- 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.