NORMAN PEOPLE SCARE ME

PSYCHO 2 (15)

Director: Richard Franklin

Screenplay: Tom HollandRobert Bloch 

Starring: Anthony PerkinsVera MilesMeg Tilly

Review: David Stephens

Despite the occasional rants that appear online to the contrary, there are a couple of undeniable rules in genre cinema. Number One: Sequels don’t HAVE to suck (“Aliens”, “Evil Dead 2”, etc). Number Two: If a film is so damned good on its own merit, it will NEVER be sullied by inferior sequels/remakes/reboots (“Jaws”, “The Exorcist”, etc). Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (which for the record is this particular writer’s all-time favourite film for many reasons) is one such sequel that proves the Number Two fact. Perhaps surprisingly, this sequel also proves that Number One fact as well. In an age where many follow-up films were (and still are) unnecessary drag-out affairs that just repeat the same old sequences from their predecessors, or completely forget what made the first one so memorable, “Psycho II” was something different.

It was made in 1983 by the talented Australian director Richard Franklin, already known for the horror “Patrick” (1978) and the slasher “Road Games” (1981) at the time. The story was not based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name, mainly because that had the title character seemingly stalk the set of a Hollywood movie being made about his life (!), and was a thinly based critique of studio horrors. Not to mention that it also had a couple of twists that would never be accepted by mainstream studios. Instead a new script/story was written by Tom Holland (“Childs Play”, “Fright Night”), with Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles reprising their great roles from the 1960 original. It’s all presented here in another generously proportioned package from Arrow video, with a Hi-Def Blu-Ray presentation and plenty of extras.

It starts with a black & white rewind of Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) iconic shower murder. After it upgrades to colour, 22 years have passed since the events of “Psycho” and Norman Bates (Perkins of course) is in court. Released after having been “restored to sanity”, he returns to the familiar surroundings of his house and motel. Lila (Miles) is not best pleased and would like to see nothing more than her sister’s murderer go back to an asylum or locked up in prison. But hoping to return to a normal life, Norman gets a job in a local diner, where he befriends troubled young waitress Mary (Meg Tilly). All seems well, but he soon starts to get “messages” from his “Mother”, who seems to be lurking around the motel again. Is Norman being victimised, or is his sanity checking out again. It’s not long before people start to go missing…

You know that you’re not getting a cynically updated slasher knock-off here as soon as the credits roll. Instead of Saul Bass crazy graphics and frenetic Bernard Herrmann riffs, we get a silhouette of the Bates house and a sweeping romantic score from Jerry Goldsmith. It sets the pace for this unorthodox sequel. It cleverly plays with expectations and doesn’t throw bloody knives and cross-dressing serial killers at you with any hurry.

It has the major advantage of having Perkins back in his most recognised role. The film made such an impression on him that he went on to direct “Psycho III” in 1986. Although we know the background to Norman’s behaviour and sins from the first film, here he gets a rebooted version of the character. He might be a victim or he might be reverting to a killer again. He might be suffering from split personalities once more, or he might be the target of a malicious presence. It’s all quite atypical for a sequel to the OG slasher, but Perkins inhabits the mannerisms with glee, and effortlessly carries that unique mixture of vulnerability and possible danger. This is especially true when he becomes remarkably twitchy in later scenes (“I’m becoming … confused again … aren’t I?”), which is all carried off with real panache. Miles is wonderfully cranky in an oddly villainous role, and Robert Loggia also shines in an uncharacteristically low-key and sympathetic part. Tilly is also effective, especially in scenes where she comforts Norman in caring but asexual manner.

Franklin shows a keen visual sense as well, with tracking shots that flow from the attic to the basement, and some key murders that are stylish and disturbing, without being overtly gory. Holland’s script is delightfully sly with an excellent mid-way twist and an ending that manages to be creepy and hilarious at the same time (“Are you sure you won’t have a sandwich?”). It has perhaps dated a little, there’s lots of talk of “making love” and dope-smoking, but no cussing. A cop looks at a murder scene for two seconds before declaring it clean, and you wonder why the State would keep Norman’s house and motel and pay for its upkeep.

However, it does unexpectedly reward repeat viewings in many ways. The behaviour and slightly stilted mannerisms of some characters makes sudden sense, mind games become more apparent, and you can even readily identify shadowy figures in certain key sequences when they were a mystery before. It isn’t really a “classic” in many people’s minds and does still invoke some mixed opinions on forums and message boards. But for a sequel to such a monumentally important feature, it’s certainly not an embarrassment. It entertains and plays with expectations and generously acknowledges those who loved the first film. Mrs Bate’s corpse cameos at one point, a suitcase tumbles down the stairs like gumshoe Milton Arbogast, the shower scene is about suspense rather than death, knives invoke stigmata, and there’s the lovely understated revelation that Lila eventually married Marion’s boyfriend.

As stated, it has aged a little bit for viewers fresh to the experience, but it’s still a superior follow-up to a classic film. The subsequent sequels never really recaptured the same sweetness or cleverness that this entry did. Those that enjoyed the run of the much-better-than-anyone-expected TV series of “Bates Motel” may want to check this out as well, if only to see the way in which Freddie Highmore brilliantly evoked the spirit of Perkin’s portrayal. All in all it’s another great package from Arrow, which is happily a term that we continually find ourselves repeating. Knife work if you can get it, but don’t tell Mother …

DVD Extras: The usual plethora of items you would expect from Arrow, although there’s not so much “brand new” material here, there is some never-seen-before stuff : A new and informal “panel” discussion with Holland and Mick Garris (“Psycho 4”) + a new feature on Richard Bloch from author Chet Williamson + commentary from Holland + recently found audio interviews with Franklin & Perkins + an archive interview with Perkins + scene commentary from Franklin + a Jerry Goldsmith demo + a whole mess of archived features + Image Gallery + Promotional audio + a collectors booklet in the first pressings.

“Psycho II” wins merit for its cleverness and its refusal to be a straightforward rip-off of its source material. The plot is nicely manipulative with some great twists, and it’s very playful in its intentions. It feels like a definite homage to the original and a fun “what if?” scenario, rather than a deadly serious attempt at a sequel. Perkins is as watchable in the role as ever, and the plentiful extras make for another very cool package for fans.
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