anthony perkins, bates, dennis franz, Meg Tilly, norman bates, oz perkins, psycho, psycho 2, richard franklin, robert loggia, tom holland, vera miles
Where unrest lies around remakes and sequels, there also comes the age-old response of untouched gold concerning “classic’ features that come into effect. Among them is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, based on Robert Bloch’s novel. The feature is so embedded in masterly terrain that the very notion of going near such material would be scorned upon, even Gus Van Sant’s controversial shot-for-shot remake was lambasted for daring to go into the material. So, when Bloch himself ventured with a novelised sequel back in 1982, that lambasted slasher films, Hollywood decided to strike back and carve out their own Norman Bates return some 22 years after its predecessor was released.
Psycho II would even struggle at first to entice its star Anthony Perkins to reprise the infamous role, but upon reading the script by Tom Holland, he agreed to do so. Holland himself had only been tied to screenwriting duties and would cameo as Deputy Norris here. It would only be another 3 years before Holland would capture horror enthusiasts further with his directorial role for Fright Night.
Helming the directorial duties for Psycho II would be Hitchcock student and heavily influenced by the auteur, Richard Franklin, who had already made Patrick and Roadgames using similar styles and techniques that the Master of Suspense came synonymous for. It would seem then that Franklin was the perfect choice to steer the ship and blend this continuation for the Norman Bates storyline.
Part of the appeal for this narrative would be the magnificent Vera Miles also returning for her role of Lila Loomis, although the treatment of her character arc is brought to contention which sees her on a malicious vendetta to put Bates behind bars again. Whilst you can understand her views, it is her gruesome demise that gets fans fuming a little. Personally, I like this journey and the subject of nature vs nurture that is brought to the helm. Can a man really change or is he doomed to repeat himself when constantly subjected to forced opinions and spectacle?
Throw in the mix, some great supporting roles in Meg Tilly as Mary Loomis (slightly biased opinion on my count as I adored her when I was younger… and still do), Robert Loggia as Dr. Bill Raymond to cast the psychological scrutiny, and Dennis Franz as the drunk motel caretaker.
Eagle-eyed viewers will also note Perkins’ son, Oz (now a notable film director – The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, Gretel and Hansel) as a young Norman Bates too.
The question remains though, is Psycho II a worthy sequel?
Well let’s look at Surgeons of Horror’s own six step criteria to place the feature under the microscope.
1, Identify the ideas, themes & executional elements that make the first film great. Or at least good. Or at least worthy of being sequelised.
The original movie was the epitome of suspense, filled with certain twists and turns in storytelling technique. It also posed an intriguing antagonist in serial killer Norman Bates and his alter ego “Mother”, that would lead some to ponder what happened to him and did he remain in the confines of a psychiatric ward?
2. Pay homage and do not violate/ignore said ideas and themes and elements.
It helps to have a visionary such as Franklin at the helm to carry out the look and feel of the original Bringing back Perkins and Miles to resurrect their character also lends weight to carry the torch, but with the worthy depth to character also forces the direction into a different stance in order to establish the narrative. There is also a lot of set design and props taken from the original that features here to recapture the look and feel.
3. Introduce new/expanded themes, ideas and elements that will NATURALLY ALIGN to your first ideas, themes & elements. (Ie: Don’t use your second movie to discredit & contradict your first).
Set 20 years later lays the grounds for further expansion by placing Bates in the position of rehabilitation. The subject matter of can a person be truly reformed when they were fundamentally unhinged is ripe to explore and Perkins does a magnificent job of placing Bates with the usual “innocent’ wonder combined with a slow descent into madness. Introducing a second generation of Loomis also explores shared trauma but under a new, more sympathetic outlook that contrasts her mother’s. Both Mary and Norman have a similarity in dominant mother’s and try to shirk their control to their own detriment. By placing the psyche under scrutiny, and twisting the perspectives of all throughout, the audience is kept guessing as to which way the knife will turn. In this respect it more than ticks the fourth rule.
4. To underline point 3 – DO NOT rehash the first film and just give people “more of the same”.
5. DO NOT-NOT rehash the first film by giving more of the same…. BUT “BIGGER”.
To support this choice of direction, the slow unravel of psychosis on our central characters and in doing so, grounding the narrative, the larger than life component that some sequels suffer under, is thankfully absent here.
6. Be a good enough stand-alone film by itself.
Can this film truly stand alone without the impact of the first? In short, no, not without the same kind of delivery. The film does carry a narrative that is strong enough, and with the flashback placed in the prologue, enough is provided for an audience member to come in cold and still value the film by its own worth,
While it’s clear that one can’t merely replicate the quality and vision of a classic, the team behind Psycho II give a damn good crack at pushing into new terrain without scarring the original vision too greatly. For me, the film is a decent attempt at exploring Bates’ character and I am grateful that Perkins was given a fairly tight storyline and subject matter to expand and explore this character in more detail. Some forty years have passed now since its release, and looking back it’s well worth a revisit.
- Saul Muerte