Psycho II. Wait, Psycho II? They made a sequel to Psycho???
Yes, they certainly did! Three years after Hitchcock’s death, Universal Pictures picked up where he left off and started making sequels to his iconic 1960 film. A good idea? Debatable. Let’s see how it turned out…
The film opens with… wait for it…
…the shower scene from the original movie. No, I’m not kidding, they used footage from Psycho and slapped it onto the start of this film. It doesn’t even pack the same punch, being away from its native storyline.
After the opening credits, the story gets started. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is being released from the mental institute he’s been in for twenty-two years, after being cured. At the court objecting is Lila Loomis herself (Vera Miles, also from the original film), but her pleas to keep Norman locked up fall on deaf ears. Bates is just as charmingly awkward as he was, but looks forward to turning over a new leaf.
Although Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia) cautions him, Bates decides to live in his old house, still standing atop the hill overlooking the Bates Motel. Over the years, the once lonely establishment has become a run-down haven for druggies, and the new owner, Mr. Toomey, doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Norman has a job at a diner already arranged for him, run by an elderly woman named Emma Spool. There he befriends one of his young coworkers, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). Samuels is having boyfriend trouble, and, without a place to stay, accepts Norman’s invitation to stay at his motel for the night. Great idea. Returning to the motel, Bates angrily fires Mr. Toomey, and Mary, feeling sorry for Bates, decides to stay with him in his old house. The next day, Norman starts receiving phone calls and notes from his dead mother, Norma Bates. He suspects that Toomey is responsible, and as the man is about to leave the motel, a figure resembling Bates’ mother kills him.
Mysterious things begin to happen to Norman Bates. More murders are committed, vestiges of his past reappear, and he begins to wonder: is he going insane again, or is his mother not really dead?
It is revealed, but not prematurely, to the viewer that Lila Loomis is actually Mary’s mother. Both of them have been leaving the ‘mother’ notes and harassing Bates in the hope that he would resume killing and be arrested again. Lila has even been dressing up as Bates’ mother and giving him phone calls! Mary, though, has begun to feel sorry for Bates and tells him that she’s given up her part in this.
Meanwhile, Lila is abruptly murdered by an unknown figure in the cellar while trying to retrieve her ‘mother’ costume. Though Lila is dead, Norman continues to talk to his ‘mother’ on the phone. Suitably creeped out by this, Mary dresses up in the ‘mother’ costume, holds the kitchen knife and implores him to hang up the phone. Sneaking up on her is Dr. Raymond, who has been trying to get to the bottom of all this since the beginning of the film. Thinking that Mary is harassing Norman further, he grabs her and receives a knife to the chest.
Seeing this, Norman completely snaps and backs Mary into the cellar. She discovers her mother Lila’s corpse hidden among some coal lumps and tries to kill Norman with the knife. She is immediately shot and killed by the police. It’s a bit ambiguous, but the consensus by the police at the end of the film was that Mary was the ‘mother’ murderer all along.
Norman returns to his house after being cleared by the police and is visited by Emma Spool, who got Norman the job at the diner in the first place. She reveals to him that she is his actual mother, and that Norma Bates was his aunt who adopted him when Spool was institutionalized. She also claims that she’s been the murderer throughout the film, trying to protect Norman from Lila and Mary! Norman, destitute, poisons Spool’s tea and whacks her in the head with a shovel, killing her. Now freed from his sanity, Norman Bates carries Spool’s corpse upstairs, calling her ‘mother’ and talking in her voice. He’s back to where he started 22 years before.
Psycho II, to me, seems more like an homage or love letter to Hitchcock’s film than a rip-off. Although artistically inferior by nature, it has plenty of thrills of its own to deliver. The plot is layered in such a way that I felt like I was going crazy while watching it. It’s very hard to synopsize in words, and I had to leave things out here in there in my own synopsis to make it concise.
I think this film accomplishes what all sequels should do: take the original film and add to its greatness by doing something new with the material! By no means does Psycho II surpass the original film; Hitchcock’s refined directorial methods show greatly in his film, while this one stumbles semi-frequently in tone. Hitch was simply a better filmmaker. However, Psycho II seems to realize that its predecessor is unmatchable and spends its time honoring the previous film; there are even similarly-framed shots and plenty of easter eggs in store (more on this later). The many many twists here make this film seem like a nightmare (in a good way), and you’ll never know what’ll happen next. They took the original’s formula, gave it more layers, and did a swell job.
Anthony Perkins’ return as Norman Bates is very good. Though supposedly cured of his madness, he’s still just as jittery and awkward as he was in the original film. Since I’m so used to only seeing his character in the original, it’s funny seeing him ambling around in the 1980s setting. The little twitches and nervous ticks that Perkins gave as part of his performance as Bates then are back in this movie. Over twenty tears later and Perkins never lost his touch.
Vera Miles is also good in her return as Lila. She gives a sharp and decisive performance here that shows a darker side to her character. It’s great that they brought her back for this sequel and she played a bigger part in the story than I initially realized! Meg Tilly plays her and Sam (John Gavin’s character in the original)’s daughter, and she is…..iffy. Sometimes her performance made me suspect that she was reading her lines off a blackboard just out of frame. She probably wasn’t, but most of her performance was wooden. She has shining moments, though, especially in the final 20 minutes.
What struck me was the attention to detail! This movie seems to have been made by people who loved Hitchcock’s film and wanted to honor it in a special way. The only still-standing set piece from the original at the time, to my knowledge, was the Bates house (still on the Universal backlot today). Comparing frames from the two films side-by-side hints that some original props may have been used as well. Given that, the sets they rebuilt of the house and the motel are near exact replicas of their 1960 counterparts. Every familiar room the characters visited looked almost just like they did in Hitch’s film! It was a treat to see these locations again; it reminded me of the way I felt looking around the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like stepping back in time.
The only returning actors from Psycho are Anthony Perkins (Norman), Vera Miles (Lila), and, oddly enough, Virginia Gregg, one of the original voices of mother Bates. In the 1960 film, Alfred Hitchcock used three different voices, intermixed, for that of mother. In the final scene, the famous monologue is given entirely by Gregg, and you’ll hear her again several times in Psycho II.
Like I said before, there are some shots in this film that are close replications of a few from Psycho. Here are some examples:
If you’re expecting the same amount of talent put into the original Psycho, then I don’t know why. Nothing can live up to it, and Psycho II is aware of this. It’s a different slice of the same cake. Maybe a corner piece with a crap ton of icing on it. It may not have the same texture of the middle piece of cake, but there’s no denying that it’s got something special of its own.
Psycho II may lie outside of what people define as the ‘classic film’ era, but since it’s related to a classic, I couldn’t resist watching and reviewing it. I think this may be the film I enjoyed reviewing the most this October so far!
Stay tuned for more this month! Enjoy the season, and remember, as Norman Bates said, “We all go a little mad sometimes.”