On paper, making sequel to possibly the greatest psychological thriller ever made after a twenty two year break sounds like a truly awful idea like re-issuing Jaws with a CGI shark or remaking Psycho shot for shot – heeeeyyy wait a minute… – and yet in 1983 that’s exactly what happened when Aussie director Richard Franklin and scripter (and future Fright Night and Child’s day director) Tom Holland collaborated to bring the stab-happy Norman Bates back to the silver screen. Instantly, and unsurprisingly, the movie was instantly written off as a thoroughly unnecessary add-on to one of the most famous films ever made – however, in the decades since the film has been reevaluated and the hefty kitchen knives of scorn have been set aside in favour of admiration for a tricksy plot that legitimately keeps you guessing as it showers you in plot twists.
It’s been twenty two years since Norman Bates was locked up for the multiple murders that claimed the lives of seven unlucky souls who wandered by the Bates Motel and fell foul of the multiple personality disorder that made the vunerable young man believe he was his own murderous mother. Found not guilty for reasons of insanity for his crimes, a now-cured Norman is allowed to move back into his own house and regains full control of the motel after he finds out the current owner has let the place become a row of drug fueled flop houses. Meanwhile at his pre arranged job at a diner he meets and bonds with Mary, a young waitress whom he allows to stay at his house while she tries to get back on her feet after a bad break up. At first everything seems to be going fine for Norman, despite the complaints of Lila, the sister of one of Norman’s last victims, Marion Crane who we last saw having extra exit holes stabbed into her torso during an iconic shower encounter, but soon our Master Bates starts to experience some disorienting occurrences. Who is the strange figure he sometimes sees standing at his mother’s window; who keeps ringing him up claiming to be his long dead matriarch and who is responsible for the bloody disappearances of a couple of people last seen on or around the Bates’ property? While it does indeed seem that our Norman has slipped back into his bad old ways, Mary and his doctor, Bill Raymond strive to prove otherwise – has Bates truly relapsed into his murderous state or is there something more complicated going on? Could someone really be trying to frame Norman and would they really go as far to commit murder to do it?
Before we delve into the continuing, and suprisingly above-average adventures of Anthony Perkins’ most famous role, I’m going to extend a warning to anyone who hasn’t watched Psycho 2: to properly review this bitch, I’m gonna have to spoil the shit out of some of this movie, so be warned… cos’ here I go.
Both Franklin and Holland obviously knew from the start that to equal Hitchcock’s 1960 classic is as impossible as shitting gold and to refreshingly, the director and writer seems to have decided to just have fun with it. Franklin, who’s other credits include cheesy telekinetic psycho/thriller Patrick and Link – the movie where a young Elizabeth Shue is bothered by Terence Stamp’s killer orangutan butler, allows Holland’s zig zagging script to take the brunt of the strain and keeps things chugging along nicely while occasionally invoking Hitchcock by chucking in the odd dutch angle to make it look like he’s paying attention. Understanding that to follow up Psycho requires the rug pulling skills of a weight lifting carpet layer, Holland gives you exactly the kind of opening half you’d expect from a sequel that’s 22 years late that has all the impact of one of those dodgy thrillers that plays on television at lunchtimes – but where Hitchcock made you originally think that Psycho was a damsel on the run film, Psycho 2 starts pulling drunken u-turns the second you start to get lethargic.
Mary Loomis, the seemingly kind but flaky waitress? BOOM: she’s actually the daughter of Lila who is working with her mother to try and drive Norman mad and drive him back into the nuthouse and has actually gone as far as to dress as the late Norma Bates to get Norm to pop a sanity cap. Thing is, things continue to stubbonly refuse to not be what they seem; Lila and Mary may be guilty of some fairly underhanded tactics in order to victimize their relative’s killer, but surely they can’t be responsible for the brutal knife murders that befalls the temporarily owner of the Motel (Dennis Franz with his scumbag levels turned up to 11) or a dumb kid who breaks into Norman’s basement to get laid (not the kind of penetration he was looking for, obviously) – so has Norman gone spectacularly off his rocker or something else happening behind the scenes?
Despite featuring some spectacularly questionable work from Robert Loggia’s well meaning shrink (exhuming Norma’s coffin and giving Norman a big old eyefull of her corpse is supposed to calm him down how, exactly?), Holland’s script proves to be entertaining and crazy in all the right ways although the film chooses to forego subtlety by flinging in some Friday The 13th style kills that are unnecessarily obnoxious as they are suprising – watch a screaming Vera Miles get stabbed in the fucking mouth for her troubles while another character gets bashed in the noggin by a spade just for good measure.
Perkins’ return to his iconic roles is somewhat of a mixed blessing; as 22 years of arrested development has him acting exactly like the young man he was in the ’60’s even though he’s now 50 years old and it feels less like an acting desicion and more like he’s doing an impersonation of himself. Still, it’s still unfeasibly sweet for an old horror nerd like me to see him dusting off Norman for another go and it’s a minor thrill whenever he does the old crazy eyes routine or he busts out that succinct way he says “mother”.
He has able support from a good cast with Meg Tilly doing some heavy lifting as her character ricochets between siding with her obsessed mother and an increasingly vunerable Norman and the legendary Robert Loggia is great as Bates’ staggeringly ineffective shrink.
Hardly a masterpiece, but way better than it has any right to be, Psycho 2 is a nasty, inventive thriller that has no intention of escaping from it’s predecessor’s gargantuan legacy and instead thrives in it’s shadow in it’s own modest, little way by walking it’s own (psycho)path…