By David Massey
Anyone that was alive to see the original ‘Psycho’ in the theater has never forgotten its effect on them. There had never been a movie so visceral and, in 1960, even the subject matter – serial killers – was a cultural revelation. It’s important, with ‘Psycho 2’, that we start from this perspective; no matter who was behind it or how altruistic their intentions were, it could never possibly live up to the original film. That said, and when looked at as a stand-alone effort, what director Richard Franklin (‘Patrick’ / ‘Cloak & Dagger’), writer Tom Holland (‘Child’s Play’ as director/ ‘Fright Night’), and cinematographer Dean Cundey (‘Halloween’ / ‘Jurassic Park’) – and let’s not forget Jerry Goldsmith – accomplished is an meticulous thriller/slasher cross-over with a dark sense of humor and one of the creepiest movie performances of all time in spotlight.
The tag-line alone is enough to make you shudder (‘It’s 22 Years Later, and Norman Bates is Coming Home’) and the film starts with Norman (who else but Anthony Perkins) being released from prison, judged to have been restored to sanity and ready to integrate back into society. With ranting petition, Vera Miles’ returning character, Lila Loomis (sister of Janet Leigh’s character from the original), does everything she can to get Norman put back in prison. That is the crux of the story and the kindling for (admittedly) more twists and turns than any film should ever take on.
I’m a bit on-the-fence about reviewing the copious plot points in ‘Psycho 2’ as they are all set up to be big reveals and, aside from the final absurd ‘ah-ha’ scene, they’re all pretty darn good surprises. What I will do is point out the most interesting aspect of the film which is Norman himself. In the second half of ‘Psycho’, Hitchcock toyed with the idea of making Norman sympathetic; he was practically the protagonist in the end. In ‘Psycho 2’, there’s no question, you spend the majority of the film rooting for this man who is trying so hard to keep on the straight-and-narrow. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that his efforts fail – with no small help from a very young Meg Tilly (‘The Big Chill’ / ‘Body Snatchers’) – and when they do, Perkins absolutely shines in the role he was born to play. There are moments in this film that are far creeper than anything Hitchcock could have imagined.
The image looks pretty excellent; so much so that there were one or two little Easter Eggs hidden within the film that I’d absolutely never noticed on my old DVD copy. Universal would not give Scream Factory the rights to commission a new cover for the Collector’s Edition but the original one-sheet that they’ve settled for is classic anyway; no great loss.
There are some original 1983 interviews with the cast and crew but, frankly, the features aren’t spectacular. They are accessed via the Bates Motel Sign menu (which I loved) and the highlight has to be the commentary with writer Tom Holland. This man is a legend in the genre and ‘Psycho 2’ was a bit of a writing opus for him. It was a homage to Hitchcock and, just starting out in the ‘big leagues’, Holland had a lot to prove. You can still hear his passion for the project as he reminisces. It’s amazing to think that this might have been a Cable-TV movie starring Christopher Walken as Norman and Princess Leia in Meg Tilly’s role; that’s an alternative universe I wouldn’t mind visiting.
- Story: A / By the end, there is a sense that the filmmakers painted themselves into a corner – entirely cancelling out the Psycho mythos in the doing – but, the core story is the perfect extension of the original film.
- Presentation: C / The film looks good and the menu is fun but there’s just not much in the way of extras.
- Scare Factor: B / For Anthony Perkins’ performance alone, this is definitely scary.
- Gore Factor: B / There’s nothing subtle about 1980’s slasher films and the deaths are as explicit as you could hope for.
- Repeat view-ability: B / As a kid, I watched this film every Halloween for 10 years as part of the WPIX NYC Channel 11 ‘Shocktober’ series and it’s only with age that I forgot how much fun it is.