JUNE 7, 2008
I recently picked up the collection of Psycho sequels, and when I opened it I discovered that while III and IV had to share one disc (one side in fact), Psycho II got one all to itself. Having never seen any of them in their entirety (only edited TV broadcasts when I was 15 – and I don’t think I watched III all the way through either), I can’t vouch for this being a sign of their quality, but I do know that II is a damn fine followup, and nowhere near the disaster that it could have been.
For starters, Tom Holland’s screenplay (which is entirely unrelated to the sequel novel written by original author Robert Bloch) is great in that it managed to find a way to present another mystery angle without betraying or rewriting the original film (unlike say, Scream 3, which apart from being fucking terrible, changed the reasoning for the actions of the first film’s killers). Sure, the final scene may be a bit on that side, but it’s not like they came out and said that the woman who Norman killed wasn’t the one who had raised him, or that he killed someone else entirely.
The only flaw in the mystery is that it is spoiled relatively early in the movie for those who know the first film well. Norman’s new friend introduces herself as Mary Samuels, which is the same name that Marion used when she checked into the motel. It’s OK to assume that Norman has forgotten the “coincidence”, since he has been locked up for 20 years and probably has other stuff on his mind (his penchant for sandwiches, for example), but to an audience it’s pretty much a dead giveaway.
However, I must point out what my buddy Rob (a true Psycho expert if there ever was one) pointed out to me – in 1983 the home video market hadn’t really taken off, so apart from TV broadcasts of the film (at least one of which was canceled at the last minute due to a real life tragedy), Psycho hadn’t been seen for years, and thus the majority of the audience probably had forgotten as well. I keep having the idea for Bloody Disgusting where we’d have a page with movie news that would have been posted if the internet was around in the early 80s, this would be something worth posting: “I just read the script for Psycho II and it turns out that the girl Meg Tilly plays in the movie is the niece of Marion Crane! Also, the guy who was a deputy in the first film is now the town sheriff. If you use this, call me BatesFan23.”
Minor nerdy issues aside, it’s simply a well done, respectable sequel. It would have been easy to simply have Norman escape and kill some folks, but Holland and director Richard Franklin went the classier route, with Lila Crane (now Loomis –she married her sister’s boyfriend! Nice.) trying to drive Norman crazy so she can get him locked up again, and Norman struggling to keep his sanity. Sure, the body count is a bit higher, and there is actual on screen violence (including a particularly nasty death in the famous basement), but compared to the other horror films of the period, it’s practically G rated in that regard.
It’s also got more Perkins, which is fine. Of course, he doesn’t show up until about a half hour into the first film, and Lila and Sam’s investigation eats up some screen time as well. But here he’s pretty much in every scene, and is terrific both as “sane” Norman (his incredibly awkward conversations with Tilly are a particular highlight) and “nutty” Norman, who becomes convinced his mother really is alive. And if you thought he was pretty nice in the first, he’s downright sympathetic here. Even when he starts to crack, you still root for the guy to pull through and be OK.
Tilly is also a delight. Mainly because she is ridiculously cute, but she also has a bit more personality than Marion got to display (again, she also has more screen time, for obvious reasons), and it’s nice to see her actually develop a bit of a kinship with Norman. The rest of the cast is good as well; it’s funny to see Dennis Franz in one of his earliest roles as a total scumbag (as opposed to the more lovable plain ol' jerks he plays in stuff like Die Hard 2).
I also love how isolated Fairview is. We know the motel is off the main road or whatever, but the diner Norman works at for about 8 minutes also appears to be in the middle of nowhere (who the hell would go there?). “Downtown” is mentioned though not really seen, but you got to imagine that there’s a perfectly good diner in the middle of the alleged civilized part of town.
Franklin also stages some terrific scenes. There’s a bit where “Mary” is arguing with Lila, and a maid with a vacuum drowns out what they are saying, to the dismay of a nosy hotel clerk who is trying to listen to what they are saying. And Franklin also makes good use of shadow and silhouette; there’s a spooky scene where Norman confronts Mary, who is seen only in silhouette, and thus keeping us on edge. The numerous scenes of people looking through the hole in the bathroom wall are also unnerving, especially since it’s never really made clear who is looking in when (there are like 4 killers in the film, ultimately).
Compared to the first sequels of other great horror films (Halloween II, Nightmare on Elm St 2, Cube 2: Hypercube), it’s in a class of its own. You can’t really top Hitchcock, but to keep the spirit of his film intact while making it your own is something I doubt many could accomplish. Kudos to those involved for pulling it off.
What say you?