Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho is about as close to perfection as horror films come. I love it. I’ve seen it probably half a dozen times over the years. Yet, I’ve never had any desire to see any of the sequels. There was no need to, in my opinion. Psycho said everything that needed to be said about Norman Bates. Hitchock never indicated he wanted to make any other films and all of the sequels came about after he had died. The general consensus of the sequels is that they are pretty bad, and so I never bothered with them.
But then the other day one of my favorite critics, Keith Phipps, wrote a piece about Psycho II and it intrigued me, and so it became my Friday Night Horror Movie.
As it turns out Psycho II is way better than it has any right to be.
Set 22 years after the events of Psycho, this sequel follows Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he is released from the psychiatric institute he’s lived in since being found guilty of the murders from the original film. He’s been found mentally sound by his psychiatrist (Robert Loggia) and sent back to his (surprisingly still intact) home. The hotel is there too and so is Mr. Toomey (a never-sleazier Dennis Franz), a guy hired by the institute to run the place in Norman’s absence.
The hotel has never been much of a money maker so Norman gets a job as a cook’s assistant at a nearby diner. There he meets Mary (Meg Tilly). They get chummy and when Mary’s boyfriend kicks her out Norman lets her sleep (and shower) at his place. Things go ok until little notes start showing up from Norman’s mother. And somebody keeps calling his house claiming to be his mother, too. Then the bodies start piling up.
Is Norman going crazy once again? Or is somebody else trying to get him locked back up?
What I find interesting about the film is that Norman Bates is a true protagonist. The film takes his side, it makes us like him. Anthony Perkins’s portrayal is sympathetic. It was sympathetic in the original, but here we really like him. Or at least I did. The murders in the first film were due to a deep psychosis. We believe he is cured. That’s a really interesting route to take in this film.
Director Richard Franklin (who had just come off the terrific Australian thriller Road Games) knows what he’s doing. There are lots of visual homages to Hitchcock throughout the film, but he makes it his own. This is a film that didn’t need to be made, but it makes you glad it exists.