Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
“Oh Norman, you’re mad, you know that? Mad as a Hatter!”
Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
How on earth are you supposed to follow Hitchcock’s Psycho? Well, it’s easy, actually … you do it with the excellent Psycho II.After years of mental treatment, Norman Bates is finally deemed safe to return to society, to the motel and the old house on the hill. Lila Loomis, the sister of Marion Crane, is outraged that such a madman could be freed despite what the experts say about his condition. She vows to make life difficult for him. Although the old motel is still up and running, Norman is helped back into the swing of things by gaining a job in the local diner, where he meets Meg Tilly’s harassed waitress, Mary. Kicked out by her boyfriend, Norman suggests that she come and stay at his place until she can get herself sorted out. It seems a little outlandish that anyone, especially a young woman, would accept such an offer from someone like Gnarly Norm, but nothing in this homecoming is quite as it seems … and there are dark secrets in every corner and ulterior motives aplenty.Almost immediately upon his first taste of freedom, Norman becomes assailed by messages from his Mother. Written notes in the diner and in her bedroom which, miraculously, seems beautifully furnished one minute and then hidden beneath ancient dust-sheets the next, and then phone-calls from someone claiming to be her. Norman’s already tenuous and fragile link with reality comes under increasing threat, much more so when events take an even more sinister turn, and bloody murders ensue. Is Norman going mad and slipping into his old ways again, or is somebody else posing as his Mother, committing the killings and trying to implicate him? Is someone setting him up, or is Norman Bates still the psycho that Lila believes him to be?
This, then, is one of the cleverest, wittiest and most intelligently crafted murder-mysteries around and that rarest of film sequels – a bonafide continuation of a classic story and a highly worthy extension of Hitchcock’s seminal original.
Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Picture QualityScream Factory present Psycho II in 1.85:1 and via an AVC encode. This is US release is region A. it does not bear the hallmarks of undue DNR, and its grain retains its texture. The image is a touch grubby and worn, but still a rewarding one.
Although there are some people who haven’t found much to commend with this transfer, I am actually quite fond of it. The film doesn’t have a tremendous visual sweep to it and that lack of flowing Dean Cundey camerawork is not what many of his genre-fans might anticipate. Richard Franklin doesn’t really go in for the sort of fluid-free movement that we love fromHalloween and The Thing, so Cundeyphiles might feel a little bit let down by the lack of prowling, atmospheric dexterity.
You could argue, of course, that the film does indeed cry out for such material, too … but Cundey still manages to create some wacky, unusual and flamboyantly evocative angles with which to skew our senses. I especially like his unusual zooms and those overhead shots. And the awesome lopsided vision of Norman as he climbs the steps outside the house is a real gem. The transfer keeps up with all of these without any smudging, aliaising or undue noise marring the movements and the frame compositions.
The image is not completely free from age-related wear and tear, though I saw nothing that caused me any distraction. Edges aren’t unnecessarily sharpened and delineation is often pleasingly smooth and natural. Banding is not an issue, and colour saturation poses no problem. Fidelity has always been a touch overblown with this film, and this can lead to it having a sort of grubby texture, given the grain and the flatter-looking imagery something of an undeniable TV-esque quality to the film’s palette, though if you are used to this, the imagery will look perfectly acceptable to you. The scenes out at the swamp can look pretty grimy, if you’ll excuse the expression – flat, soft, dusty and dirty. Other shots also fall prey to this, though the majority of the interiors and the sunlit vistas of the house tend to look very nice. Reds and greens can have some appeal to them. Skin-tones can veer from ruddy to a tad anemic. Again, though, this is how the film has always looked. Blood, when we see it, is suitably thick and crimson, and we certainly get a lot of that at one point when it comes bubbling up from out of the toilet.
There is still a fair amount of depth that can be savoured from certain shots, although this is definitely a flatter looking image. Views from the top of the stairs that peer down between the floors, and the pivotal image of a certain figure ascending the steps outside the house obviously generate some sense of spatial substance. The sight of the teenage girl fleeing from the house as seen from the roof of the building is also fairly well presented. Some of the matte shots that embrace the top portion of the motel image lack vitality and can look a little fake, but there is only so much that the transfer can do with these. Contrast is reasonable and blacks can be fairly rewarding. The scenes down in the coal bunker and in the shadowy elements of the motel can be quite dark at times, and I wouldn’t rule out some slight elements of crushing going on. But, as I have often stated, I am partial to the darker image, so this doesn’t cause me any concerns.
Detail certainly offers an improvement over the home video versions that have come before, but this is not a very textured and finitely defined image at all. Whilst crags, whiskers, pores and pockmarks are in more evidence than ever before, facial details can look a bit clumpy, interior décor can lack resolution and landscape shots of the diner, the house, the motel, the swamp etc can look merely acceptable. It is tempting to scrutinise the various fleeting images of Mother to ascertain which of several performers who undertook the task has donned the wig and shawl at any particular time. As yet, I have not yet done this. To be honest, this is not a bad image at all, but those who may have expected tighter, more precise definition and a lot more detail on offer in the image will be disappointed. Personally, I found the mid to background definition to be lacking integrity. I wasn’t unduly perturbed by this, but I did notice that the overall image seemed to want for consistency
There are some good, if swiftly revealed wounds inflicted. I had expected more from a facial slash, but this doesn’t appear to reveal anything more than has been seen on home video for years, but the mouth-impaling and the chest-stabs, and the gashes to the palms certainly seem to gain a little bit more intensity.
At the end of the day, you can see the improvements that have been made to Psycho II, and considering how soft and ruddy is has always looked before, it would have possibly have been expecting a little bit too much to have gained much more than we have here. Scream’s transfer is definitely worthwhile, but there are still some gains that could have been made, and Norman's second stab could have been sharper still.
Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Sound QualityIgnore the fact that the packaging states a DTS-HD MA 4.0 mix as a 2.0 track, it is actually a full-on 5.1 surround mix, although, in truth, you will hardly be amazed by its wraparound capabilities.
Personally though, I still preferred the 5.1 track, if only because it afforded more power and weight and liveliness to Jerry Goldsmith’s score. We all know that Bernard Herrmann’s music for the original is an indelible classic of the genre, and it was a cinch that someone of Jerry G.’s caliber wasn’t going to merely rehash those old string-led motifs and stabbing set-pieces. This was a period of eclecticism and experimentalism for the composer, with him utilizing a lot of unusual instruments and a fair amount of synth foundation alongside grand symphonic writing. He had just come through what it probably his most genre-revered phase – with Alien, Star Trek The Motion Picture, First Blood, Outland, Poltergeist, Twilight Zone: The Movie etc – and this is reflected in a score for Psycho II that manages to be both respectful to Herrmann and thrillingly written and orchestrated on its own. He brings in pathos, tragedy, lamentation, chills, spills and thunderous stingers, and all with an enveloping grace. Score collectors still await a full release of this majestic piece of work. Thankfully, this mix – indeed both mixes – do his power and lyricism justice with firm bass, well-swept and detailed instrumentation and a warm array of colour and depth. The 5.1 track actually mixes the score with a bit more power and strength, and this is something that I quite enjoy.
The stereo spread is decently appointed and there is a little bit of noticeable ambience to fold around the soundscape. Don’t expect anything too directional though, because you simply won’t get it. Once the storm brews overhead, there is a very slight ripple of thunder rolling about the skies.
The stereo spread is decently appointed and there is a little bit of noticeable ambience to fold around the soundscape.
Steel-junkies should enjoy the close-quarter stabbing fx, which can be quite boldly presented. The strange little gashes that are received to a character’s palms make for some crazy noises. The rattling of the coal-pile, the falling of the logs, the banging on the door, the sudden ringing of the phone and the clattering of plates in the diner, along with a plethora of sudden stingers all help to ensure that there is plenty going on, even if this is really quite tame stuff, comparatively.
There are no errors with the dialogue – which all sounds clean and clear and as tasty as a toasted cheese sandwich.
All in all, Scream’s audio transfer did nothing I didn’t expect it to. There are no silly extensions to the channels and the voices, music and effects all come across well and sound faithful to me.
Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray ExtrasYou can enjoy a great commentary track with screenwriter Tom Holland and Rob Galluzzo, the creator of the great documentary The Psycho Legacy as they go through the creation, production and reaction to making a sequel to one of the most infamous horror movies of all time. There are a few little mistakes here and there – most of which are corrected – but this is a fine dissection of a film that few people really expected to see and even fewer expected to be any good. The story is naturally covered in some detail, as is the casting, and the various cameos. The enhanced violence is mentioned and the camerawork from Dean Cundey. There are a few little tricks and inspirations that are pointed-out along the way, and the two certainly enjoy watching the movie and, consequently, add to your own enjoyment of it.
There are vintage interviews with Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles and Richard Franklin which are of poor audio quality, and another set of audio interviews, different ones culled from other sources, that can be played over the top of the movie like a mini pick ‘n’ mix chat-track.
We also get a Still’s Gallery, the film’s Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot.
Is Psycho II - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Worth BuyingPsycho II is one of my favourite horror sequels of all-time. It not only enhances the brilliance of the original film, but it adds so many new flavours of its own. The screenplay is witty and delicate and the performances are fantastic. Jerry Goldsmith delivers a brilliant evolution on Herrmann’s classic score, with plenty of lyrical additions of his own, and the photography from Dean Cundey, whilst not as fluid as his work for John Carpenter from around this time, is excellently atmospheric.
Anthony Perkins is outstanding in a role that he initially saw as a bugbear, bringing to it a European sensibility that really adds depth and a degree of sympathetic darkness. The Bates house has been painstakingly recreated and the set-pieces are often stunningly devised without deviating from the mood of the original. There are very few films that can so effectively twist our emotions as well as this, and the piling-on of suspense is skillfully perpetrated by a director who was at the height of his game here.
The transfer is a good, solid one, though I feel there is still room for improvement. The audio delivers some good effects and sounds clean and bright, though this is not a mix that will wow by today’s standards. The extras aren’t plentiful, but they certainly provide some terrific insight into the production and just and why it came about in the manner that it did. There are lots of anecdotes and whilst we obviously miss Anthony Perkins, there is plenty of material to soak-up regarding his successful second stab at the character.
Psycho III has a lot going for it as well, as we shall see … but it falls far short of this first sequel, which manages to combine great acting, an inspired script, lots of suspense and some terrifically well-captured black humour in a story that genuinely feels right and very far from being merely a cash-in.
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