1983, USA, Richard Franklin
It took 23 years for a sequel to Psycho to appear in cinemas. The critical reaction when it came out tended to be one of relief that it wasn’t as bad as everyone had feared. Looked at now, Psycho 2 does about a good a job as could be wished of not being as good as the original. It’s both a direct sequel and what might be described as “variations on a theme”. The director, Richard Franklin, is clearly very familiar with Hitchcock’s film and plays with the ideas and images to impressive effect.
The plot is sometimes unnecessarily convoluted, but is based on the somewhat unlikely idea that Norman Bates has been released from the asylum after being pronounced “cured”. He is given a job in a local greasy spoon, and is allowed to return to the motel and the big house on the hill. He is, however, not alone. Lila Loomis, Marion Crane’s sister, has campaigned against Norman’s release, and is determined to see him put back where she feels he belongs. The idea that Norman would be unleashed on society , and given a job in a high pressure social situation, is so silly that it doesn’t bear thinking about too long. This takes second place to the first silly notion - that a hospital would hire Dennis Franz in any capacity - this being a good 10 years pre-NYPD Blue, and Franz being in full-on sleaze mode.
From this rather unpromising beginning, Franklin and his screenwriter Tom Holland produce a cracking thriller that plays with some of the most famous images in film history. Right at the start of the film, a slightly edited version of the shower scene is replayed, and we gradually move forward in time, indicating that this is a homage as well as a follow-up. Later in the film, there is a shower scene, featuring some of the same camera angles as the classic one. Much play is made of the “peephole” in the wall. When Norman arrives home, he approaches mother’s door, just as Arbogast did, except this time the only thing to fall downstairs is a suitcase of clothes. The image of “Mother” is omnipresent in the film, leading to a great final jolt which is both funny and sinister. Several scenes take place in the cellar - the location for the climax of the first film, using the shawl and the grey wig.
But much of the best material in the film is new. The notes which start appearing from “Mother” are used to indicate Norman’s growing paranoia and, finally, his descent back into madness. There is a superb scene in the cellar of the big house, where two kids making out are attacked by a killer. I say “a” killer, because we are deliberately kept in the dark about who did which killings. I am still slightly confused as to who kills Lila Loomis. Which leads to the best thing about the film; the portrayal of Norman Bates. Sensibly, instead of making him a sort of ageing Jason Vorhees, he is treated with dignity and humourous affection. Throughout the film, he is more victim than predator. Anthony Perkins gives a great performance, which complements his original portrayal and adds depth. His fumbling attempts at friendship with the young waitress - played by Meg Tilly - are both funny and touching. The eventual breakdown is all the more frightening because Norman has become a three dimensional character, rather than a simple “psycho”. There is a slight sense of triumph at the end, when he comes up smelling of roses, and is free to continue in the old manner, with the help of a spade and his “real mother”.
In trying to do something new, Franklin and Holland sometimes try too hard. The plot twists are sometimes beyond belief, and the big confrontation at the end is not as clear as it should be. Franklin eventually tires of subtlety in these scenes and goes for a Friday the 13th style of shock effects, which doesn’t really suit the film. In particular, Lila Loomis is made a stock villainess, and we feel nothing for her except contempt. Meg Tilly, as her daughter, doesn’t get chance to create much of a character, because her role in the plot is never quite clear. Is she helping her mother? Is she helping Norman ? Is she pretending to help Norman but really helping her mother ? Has she an agenda of her own ? The problem is that the answer to all these questions is yes, which indicates the number of character changes that Tilly is expected to accomodate. At one point, the plot gets silly, with two seperate “mother” disguises apparently on the premises. As for Norman’s psychiatrist turning detective, not even the estimable Robert Loggia can cope with that one.
However, all in all, this is a much better film than fans of the original dared to expect. It develops the main character and uses some of the original themes with skill and wit. Jerry Goldsmith provides a low-key, simple score which, sensibly, doesn’t try to imitate Bernard Herrmann. I am also very fond of the matte work which is sometimes stunningly good. There are rather too many crane shots, but otherwise this is a very well directed film. Thankfully, the film saves its piece de resistance for the very end, when Norman meets his “real” mother and proceeds to settle back into his old life. The final shot is of motel sign being switched on. The Bates Motel is back in business.
In 1986, Anthony Perkins directed Psycho 3 and made it a witty and exciting slasher flick. Nothing special, but with some nice scenes, including a murder on a toilet - something Hitchcock was always keen to do, but never got round to - and a splendid scene involving the sherrif, a refrigerator and a dead body.