, it’s all thrown away as we head into one ridiculously contrived ending.

We see Lila Loomis dig up the Mother costume from the basement of Norman’s home, revealing that she is the one performing the murders… except wait! Someone else dressed as Mother rises up and stabs Lila in the mouth.

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Dr. Raymond, who has been spying from across the street, walks into the house and tries to convince Norman that the calls from his mother are simply from Lila or Mary. Mary suggests to Norman that they run away since Dennis Franz’s car has just been discovered, but Norman is starting to lose it completely. On a phone call with his “mother,” he fights with her about her wish for him to kill Mary. Mary dresses up as Norman’s mother to try to convince him his mother is dead (just go with it at this point), but it doesn’t work and she still fears Norman may kill her. Dr. Raymond creeps up on her, believing her to be the murderer (she’s wearing the same costume after all), but she kills him with a knife she grabbed for self-defense. She tries to kill Norman when she sees Lila’s body, but the police get there just in time to shoot her. Norman is let go, completely mad but no one knows it, and the murders are blamed on Mary.

As Norman sits alone at his home, it’s revealed (in what I’m sure the filmmaker’s thought was a shocking twist) who actually committed the murders.

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her

At this point, you’re probably asking who the heck this character is. Well, she’s had about five lines in the movie so far, but Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) was that nice old lady who worked at the diner in the opening scenes. Bet you never saw that one coming… because there was absolutely no buildup to it. Anyway, Emma claims that she is Norman’s real mother and Norma was actually his aunt, because let’s change the backstory of one of cinema’s great villains for no reason. (OK, it’s revealed in Psycho III that Mrs. Spool was lying, but was anyone watching by Psycho III?)

Norman makes her a cup of poisoned tea and hits her over the head with a shovel, in what is easily the film’s funniest scene. I guess this is to show he’s completely mad, but the shovel is just excessive. Anyway, he takes her corpse back into the house to preserve as he did Mother’s and awaits new customers to arrive at the Bates Motel. The end.

You know, I wish Psycho II had just been honest with us from the get-go that it was going to be a stupid, over-the-top sequel, because I could have at least had an enjoyable hate-watch out of it. Instead, I got an opening thirty minutes that actually invested me in the story only to be let down by an absolutely ridiculous ending. They should have probably just gone all out bizarre and adapted the novel where Norman dresses up as a nun, because we would have at least known what we were getting. There are some good things about Psycho II, like the lead performances and the wonderful set pieces that look exactly like the ones from the 1960 film, but it doesn’t add up to much by the end. Let’s take a look at the final score.

Story (11/30 Points)

Despite an interesting start, it leads to a horrendous conclusion. I really was interested in the idea of Lila trying to drive Norman back to insanity. She was someone with sympathetic intentions who went too far, but the film is far too busy to give this idea enough time.

Returning Characters (12/15 Points)

By far, the best moments come from the struggle between Lila and Norman. Both Vera Miles and Anthony Perkins are great in their return over twenty years later, and the film really should have focused more on their struggle.

New Characters (8/15 Points)

Meg Tilly does a fine job as Mary Loomis, and I really enjoy Robert Loggia as Dr. Raymond, one of the unquestionably good characters in the film. However, Dennis Franz is pretty unbearable, and the character of Mrs. Spool does a lot to ruin the movie.

Experience (10/25 Points)

Well it’s my second review in a row where Jerry Goldsmith does the score, but in this case, it’s a sequel to a movie he didn’t originally score. I actually really enjoy the opening theme, simply for not trying to duplicate Bernard Herrmann’s original, but then later on in the film he does anyway. The sets look great, even in color, but there’s nothing about the direction that comes anyway near Hitchcock’s.

Originality (5/15 Points)

If it wasn’t trying so hard to be the first Psycho as well as trying so hard to be a generic slasher, there’s actually not a bad idea hidden in Psycho II. Unfortunately, it disappears somewhere in the second act, and we get a really poorly written generic mess.

FINAL SCORE: 46%

SO IS IT BETTER?

Ha!

Honestly, Psycho II is far from the worst sequel ever made, but the more I think about it, the more angering of a film it is. There is so much potential in letting the character of Norman Bates back into society, but it’s destroyed by cheap horror movie thrills and bad writing. I am not at all opposed to this movie existing, but I am opposed to it existing in this form.

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Damien: Omen II

 

oemn2

  • Year: 1978
  • Director: Don Taylor
  • Starring: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor

Today, we’ll be taking a look at a sequel to one of the most successful horror films of all time, 1976’s The Omen.

THE ORIGINAL

Richard Donner’s The Omen is a film that could have easily not worked, but with a tight script by David Seltzer, a haunting score by Jerry Goldsmith, and incredible performances by Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick, it works wonderfully. The story slowly builds upon itself, with every death having both a natural and a supernatural explanation. It’s not until the very end of the film that we know for sure that Damien Thorn is in fact the son of the Devil. By the closing scene, all of the important characters except Damien are dead, and Damien is clearly an unstoppable force of evil.

THE SEQUEL

David Seltzer had no desire to write a sequel, but the studio sure wanted one. The sequel begins in the city of Megiddo, just days after Robert Thorn traveled there to learn about his son’s true origins.

credits
Even worse, her birth name was Stalin Mussolini.

We see Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), the man who gave Robert the daggers… I’m sorry, I need a minute. Carl Bugenhagen?

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Surely someone on set realized Carl Bugenhagen sounds like a joke name in a Monty Python sketch. Honestly, it’s one of the only issues I have with the first Omen film. I understand that they wanted a name that you remember easily, because Thorn needs to recall it at a climactic moment, but Bugenhagen? As if it wasn’t silly enough, they say it over and over in Omen II, often multiple times in the same scene. It’s like someone paid them $5,000 every time someone said Bugenhagen without laughing.

Anyway, our film starts with Carl Bugenhagen…

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We’ll call him Carl B. Our film starts with Carl B. driving through Megiddo. Even though he only had a goatee in the first film, he now has a wild Santa Claus beard, disregarding the fact that this takes place just a week later. He tells an archaeologist friend Michael (Ian Hendry) that he has just read that Robert Thorn has died but Damien has lived. Carl B. wants Michael to take the knives to Robert’s brother Richard, now Damien’s legal guardian. Carl B. and Michael go to see Yigael’s Wall, painted by an artist who claimed to see the face of the Antichrist. As they see that Damien’s face is the one on the wall, Carl B. and Michael get enclosed and are killed by being buried in sand… very slowly.

sand

This death sort of sets the tone for how ridiculous a lot of the deaths in Omen II are. Seeing them get closed in is effective, but once sand starts falling, it’s silly. Carl B. is shouting curses at Damien as he ever so slowly gets covered with more sand.

We then smash to seven years later in Chicago, where Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) has moved in with businessman Richard Thorn (William Holden), brother of Robert Thorn from the first film. Holden had turned down the role of Robert in the first film, so he was quick to join the cast of Omen II.

holden

It would have been easy to basically make Richard Thorn a near-identical character to his brother, but the film does a decent job of making him different but still entirely believable as a brother to Gregory Peck’s character. Both Thorns are good men, but while Robert is a bit more uptight and stiff, Richard is much more laid-back and casual. We see him immediately as a caring step-father, treating both his own son Mark (Lucas Donat) and Damien the same, which would be great parenting if Damien wasn’t the Antichrist and all.

Richard is having his Aunt Exposition… err Marion (Sylvia Sydney) over for dinner. Seriously, though, the only purpose of her character is to explain everything to the audience. Marion wants the two boys to go to separate schools, which causes Richard’s wife Ann (Lee Grant) to tell her to stop meddling in her children’s affairs. Aunt Marion responds with this gem, “Neither boy is yours. May I remind you that Mark is Richard’s son by his first wife and Damien is his brother’s son?” This is the kind of dialogue writing that I just hate. It’s clearly just shoehorned in to catch the audience up to speed. Who talks like that?

Aunt Marion goes up to her room where she sees a black crow, and when Jerry Goldsmith’s music starts, we know it’s over for her. While perhaps a crow is not as harrowing as the large black dogs from the original film, I give the film credit for trying to be different.

crow

Her death isn’t really over-the-top, just a heart attack, but the mystery of the deaths from the first film is gone. We know that these deaths are being caused by supernatural events, so there’s nothing left to question. Also, Aunt Marion is just a character introduced to be killed, like so many others in this film. The original film had a high death count, but you felt all of them. There was a dramatic buildup to the priest dying, and in spite of his evil acts in the past, it was a sad moment when the steeple impaled him. When Keith Jennings (David Warner) was decapitated, we lost a character we had grown to love. Omen II simply adds character after character just to have more people to bump off.

There are just so many characters in this thing. In addition to the Thorn family, we have Richard’s associates Bill (Lew Ayres), David (Alan Arbus), and Paul (Robert Foxworth), his friend and employee Dr. Charles Warren (Nicholas Pryor), and British reporter Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shephard), who was a friend of Keith Jennings. None of these really have any character, but exist either to be killed in ridiculously over-the-top ways, or in the case of Paul, help Damien in his rise to power.

Some of the deaths in The Omen are a little bit silly today, like a priest being impaled by a steeple or Jennings being decapitated by a sheet of glass on the back of a truck, but the deaths in Omen II are comical. Joan Hart’s car breaks down on an abandoned street, a crow appears which proceeds to peck her eyes out. Since she cannot see, she stumbles onto the road where she is hit by an oncoming truck.

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Again, this is not a character we care about at all, and she is clearly just in the movie to be killed. That is such cheap writing. The most egregious death is that of a doctor played by Meshach Taylor. Damien and some classmates visit Richard’s factory, and a freak accident hurts everyone except Damien. The doctor runs some more tests on Damien and realizes he has jackal’s blood. We’ve seen the first movie and know his mother was a jackal. What is the point of this scene? Oh yeah, it’s just for another ridiculous death. The doctor gets into an elevator which soon begins taking control. Alright, I guess an elevator going out of control is a creepy enough idea (just look at Charade), but that’s not what kills him. When the elevator finally stops, the cable falls and electrocutes him while cutting him in half.

If that was the only thing at play in Damien: Omen II, it would be just another forgettable horror sequel. Thankfully, we also get the continuing story of Damien, you know the guy in the title? Damien: Omen II should have just been his story, because Jonathan Scott-Taylor is pitch perfect. This is among the best performances from a child actor I have ever seen, if not the very best.

At military academy, Damien Thorn realizes he has some supernatural powers, including telekinesis and incredible knowledge. There’s a great scene where his history teacher asks him increasingly obscure history questions, and he immediately fires back with the answers. This is interrupted by Damien’s new troop leader Daniel Neff (Lance Henriksen), who tells him to read Revelation 13 and learn about his true identity. When Damien does this and sees the 666 birthmark, he runs out to a pier and screams at God, asking why. It’s an amazing scene, and it is entirely at odds with the kill scenes.

pier

 

This movie feels like it is at war with itself, a perpetual game of tug-of-war between an original continuation of Damien’s story and a studio-enforced gore fest.

The Damien story reaches its conclusion in easily the film’s greatest scene. Mark walks outside after he overhears his father discussing that Damien may be the Antichrist, and Damien confronts him about it. He offers Mark an equal position with him in his future empire, but Mark refuses. He pleads with him, but when Mark again refuses, he is pained as he forces a brain embolism on his cousin who is more like his brother.

Scott-Taylor’s performance in this scene shows the torment Damien has to experience as he completes his transformation into pure evil. He doesn’t want to kill Mark, but he knows he has no other option if he wants to accept his destiny. Just watch his face display everything throughout the scene.

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This should have been the climax of the film, but nope, we need to rehash the “Father realizes his son is the Antichrist” story again, even though there are no surprises when Richard sees Damien’s face on Yigael’s wall. Richard fights with Ann over the daggers, but she stabs him with them, revealing herself to be a disciple of Satan all along because why not, and then Damien sets her on fire and walks away. The end.

Damien: Omen II is such a mixed bag, a mixed bag where half of the candy is Reese’s Cups and the other half is chalk. It just constantly cuts back and forth between scenes, some of them interesting and some of them entirely pointless. There are various things set up early in the movie that just stop being a thing shortly after. There is a crow present in two early death scenes, but unlike the black dog, we never see it again. Some scenes seem to be setting up a theme of destruction of Americana, like showing Richard and Ann taking a sleigh ride or this shot…

hockey

The camera holds on this for a while, which looks like it could be a Rockwell painting, but the irony is that it comes right after Bill drowns in the ice. If the director really was going for this kind of theme, why didn’t we get more of it? It’s just so jumbled.

Let’s check out the final score.

Story (15/30 Points)

It’s a complete half-and-half for me. I’m all-in for Damien’s coming of age story, but the rest is just a boring rehash of the first Omen.

Returning Characters (14/15 Points)

Well there are just two of them. Jonathan Scott-Taylor’s performance is terrifying and bone-chilling, putting Damien exactly where he should be at this age. It’s an Oscar-caliber performance buried in a non-Oscar film. Bugenhagen also returns…

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…and the less said about that, the better.

New Characters (6/15 Points)

William Holden is a great actor, and while his early scenes are promising, they don’t add up to much by the end. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t get much characterization outside of the first act. Lee Grant is fine as Ann Thorn, but the twist of her being on Damien’s side feels like it was added somewhere in the middle of the third act. Lance Henriksen makes the most of his time as Damien’s mentor, but the rest of the characters are just a line of victims who get axed off.

Experience (16/25 Points)

Jerry Goldsmith doesn’t just recycle the same music from the original, but instead mixes it up with a less grand, but still creepy score that really works. The low male voices are really creepy, as if it’s the Devil himself singing. That said, some of the death scenes are really overdone, and the direction often sets up imagery it doesn’t follow through with.

Originality (8/15 Points)

Omen II is a mix of an entirely fresh story and one that rips-off the original shamelessly. It’s a movie at war with itself, and boy does it show.

FINAL SCORE: 59%

SO IS IT BETTER?

Well no, The Omen is one of my favorite horrors of all time. Omen II could have been a worthy follow-up, and it some ways it is. I don’t think I have ever see another movie that is simultaneously great and terrible, but it genuinely is. Perhaps it’s ultimately a failure as a film… I guess, but I wholeheartedly recommend it for the performance of Jonathan Scott-Taylor alone.

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