Movie of the Day: Psycho II (1982)

10 Mar


“Psycho II” is so burdened by the weight of its legendary predecessor that you cannot pull your mind away from it long enough to focus on the few good qualities that this movie has. All through the movie you get the same creepy tone, and even the wicked sense of humor of Hitchcock’s film but you keep waiting for some reason purpose of being. Hitch’s film was contained within itself. Norman did his mother’s bidding and went into a mental institution for its troubles. Finished. Done. End of story. There’s nothing left to say. Yet, in Hollywood no story is ever finished if the property is profitable. Hence: “Psycho II.”

The story once again involves Norman Bates, played again in a wonderful performance by Anthony Perkins. After 22 years, the state has declared Norman sane much to the outrage of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), sister of Marion Crane who met her grisly fate in the motel shower. Norman returns immediately his old homestead, the Gothic house on the hill, and the voices begin again almost the moment he sets foot in the door. A generation has passed since Norman’s incarceration, but mother is still battering around inside his head.

Norman makes strides to get back to normal. He gets a job at a local diner, and throws out the motel’s current manager (Dennis Franz) who has turned the old lodge into a den for drugs and sex. He makes a friend in a co-worker named Mary (Meg Tilly) a naïve young woman whom Norman begins to feel pangs of affection for. All the while the voices still haunt Norman. He receives phone calls from his mother, hand-written notes turn up apparently written by her, and he has visions of things that happened long ago. Then bodies start stacking up and, just like anyone in a haunted house movie, Norman refuses to leave.

There, I think, is where the movie falters. It follows more or less the same pattern as Hitchcock’s film without trying anything new. There are some great opportunities here, so you’re left baffled by the lack of imagination. Why does Norman go back home? With all the murders, and all the terror inflicted on him by his dominating mother, why go back into that house? Why not give us a portrait of Norman trying to move on somewhere else in normal society? Why not sit in on his psychotherapy sessions and have a movie that really gets inside his head? The best sequels are those that expand the story and try new things. There’s an unwillingness to break out of the formula here and that hurts the movie. Director Richard Franklin shoots the film in color in the style of a TV movie. The original was a low-budget production that was a shock based on the chronology of Hitchcock’s films before “Psycho,” but what was the excuse here? Why make the whole thing look cheap?

The best thing about “Psycho II” is Anthony Perkins. He gives a much better performance than the movie probably deserves. It’s always nice to catch up with classic movie characters years later, and Norman is no exception. He remains so firmly burned in our imagination, that nervous little man who teeters on the edge, wanting sexual desire but denied it by a split personality that turns it into murderous rage. Catching up with Norman years later, we find that he isn’t changed all that much.
His face bears the lines of age and his hair has grown salty, but all around his gawky frame, we are reminded that the old demons are still present inside of him. That’s a tribute to Perkins who, at his best, has always been an internal actor. Here we can still see the turmoil in his eyes, accentuated by heavier jowls and cautious eyes. It’s a wonderful performance. He has a tense relationship with the young Mary, but it is never really brought to a head. We imagine that her life must be in mortal danger knowing what we know about his previous lust for Marion Crane, but it never comes to anything. She exists as kind of a ninny.

“Psycho II” is not a terrible movie, just an unnecessary one. Director Richard Franklin gets some details right. He manages, at times, to capture the tone and mood that we had in that old house all those years ago. It’s all still there. We see the corners and the contours of the rooms and of that infamous staircase and get the same chill. Plus, there is one genuine plot twist that I didn’t see coming. Yet, even with good performances and a chilling atmosphere, you wonder what it’s all for. Was this trip really necessary? For me, no.


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