Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Psycho II (1983)

I’ve always felt Norman Bates was one of the most sympathetic, yet terrifying, horror villains to ever grace our screens. Anthony Perkins’ pitch-perfect portrayal of the psycho makes him seem so innocent and naïve, yet so unstable at the same time. Another great thing about the character is that everyone knows a lonely person like Norman Bates, one whose social skills have been stunted and who come off a little creepy.

Anthony Perkins returns to play Norman Bates in Psycho II, a highly underrated sequel that continues the legacy and furthers the original story of Psycho.

Twenty two years after killing numerous people at the now infamous Bates Motel, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released after being deemed “rehabilitated” by his doctors. He just wants to lead a normal life, but there are some that aren’t too pleased with his release. Victim Marion Crane’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original) warns Norman’s doctor that he will rue the day he was released and his motel manager Toomey (Dennis Franz) calls him a loony.

Nonetheless, Norman returns to his motel and manse on the hill, determined to put his past behind him. He starts working at a nearby diner and befriends waitress Mary (Meg Tilly). After some boyfriend trouble, he invites her to stay in his house. Soon after, he begins receiving phone calls and mysterious notes from someone claiming to be his mother.

As people go missing or end up dead, Norman’s façade begins to crack. Has he fully slipped back into his mother’s persona or is someone trying to drive him mad?

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Psycho was a landmark movie. It was one of the film’s that paved the way for horror movies and is cited by many filmmakers as an inspiration for their films. You’d think that Psycho II couldn’t possibly live up to the genius of the first Psycho, but this is one sequel that ranks up there with its predecessor!

The story, written by Tom Holland (Fright Night and Child’s Play), is seamless and really pulls the viewer in. There is no hokey-jokiness that ruins most sequels – Psycho II is straight-up suspense and takes itself seriously. There aren’t any plot holes, it stays true to the original and Holland does an excellent job of keeping you guessing and even surprising you in the end! This is probably one of the most solid and loyal-to-the-original sequels I have ever seen in the horror genre!

The acting is also fantastic. Perkins returns as Bates and again makes us equally pity and resent him. We see him more in this film than we did in Psycho and really get a feel for his “unbalanced” personality (even when he is supposedly “cured”). Meg Tilly is wonderful as Mary, who’s hiding her own true self. It was also a great pleasure to see Vera Miles in the role of Lila again. There are also several familiar faces that pop up throughout the film (Dennis Franz, anyone?!).

The atmosphere of the Bates’ big house is decidedly creepy, and the filmmakers use that to the utmost advantage. I especially like the homage of the shower/peephole scene as well as the set up of Norman’s mother’s old room. Director Richard Franklin does a tremendous job and creates some dramatic shots Hitchcock himself would be proud of.

The killings themselves are subtle affairs (except for that butcher knife through the mouth or the shovel over the head bits), but work marvelously with the mysterious atmosphere.

I had always avoided the Psycho sequels because I figured they would be grossly sub-par (and even offensive) to the original, but I have to admit that Psycho II greatly impressed me. If you enjoyed Psycho, you will most likely enjoy its sequel because it honors the original with its spectacular performances, loyal, believable and impressive script and direction all the while keeping you on the edge of your seat.

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