The project of Psycho 2 was a poison chalice. On one hand, it provided a director with the opportunity to prove themselves by making a sequel to a bona fide horror classic by a master auteur. It also made available the possibility of continuing a story of one of cinema’s greatest and most complex characters, Norman Bates.
But on the other hand, the film would certainly be met with howls of derision from some cinema purists. Also, some would see a sequel to such a horror landmark as being cheap, an exercise in making a fast buck and the finished film would certainly draw comparisons to it’s superior first film.
Richard Franklin accepted the offer to act as director and does a pretty good job.
Everyone’s favourite Momma’s Boy Norman leaves the asylum he has been an inhabitant of for the last 22 years as he is judged to be satifactorily rehabilitated enough to be let loose into the wider community. Marion Crane’s sister Lila (Vera Miles returning to replay the role and a definite plus for the movie) vehemently opposes this move however and wants to see him locked up out of harm’s way forever.
Norman takes a job in a small diner near his home and it’s here that he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who has just split up from her boyfriend and finds herself homeless. Norman offers her board and it’s here that the freakiness starts. Norman starts to see notes supposedly from his dead mother. Unexpected murders occur. Could Norman be up to his old tricks again? Or is he being gaslighted into lapsing into his old murderous ways?
It’s interesting that for this 80’s sequel the director knew that horror had not only advanced and evolved as a genre but that it was at that point in time enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with the slasher subgenre dominating the box office with seemingly new films being released almost every week. These films relied on gory and (in the best examples) innovative death sequences. Psycho 2 duly notes this and so we get some doozy gore scenes. The sequence involving a victim receiving a knife through the mouth exemplifies this. In this regard the sequel is like another sequel to a horror classic, Halloween 2. In the three years between the original John Carpenter classic and it’s sequel the horror genre had accelerated forth like a cinematic juggernaut with deaths becoming more explicit and graphic. Whilst there is little gore, blood or graphic violence in Halloween, it’s sequel includes scoldings, hypodermic needles in eyeballs and a hammer to the cranium to mention just a few ways as to how victims are disposed of.
There is even a nod to the slasher genre within Psycho 2 as we see two frisky teens break into the basement of the Bates House to indulge in atypical slasher teen activities like, y’know, making out whilst smoking pot. Mother wouldn’t have approved.
The film has a great feel and look that I haven’t experienced in any other film. It has a very grimy atmosphere. The fact that De Palma staple actor Dennis Franz is one of the cast playing a sleazeball who has turned the Bates Motel into a ‘rent rooms by the hour’ motel for those of lower morals also helps foster this dirty vibe. Psycho 2 feels like the innocence of Norman and the first film has been (for the audience’s entertainment) been defiled and is irretrievably gone (in a good way). The film is very astute in this way as maybe it was a comment on society in general.
Another major factor that helps establish this sleazy air is the amazing cinematography by the ever brilliant Dean Cundey (another factor that helps lift Psycho 2 from just being a cash-in sequel). Check out the astonishing camerawork that almost levitates and prowls around the outside of the Bates House as we see first the teens and then later Lila gain entry via the basement. In these scenes the camera feels like an ever present supernatural and voyeuristic entity as we see events that only an ever watchful killer would.
Of course, we’re waiting for Norman to go mad during the course of the film and this is brilliantly shown in the scene in which Norman is seen by Mary talking on the phone to his dead Mother and asking her what he should do next. This scene shows the brilliance of Anthony Perkins in this role. Psycho 2 would have been half the film it is if he hadn’t have returned to reprise a role he made all his own.
Add to all of this a final scene which is one of the most unexpected scenes in horror history (no, I’m not going to ruin it!) and you have a very good 1980’s sequel to a horror classic. No, it’s not as good as Psycho but then few films are. But it’s still well worth investigating.
4 out of 5 stars