Directed By: Richard Franklin
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly
Tag line: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the shower!"
Trivia: The reflection of young Norman Bates in the doorknob when he flashes back to his mothers' poisoning is Osgood Perkins, Anthony Perkins' son
Psycho II was one of those movies I used to watch every time it played on cable TV (the month it premiered, I’m betting I saw it 6 times all the way through, and at least that many more in bits and pieces). Being a Hitchcock fan from an early age, I had already seen Psycho when this 1983 sequel was released, but for a while there, I was a lot more familiar with Psycho II than I was the classic original.
After two decades in a mental institution, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is declared mentally sane by the courts, and despite the protests of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), sister of Marion Crane (one of Norman’s last victims), he’s released back into the world. To confront his demons, Norman returns to the scene of his crimes, namely his creepy house on the hill (where he once kept his mummified mother’s remains) as well as the tiny, out-of-the-way motel he used to run, which, to his horror, has been turned into a sex-and-drugs safe haven by its current manager, Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz).
To get his life in order, Norman takes a job in the kitchen at a local diner, where he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), a waitress whose boyfriend just kicked her out of his apartment. Seeing as she has nowhere else to stay, Norman invites her back to his house, an invitation she reluctantly accepts (she knows Norman had been locked away, but doesn’t know why). At first, Norman is happy to have a little company, but his joy soon gives way to fear and confusion when he starts receiving hand-written messages and cryptic phone calls from someone claiming to be his deceased mother. His psychiatrist, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), tells Norman that it’s the work of a sick prankster trying to drive him crazy again. Then, people start disappearing, and all at once, Norman’s mind begins to warp. Is someone playing a cruel joke on him, or has Norman Bates returned to his murderous ways?
Released 23 years after Hitchcock’s Psycho, Psycho II is much more brutal than the original (the kills are often graphic, and there’s plenty of blood). But what makes this film such a worthy follow-up, apart from its intriguing story (the screenplay was penned by Tom Holland, who in later years would direct Fright Night and Child’s Play), is how easily Anthony Perkins slips back into the role of Norman. While more down-to-earth than he was in Psycho, Norman is still awkward around women (he babbles on incessantly while talking to Mary), and, when he thinks mother has returned, he begins to slip into his “old” ways (some of the film’s eeriest moments involve Norman flashing back to his violent past). A seemingly kind-hearted character through most of Psycho, Norman Bates is even more sympathetic in Psycho II, and we can’t help but wish that everyone would leave him alone so he can just get on with his life. There are other strong performances as well, including Dennis Franz as the slimy motel manager and Robert Loggia as the psychiatrist who’s taken a special interest in Norman, yet the ultimate fate of Psycho II rested on the shoulders of Anthony Perkins, and the seasoned actor showed time and again that he was up to the challenge.
Making a sequel to a classic film is never easy, but thanks to its engaging mystery and a solid performance by its lead actor (not to mention one hell of a surprise ending), Psycho II took the story of Norman Bates to its next logical step, and remains, to this day, one of the cinema’s most underrated horror sequels.