Psycho II - Collector's Edition 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.
It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home.
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 as safe to return to society. Safe, in fact, to return home to the motel and the old house on the hill. Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), the sister of Marion Crane (who was Janet Leigh’s notorious shower victim from the first film) 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?
In something of a genre-first, we already sympathised with Norman in the 1960 film. We pitied the bullying we thought he had received from his mother and we even cared enough at the end about what would happen to him, once the truth came out, because of how pathetic he had become. A monster, yes. But a weakling and as much a victim as those that “Mother” butchered.
Smile Norman, you crazy sonova *****
But the clever thing about how screenwriter Tom (Fright Night/Child’s Play) Holland treats this development is that we care even more for him now than we ever did before. Norman, damn him, is so very likeable that we ache to see him gain some happiness. We desperately want things to work out for him. We long for people to leave him alone, and for him to find friendship. Love, even. Seeing his efforts at fitting-in are wrenching, and we feel as inspired as he does when he manages to take on his new job at the diner, and as downright embittered when it appears that his family business has been allowed to lapse into what he naively refers to as “an adult motel.” When he sacks the state-appointed motel proprietor, Mr. Toomey (perennial douche bag, Dennis Franz), the list of suspects begins to stack up. With Lila on the scene and hellishly scornful, and a few deceptions up Mary’s sleeve as well, we can never be sure of anybody’s true intentions. As determined as Norman is to keep to the straight and narrow, and his efforts to play sane are truly touching, circumstances are conspiring against him ever settling down and calling this place home ever again.
Directed by Australian Richard Franklyn, Psycho II was the film that nobody expected, nor really wanted. Hitchcock’s adaptation of Joseph Stefano’s screenplay, itself, culled from Robert Bloch’s classic novel, was notoriously almost clipped-down to become nothing more than an episode in his TV thriller series. Hitch, himself, having been inspired by the dark lunacy of the story had very little faith in it and was partially persuaded by his composer, the great Bernard Herrmann, to go anyway for Christmas and then come back to it with a fresh mind and rethink its format and its impact. Although Universal baulked at the violence, the daring imagery and the deeply controversial theme, it was clear that the film was something special … even if it was initially shunned as being too shocking and visceral, even for the master of suspense. With the novel based loosely on the story of Ed Gein, necrophiliac Wisconsin serial killer, the film was able to transcend the lurid tabloid headlines and make its own name for itself. A star was made of Anthony Perkins, who portrayed the most sympathetic killer that the cinema had ever seen, and the fact that Hitchcock did the unthinkable and offed his leading lady halfway through the story was a bold spin that very few filmmakers have ever even attempted to follow. Filming in black and white and with his TV show crew on the Universal backlot was a strict measure to keep the costs down and the film, in spite of its instant infamy, went on to become a box office smash and one of the most cult-cherished genre movies ever made. It was also a “complete” story in its own right, the tale ending with a psychological explanation that was, in some ways, a little unnecessary and condescending (remember, though, that this was Middle America that needed the truth spelling out), but certainly an element that signed-off Norman Bates’ reign of terror with satisfying conviction. Audiences really believed they had seen the last of this transvestite killer … even if showering might be apt to cause a couple of second thoughts for a while.
But then Robert Bloch came up with his own escaped-loony sequel, and one that surprisingly killed-off Norman quite early on and interest was rekindled in the spooky old motel and that ominous house on the hill with all that strange shouting that could be heard coming from within it. The trend for stalk ‘n’ slash pics had been ripe ever since Mother first plunged that big butcher knife into the guest in Room 1’s shower, and it had shown no signs of abating over the twenty-two years that had elapsed since. But where Psycho had been brave enough to tackle the reasons for such terrible savagery, the overwhelming majority of hackathons that followed through the bloody sluice-gates it opened were just created to show naked teenagers getting carved-up with exploitative abandon. Yet Hitch’s film still remained a high-water mark in the genre and, most remarkably and tellingly of all, still has the ability to shock even the jaded, blood-saturated audiences of today. So how would a sequel match up to this leviathan then? Since the original film had gone beyond its initially repulsive nature and gained huge critical acclaim, a follow-on couldn’t simply adhere to the teens have sex and die ethic that was so prevalent during this flesh-exposing and severing era. There had to be a certain class to it, at least as recognition of what had started this bloody ball rolling. And, not only that, the phenomenon of the psycho-killer was now very much more established in the public consciousness than it had been back in 1960. There was even a certain celebrity status afforded some of these murderers. Books were written about them, films were made, T-shirts were emblazoned with their faces and names. Even with the likes of Charles Manson and Texas Chainsaw’s Leatherface, at the forefront of this cavalcade of carnage was sweetly surreal face of Norman Bates.
The sequel, therefore, had an awful lot riding upon it, and with Hitch’s legacy muddying the broth, it needed intelligence, suspense and food for thought. The choice of Richard Franklin to direct may have seemed odd. He was hardly a known commodity, although he had helmed the not un-Hitchcockian thriller of Roadgames, with Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, and it was this that gave Universal the confidence to go with it. If this relative nobody screwed it up, then so what? It would be put down to nothing more than a harebrained scheme attempting to update an old classic in an era when every screen villain seemed to be wielding a knife. It would simply disappear and become the very thing that Hitch had once believed his own picture would simply amount to – a network TV loss-adjuster.
They didn’t quite reckon on the quality of Tom Holland’s screenplay, the performances and the twisting, turning intrigue … and the sheer fact that audiences were ready for some more Psychotics.
But in spite of a huge amount of talent on both sides of the camera, this is Perkins’ film.
Inarguably, he made the character of Norman Bates his own back in 1960, coining a combination of innocence, madness and vulnerable charm and making it unutterably feasible that a streetwise woman could fall prey to such an unhinged and lonely lost cause. For a great many years he resisted the temptations that were thrown his way to recreate the character until finally agreeing to send-up his most infamous role in a sketch on Saturday Night Live. But in so doing something clicked and both he and audiences saw that Norman was very definitely still alive and stabbing with some considerable vitality and gusto. He clearly hadn’t lost the kernel of that inner identity, and perhaps there was life in the old dog yet.
By now the theme of psychopathic killers had been, if you’ll pardon the expression, done to death. Hammer had unleashed their own brand of Paranoiac, and we’d had the more supernatural leanings of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, but it seemed that every horror filmmaker was hellbent upon inventing some unfortunate and usually disfigured outsider with maniacal tendencies with which to make their mark upon an uncaring, corrupt and morally decadent society. Just beforePsycho II, there had been Joe Spinell in the delightfully depraved and almost universally shunned Maniac and then there had been the equally vilified Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and The New York Ripper – all films that sought, in some way or another, to dissect the murderous impulses that these killers were enslaved by … and actually making a better “stab” of it than most of the more learned offerings. When Psycho first came out and shocked the world, it did seem as though as fantasy had gone too far and made “evil” a tangible, understandable force of almost forgivable familial nature. In the days of Universal and RKO yore, a psycho-killer was purely that – a nutjob who lived purely in the context of the story to kill the rest of the cast given half the chance. He just had to be mad. And angry. Hell, even Laurel & Hardy would often encounter this sort of chromosomally challenged miscreant throughout their daft adventures. This would become the ethic of Jason and a great many others, too … but with Psycho the lid was taken off from an entirely new concept – one that sought to somehow explain the reasons why these crazies did what they did and, if possible, give them sympathetic motivations for their crimes. Freudian solutions had been all the rage, but the real world was only slowly beginning to understand that the murderous impulses were massively more complex than merely a mother fixation – although it was this very diagnosis that would form the basis for the most celebrated split-persona of them all. And, more than almost any other example, we fell for the terrible plight that poor Norman Bates had succumbed to, almost comprehending his own unique horror and distress at the things he had been driven to do by an upbringing that wasn’t his fault. This was practically unheard of during this time. Michael Powell had dared to lend humanity and dark charisma to his murderous voyeur in Peeping Tom and he ended up paying a terrible price for it. Peter Lorre and Fritz Lang had, possibly, done the bravest thing of all when they endeavoured to bestow personality, guilt and complexity to their grotesque child-killer in the classic M and, more than anything else, it is to this that Hitchcock’s mental unraveling owes the greatest debt.
It made us become more than mere witnesses, it made us judge and jury.
Sympathy for the devil. Robert Mitchum had played two dangerous sociopaths in his time – Max Cady in Cape Fear and the tattooed preacher Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter, but as complex as they were, neither was in any way, shape or form, as personable, nor as persuading as Norman Bates … and yet neither of them was anywhere near as deranged nor as damaged as he was.
But his take on Bloch’s story had ended with Norman’s capture and incarceration. Nobody at that time ever thought about him getting back out again … unless he escaped, as he does in Bloch’s own disappointing novelized follow-on, dressed in the habit of a slain nun. Society had not contemplated the notion that such killers could be rehabilitated and set loose with an authority’s blessing to make a new life for themselves, washed of the sins of their past. The judicial ramifications of such a thing were one thing, but the moral implications were completely another and Tom Holland’s screenplay for Psycho II was miles ahead of the curve in this regard. That audiences were so willing to accept that Norman could be liberated and that they could, dare we even breathe it, be on his side was something so absolutely alien and dazzlingly audacious that it genuinely said something about the way that society’s perception of insanity was headed. If it wasn’t their fault … then how could we blame them? For me, personally, there is very little indecision. But there is no doubting that the matter of legal, moral and psychological guilt is very much more complex than we’d like to think.
It made us become more than mere witnesses, it made us judge and jury.
There is no doubting that audiences felt for Norman … but there is also, and this is probably far more important and unavoidable, the implicit belief and expectation that he was going to go mad all over again and that society, by proxy, would be proved right and that these damaged individuals could never be trusted, and should never be given a second chance. And that should he kill again, then we, as a group of his peers, should be held accountable.
For a “slice” of entertainment, both the first and the second Psycho films brought a lot of meat to the table. The third, which we will look at too, has some neat ideas … but really wants to have fun in the blackest, gloopiest, most antagonistic comedy of the lot.
But Perkins is the star of all of these show and no matter how unhinged he may become, he is the glue that binds their story together. And I would say that he is as his best here in Psycho II.
The most beautiful, heartrending thing about his performance is that we see the sanity slipping away from him, bit by bit … and we are trying our best to salvage some of it for him. His reintegration into society was never going to be easy. A return to the scene of the crimes would naturally be fraught with pain and anxiety, but we admire his gutsy determination to make a go of things and to face a world that is always going to be suspicious of him. There is genuine compassion and friendship between him and Loggia’s Dr. Bill Raymond, and this is achingly well-wrought. How often would it have been the kindly doctor who was the one trying to uproot the psychotic in their midst, instead of trying to protect him? The staff in the diner, who all clearly know of Norman’s past – some much more so than others, it would appear – are all also very willing to let him make a go of things.
And in a kitchen, for God’s sake! With knives! I don’t know anyone who would permit a renowned psychopathic killer within a ten mile radius of themselves, let alone give them a job, no matter what the so-called experts have to say about their sanity and suitability, in a place that deals with the public. But Holland was attempting to speak out for a system that was flawed and struggling, but was, at least, prepared to forgive and to make some sort of amends. And his script is utterly superb. He updates the nuances of Stefano’s original screenplay and he plays as many games with Hitch as he pays homage to his style. Almost everything from the first film is either mirrored, twisted, knocked askew or re-patterned in a psychotic symmetry that is completely poetic and just as blackly comic as in the original. I would say that Perkins’ own directed Psycho III, penned by Charles Edward Pogue, is even more satirical and shoveled-over with gallows humour, but this first sequel is a treasure-trove of suspense and darkly tense amusement.
Meg Tilly has never looked more adorable. Her Cherokee Indian hairdo, those impossibly wide eyes, that curvaceous, pixie-like body – she is the glorious epitome of gorgeous vulnerability. Just prior to this she had made the fun, though overrated supernatural chiller One Dark Night, in which as a high school initiation she has to spend the night locked inside a mausoleum in which the corpse of an evil psychic begins to have some devilish, body-reanimating fun … so she had already had a trial by fire when it came to dealing with demented times trapped in haunted houses. There is talk that she and Perkins didn’t get along, due to a silly misunderstanding on Tony’s part, but this does not come across at all in the film. Their relationship is touching, tender and believable. The more unsettled Norman becomes, the more Mary attempts to wrestle him back from limbo, and because we know what her original motives were this becomes all the more movingly poignant. A sequence in which she cradles him, distraught after so many deranged incidents have occurred, is truly heartbreaking. And she handles the deeper, more disturbed revelations with stark and brilliant conviction. Considering how fresh and young she was to the job, Tilly does a wonderful job, especially when she is compelled to do some desperate play-acting of her own. It is ludicrous to think that she and the much older Norman could ever actually fashion a love affair, and yet, somehow, the bond between them earns an amazing amount of credence.
That Vera Miles, returning to the role of Marion Crane’s aggrieved sister, becomes the ogre we despise is a brilliant spin on conventional right and wrong. Villainy is turned topsy-turvy. The more that Norman is implicated in the murders, and the crazier he becomes, the more determined we are to see him either go full-out fruitcake and slay everyone in sight oruncover the real culprit and be proved completely innocent. Holland’s expert writing is forever on the brink of spilling one way or the other, and it is a deliriously entertaining treat that he manages to do both without lapsing into parody. Miles handles the obsessional side of Lila with steady conviction and it is genuinely surprising just how much animosity we wind-up having for her, considering that she is the one who has been wronged. By rights, we should be agreeing with her. I mean she has every damn right to crave revenge, and it is to her ability as an actress and Holland’s skill as a writer that we, ourselves, come unstuck on the most basic of moral issues and grit our teeth whenever she is onscreen.
Dennis Franz is one of cinema’s ultimate slimeballs. He and the great Joe Spinell are peas from the same sweaty pod. Franz, of course, fashioned a more substantial career than Spinell, with great roles in the likes of Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, NYPD Blue and even Die Hard 2, but there is nobody who could make a character so wretchedly degenerate and willfully skin-crawling as his sleaze-bag motelier Mr. Toomey. After being evicted from the motel he cannot help but push his face into Norman’s business in the diner. His goading attitude when he notices that Norman has realized that there is a great big knife within reach is a brilliant moment. “Oh, that’s right! Go on! Pick it up, ya psycho!” Remarkably, if you look at him from a certain angle, he looks just like Keith Lemon! And, not only that, but the diner looks just like the one in which the weakened Clark Kent encounters redneck trouble in Superman II.
The more unsettled Norman becomes, the more Mary attempts to wrestle him back from limbo
Franklin occasionally gets some flack for his pedestrian direction, with the film’s kudos going primarily, and understandably, to Perkins, who is superb and can make even the most mundane of scenes electrifying and/or hilarious. It is true that his style is a touch generic and flat, but this isn’t the full story – not by a long shot. The ace up his sleeve is in creating an atmosphere that is both eerily dangerous and strangely comfortable at the same time. We have all returned. Nostalgia and reminiscence are a huge part of the story, and he understands that. The film, therefore, is measured and toned, although he can suddenly slice some nerves with fearsome dexterity. A repeated stabbing seen from behind a locked window is a token gesture to the tropes of the genre, but it also comments upon the dangers of prowling through provinces once believed spooky but safe. But his greatest power is in the slower, more gradual build-up to stretches sinew-taut over the entire film. Although some scenes are definitely terrifying – a sudden appearance of an angled blade moving through the shadows is excellently perpetrated – he keeps the mood ever-simmering, keenly honed on the edge of whimpering unease and encroaching upset. A lovely touch is that he is able to introduce an element of truthful reverie to Norman’s homecoming. We used to fear the Bates house, and whilst to an extent we still do, we understand how at home Norman feels there. This is his home and he belongs there. In some ways, the place feels beatific and golden with pastoral memoir. Yet, in others, it is a wretched, dank and foreboding enclave of forbidden devilry. Jerry Goldsmith works in a haunting yet loving lament for Norman’s return, and how he reacts to seeing his mother’s room after so many years of nightmares and resentment. Franklin, Perkins and Goldsmith are all at the top of their game in these sequences. We should despise Norman for his crimes but the three craftsmen create such heartbreak that it is impossible not to side with him and pray for his salvation.
Franklin also maintains this tightrope act of spookiness and gallows humour right throughout the film, cunningly switching from chills to dark mirth in an instant – as Norman swaps the phone from hand to another, say.
The moment when Mary comes down the stairs to find Norman playing the quintessentially ominous Moonlight from Beethoven on the piano and she turns to almost face to camera with that knowing look is absolutely priceless. The film is unmistakably letting us in on the joke … and it could have derailed the scenario with such a step but, instead, it enhances our appreciation for where this story is going. In spite of some grisly goings-on and a depraved study of insanity and guilt and vengeance, we are meant to be having fun with this. The original, as shocking as it was, still had a sly wink at us at the same time … and Franklin gets perfectly in-tune with this. There is also the wonderful moment when the camera moves across the room to reveal that a door has been wedged under the door-handle, anchoring the door shut
We can’t help but smirk at Norman’s eccentricity and naivety. His penchant for a toasted cheese sandwich is always good for a giggle, and once he starts having conversations with Mother over the phone, cleverly switching from the fakery to the nuttery, he becomes quite a master of panto-timing and deadpan humour, which only adds to our increasing anxiety as Mary realizes that she is losing control over him. You’ve also got to love the way that he seems to proudly bid her fond farewell and insist that she not be late home tonight when Dr. Raymond gives her lift to the diner. Norman, quite believably, is like a big child. Perkins plays him with the just the right degree of klutzy impetuosity. The beautiful irony is that he only seems to gain confidence and willpower once he comes under the domination of his Mother. It is also a very physical performance – all googly eyes of fright and terror, and long, lanky limbs. Perkins has the perfect Ichabod Crane body. He blusters his way around the place at times, and takes languid lollops at others.
Amusingly, John Carpenter’s regular DOP, the great Dean Cundey, supplied the photography and was, at this time, known as the Prince of Darkness. This is amusing because in the next sequel, Psycho III, Clint Eastwood’s regular DOP Bruce Surtees assumed the camerawork and he, too, was known as the Prince of the Darkness. Cundey does not go in for the fluid, gliding camera movements that we would recognize and adore from Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York and The Thing, but his visualization of the Bates Motel and, especially, the house on the hill and its rooms and staircase and cellar are particularly captivating. One terrific shot reveals Norman trapped up in the attic, our view of him taken from outside the round window before moving slowly along the roof and then dropping over the side of the house to show a teenage girl fleeing from the scene of a murder taking place way down below in the basement. Other shots crane over from the ceiling to peer down between the staircases all the way to the ground floor, and there are some unusual zoom-distortions that add emphasis to Mary’s deepening concerns about just how swiftly Norman might be slipping over the edge. We spend a lot of time inside the house, and it is one of the few genre dwellings that never ceases to impress from either the outside nor the inside no matter how many times we venture near it. By context, of course, the motel is completely mundane and modern, dry and characterless. This is why the motel is never a success. It is not because the place is off the beaten track, nor even because it is owned by a nutter. It is a failure because it is dead – it is like an amputated limb cut from the wounded body of the Bates house. It is stagnant and decayed. We see Norman make a very half-hearted and doomed attempt to renovate the place, but this effort is doomed from the outset when he spies a female figure in Mother’s window and his paintbrush drops to the ground.
We can’t help but smirk at Norman’s eccentricity and naivety.
Again, as I have spoken before – most recently in my review for Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm – the unspoken inference is that times have moved on leaving small-town behind, and that for Norman they have remained quite still. Obviously, he has been away for over two decades, but even he had hadn’t been caught and arrested, the motel would clearly be a ghost-house. The only people who end up there are lost souls who have reached their destiny and gone as far as they are going to go. In Psycho II we spend the most time in the actual house and the motel becomes less of an important place. Toomey makes a mess of it and gets ousted. Mary only ever loiters briefly outside or has a quick argument within it, and Norman is perpetually drawn away from it. He rushes off the accompany Mary to the house, but not before delivering that great ultimatum to the slobbish fiend who has been operating the motel. “And don’t rent out any more rooms, Mr. Toomey. No More.”
Of course, this is not the same original house. Universal had moved the thing, and so it had to be recreated, piece by piece, utilizing stills and storyboards, set-designs and blueprints to refashion the iconic structure to veritable perfection. Matte artist Albert Whitlock was employed to create some scenic skies to yawn over and around the house and the motel. Some of these shots could look better, I feel, but there are one or two that look extraordinarily creepy and thick with bruised blue and purple clouds. Again, despite Cundey and Whitlock and the use of Jerry Goldsmith composing the score, Franklin can’t quite avoid giving the film the occasional feel of a Murder She Wrote episode. There is much more good stuff than poor, but there are some moments that look a little flat and softened, slightly cheapened. However, I should point out that some of these slightly inferior shots can have the tendency to look cuter and somehow cosier … which actually work in the film’s favour. This nicer visual mood makes the film feel homelier, which then conspires, rather deceptively, to throw you a curveball when things get a bit more severe. Compare this to how Perkins and his Bruce Surtees dealt with the third outing. In that one there was a deliberately different visual stance that stood apart from both Hitchcock’s and Franklin’s – which both fit together because of the often smaller-scale and less cinematic approach adopted. Psycho III, on the other hand, has a lot more in common, visually speaking with the likes of the later Halloween films.
Look for the cameo of Hitch’s shadow on the wall in Mother’s bedroom. Genius. Listen for Perkins’ stuttered pronunciation of the word “cutlery”, and have a gander at Tilly’s widening eyes as she watches him cut the sandwich with an impossibly big butcher knife that he pretended he didn’t know he had. And there is the mock politeness that transpires during the Scooby-Doo conclusion which finally confirms a lot of things that we may have suspected for some time. That is also Perkins’ own young son that we see reflected in the shiny doorknob during a painful flashback to Norman’s past.
There are Hitchcockian references aplenty. The argument between Mary and her mother in the hotel foyer is partially overheard by the male receptionist, but key words are missed out as a cleaner hoovers her way past. A sadistic note is left for Norman on the diner’s order carousel and we await his unwitting plucking-up of it as Toomey is making a nuisance of himself elsewhere in the establishment, our attention diverted first one way and then the next, our hate directed purely at the grease-ball. The spy-hole in the wall owes as much to Dario Argento as it does to Hitch, but then so much of what Argento did had its foundation with Hitch as well. We know via the editing that something is suddenly going to pop up on the other side, but it is more the superb way in which Mary actually spots the little reflection of light emanating from the hole in the mirror as she puts her makeup on that is the crucial visual homage. It is double voyeurism – spotting the spy-hole in a mirror – that then becomes triple voyeurism as she climbs up on a chair to peer through. Rumour has it that it is actually Tilly who suddenly stands up on the other side as well!
There are Hitchcockian references aplenty.
The film is also substantially more violent than its predecessor. It would need to be, of course. Psycho was a shocker in terms of its graphic nature, despite the fact that it actually tricked you into thinking you had witnessed far more than you actually had, so Franklyn would need to move with the times. Even so, the film only garnered a “15” certificate in the UK, but the slicing ‘n’ dicing is still pretty ripe. Quick cut, but ripe. A big blade plunged through a screaming mouth and exiting through the back of the skull is something that you would expect to see in a Lucio Fulci picture not a big mainstream studio production.
Another blade deeply embedded in a chest and then pushed even further in during a horrible impact with a banister. A shovel walloped over the head is another explosively nasty image, especially given its sudden skull-flattening violence and the jittering body on the deck. Other sundry stabbings are equally unpleasant, but Psycho II is still not strictly a gorefest. Franklyn definitely didn’t want his film lumped together with the likes of Friday the 13th or The Burning or any of a hundred other slashers that were severing arteries across the screen during this never-ending period of scarlet splashed cinema. Even with the greater level of graphic mayhem and the nastier subject matter, the film was deemed respectable and important enough to stand apart from the usual bodycount-flicks. It had something to say about the nature of insanity and of our institutionalized reaction towards it. Sensation wasn’t actually the order of the day. There was really only John Carpenter’s Halloween that had attempted to address the rehabilitation of deranged killers, even though in that particular case, the point was emphatically that they should never be released back into society. Dr. Sam Loomis, so named after Hitchcock’s original, of course, was completely adamant that Myers should never go free, the opposite of Loggia’s new age analyst. Psycho II was a deliberate character-study and one that played around with conventions and toyed with our emotional connections. But, moreover, it respectfully adhered to the plot and the ideas that were set up in the original film, and could play as a terrific companion-piece to it.
We can’t quite just ignore how some people don’t appreciate the evolution that Holland and Franklin made with the original saga and its dark surprises. I understand how it can irk fans, who cling to the cleanliness of the story that Stefano hand-crafted from the rough draft from James P. Cavanaugh, but I believe that it works quite superbly, adding further insanity to the pot and layering-in a deeper degree of mystery and menace that turns a curiously inspired circle, looping insanity back in on itself. As blackly comical as it is, I think it agrees with the teasing jest of the developed tale. It also allows the film to have two final absolute classic moments to jolt us a last couple of times. The shot of a final arrival, with the Goldsmith stinger and the amazingly askew Cundey angle, really provide a heart-stopping instance that ramps-up one of the best and most iconic images in the entire Psycho series. For me it delivers a touch of cleanly beautiful insanity, and it enables the climax to dovetail with a crescendo of poetic anarchy, the tone, once again, undulating through a finely wrought crash of the cosily chaotic.
Things to watch out for in the third film include the hand-print pawed against the dusty basement window – the last grasp before someone was murdered down there – and the paperback book that Mary was reading during the film, which we can still scattered in the dirt. All three films copy the exact angle of cars being hauled out of the same swamp – the same swamp, incidentally, that was used a couple of times during The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
My own thoughts on the subject notwithstanding, the case for a second chance is made perfectly clearly and with due consideration in Psycho II , and it is a stunningly machine-tooled device that has us hating the very people we should be cheering on in their crusade to set Norman Bates up for a fall. When it all comes down to it, none of us likes to see an individual unfairly persecuted, even one who has done some admittedly terrible things in his time, and our natural instinct is to stand by the victimised.
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. Although I love all of the first three films in the series, the one that I would always reach for straight away would be Psycho II.
Thrilling, chilling and psychotically inspired. Psycho II comes highly recommended.
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