12/29/09

Psycho II (1983): More Psycho Killer? Qu'est-ce que c'est ? Indeed.

Even though I’ve heard good things about Psycho II, it’s a film that I’ve avoided for some time. Long time readers will know that I can talk about Mr. Hitchcock and his films ad nauseum, and while Vertigo remains my favorite, Psycho runs a tight second. It’s a virtually flawless film, and it established the Master of Suspense as a legend in the world of horror as well. Psycho is a film I’ve seen dozens of times, and I’ve spent countless hours thinking and researching it (if you have any doubt about that you can check out my massive three post review starting HERE). The idea of a sequel made more than twenty years after the fact and directed by the man who helmed Patrick and Cloak and Dagger just didn’t appeal to me. Recently I ran across a copy on DVD and since a few friends of mine encouraged me to see it, I bought a copy of Psycho II.

Wisely, the sequel is set 22 years after the events of the first film, and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is being released from the mental institution much to the dismay of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles returning as the same character she played in Hitchcock’s film). Norman’s doctor, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), says that his patient is completely rehabilitated, and he’s got Norman a job in a local diner. There he meets a waitress, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who he invites to stay at his home and help him recover. It’s not long before Bates starts to get phone calls, have visions, and receive notes from his mother, and Norman starts to descend into madness again. Only this time he’s getting some help, Mary Samuels is really Mary Loomis, and she and her mother plan to put Norman back into the asylum before he can kill again.

I want to say right off the bat that Psycho II far exceeded my expectations. Granted they were pretty low, but I was really surprised how much I got out of this film. Since I didn’t know anything about it going in, it was an interesting twist that Norman was going to be the protagonist this time around. The film does a good job with making the first picture’s psycho killer into a sympathetic character. I can’t think of another occasion where this transition has worked. As a viewer I was torn between wanting Norman to remain sane and waiting for him to get tarted up and start stabbing people in the shower. For at least half of the film, it’s unclear what is real and what is in his head, and it makes for quite an engrossing watch.

Anthony Perkins is really in fine form here, and even 22 years after he originated the role, he manages to capture the same nervous ticks that made Norman Bates such an interesting character. The best parts come after Norman discovers the plot to drive him insane and begins to turn the tables. Watching Perkins portray the barely restrained glee as Norman messes with Mary and Lila’s heads brought a smile to my face. It’s really impressive that Perkins could summon a character that was so far in his past, but perhaps more interestingly make him sympathetic. We know Norman is a killer, and we’ve seen what he did to Marian Crane in the shower. Somehow Perkins’ performance makes that all fade away. For years he tried to escape the shadow of Norman Bates. With Psycho II, he embraced it fully and what came though was a thrill to watch.

Now Mr. Perkins is not the only returning actor. Vera Miles does a wonderful job as the conniving Lila Loomis (her maiden name is of course Crane). I can’t say I blame Lila for wanting Norman locked away. If he killed my sister then I would too. Yet as much as Norman is our sympathetic protagonist, Lila is played as the evil, scheming antagonist. I think this was a very interesting choice. If the film had been about Norman getting out, killing folks, and Lila being the crusader who brought him to justice, it would have felt like a silly cop out. Many of Miles’ scenes are shared with Meg Tilly as Mary Loomis. It was quite a good little nod to the original film when she introduces herself to Norman as Mary Samuels, the name Marion Crane used to check in at the Bates Motel. Tilly is good in her part as well, but she’s saddled with one of the most tragic haircuts in movie history. Seriously, this is a mullet that would make Billy Ray Cyrus cry.

There are two other performances I want to point out briefly. The first is Robert Loggia as Norman’s shrink. No matter what film I see him in; Robert Loggia is one of those actors who seem to play everything the same. That really doesn’t bother me, and I always enjoy saying Robert Loggia. It’s something of a mantra to me. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a calming effect. Say it with me. Robert Loggia. Doesn’t that feel nice? The other interesting fellow is Mr. Prime Time Bare Ass himself, Dennis Franz. I don’t know if Franz has ever looked quite as slimy as he did as the scoundrel Warren Toomey who is the new manager of the Bates Motel. The scenes he shares with Perkins are really nice, and it really takes someone special to seem more reprehensible than a serial killer.

I wasn’t a huge fan of director Richard Franklin’s film Patrick although I do really love his 1984 feature Cloak and Dagger. Psycho II can surely be added to the list of his films I enjoy. Franklin chose John Carpenter’s frequent collaborator Dean Cundey as his cinematographer, and the pair did a really good job of invoking Hitchcockian style without feeling like they were cribbing from the master. Psycho II was also very well written by screenwriter Tom Holland whose other credits include Child’s Play, Fright Night, Class of 1984, and the aforementioned Cloak and Dagger. Holland made all the right choices, and the pairing of his script with Franklin’s direction lets the film have a life of its own without existing only in the shadow of its predecessor.

If anyone was going to be really harsh on a sequel to Psycho, then I think it would be me. I was all set to rip this film apart and trash it from stem to stern, but surprisingly, I didn’t get a chance to do so. Now I don’t want you folks to get me wrong. Psycho II never reaches the level that the original film climbed to, but judged solely on its own merits, Psycho II is a film I can recommend to fans of the original. Getting to spend another ninety minutes delving into the psyche of Norman Bates with this quality film is enough to leave a smile on anyone’s face.

Bugg Rating

10 comments:

  1. Dennis Franz is not only reprehensible....he's icky.

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  2. Psycho II is definitely a fine example of a sequel done right. Now, if the film had been made without Perkins, it would have sucked. Luckily he returned--and as you mentioned, didn't miss a beat as Norman.

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  3. I love this sequel. It knows what it is and does it right. Perkins is great here and I love Meg Tilly too. That sequence when he's playing with their heads is awesome. And the very end of the film - HILARIOUS! Norman Bates should have been a baseball player with that mean swing. Great review. I'm digging that people are appreciating this one more.

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  4. Psycho II is one of my all-time faves. I used to be somewhat embarrassed to admit it but I freely speak up now to say it rocks. Anthony Perkins drags back out the creepiness factor but you really gotta feel bad for the dude...
    And I truly love the Jerry Goldsmith score. Truly one of his best.

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  5. Fred [The Wolf] said..."Norman Bates should have been a baseball player with that mean swing"

    Maybe Perkins was channeling Jimmy Piersall from "Fear Strikes Out"

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  6. Lots of love for Norman's second outing.

    @ M Bugg- I could not agree more.

    @ The Rev- Perkins is Norman Bates. If anyone doubts it, just ask Vinve Vaughn

    @ Fred the Wolf- He knocked that one right out of the park!

    @CL Hadden- The score was great. I can't believe I forgot to mention it. Never be ashamed of any movie you like. I enjoy Spice World an Josie and the Pussycats and I don't care who knows!

    @Mr. Specs- You might be right!

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  7. And the love continues...The Psycho franchise is one that I sort of grew up with and I have always loved the second film. I haven't seen it in many years, but I remember it being pretty tense and the feel of it is perfect for the time period from which it came out, while not bastardizing the original.

    I can't remember the third film all that well, but I do enjoy the forth Psycho movie too. Henry Thomas as a young Norman Bates and Olivia Hussey as Mrs. Bates...I think it was made for TV, but I always though it was a decent film. Could just be a bit of nostalgia factored in too. Either way, happy to hear you enjoyed it!

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  8. I am right there with you in avoiding the Psycho sequels for quite some time Bugg, but I was amazed at just how good they really were. Sure, 4 is the obvious low point in the series, but I think each of them offer something new, fresh, and twisted that is entirely enjoyable. II may be one of the strongest character and story based sequels in the genre

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  9. jervaise brooke hamsterJanuary 2, 2010 at 6:12 PM

    Meg Tilly (circa 1982)= hot chick, Diana Scarwid in part 3 (1986) was tasty as well.

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  10. This is a great movie. Personally I like it better than the first Psycho, but it really wouldn't have its power without the first...

    But yeah, Holland knocked it out of the park. I think it's pretty incredible to be able to follow up on a Hitchcock and hold your own.

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