(I apologize in advance with the weird spacing and alignment issues with the pictures. Hopefully, I'll be able to sort them out in future reviews.)
22 years after he murdered Marion Crane, Norman Bates is deemed restored to sanity after having been treated in a mental institution and is released, despite the protests of Lila Loomis, Marion's sister, who has been circulating a petition against his release that now has over 700 signatures on it. Upon his release, Norman is escorted back to his old home and motel by his psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond, and begins working as a cook's assistant at a nearby diner outside of Fairvale. At the end of his first day at work, Norman overhears one of his coworkers, a young woman named Mary, arguing with her boyfriend over the phone and when she tells him afterward that he threw her out of his apartment, he offers to let her stay at his motel. Upon arriving, he learns that the motel's new manager, Warren Toomey, has turned the place into a sleazy place where people come to "party" and promptly fires him, instead allowing Mary to stay up at his house. After some trepidation, Mary does stay the night with Norman, although she intends to find a place in town afterward. However, Norman soon begins to be plagued by mysterious notes that appear to have been written by his dead mother and he begins receiving phone-calls from someone claiming to be her, which cause problems for him at his job; afterward, Toomey is stabbed to death in the motel office by a figure in a black dress while packing to leave. Over the following week, Mary continues to stay with Norman, who quits his job at the diner and begins to refurbish the motel in order to get it back into working order. One day, when he's at the motel alone, Norman sees a figure that looks like his mother through her bedroom window and when he goes to investigate, he finds her room back the way it did 22 years before. When he's lured up into the attic by a noise, someone closes the door and locks it behind him; at the same time, a teenage couple sneaks into the cellar to make out, only for the boy to be attacked and stabbed to death by the same figure in black, while the girl escapes. Norman is later found by Mary, learning that the attic door is now unlocked and his mother's room is back the way it was. The police arrive to investigate the girl's claims of murder, although they find no trace of the crime in the cellar, and after they leave, Norman begins to worry that he's losing his sanity again. Mary is soon revealed to be the daughter of Lila Loomis and the two of them have been working together to have Norman recommitted with the phone calls and the notes, although neither of them have any knowledge of what happened to the teenage boy. Has Norman already regressed back to his murderous ways? Or is someone else behind the killings?
|Tom Holland in the documentary, The Psycho Legacy|
As inconceivable as it is, this film almost ended up without Anthony Perkins (they were thinking about recasting him with Christopher Walken!) and if that had happened, I don't think any amount of good writing or directing could have saved it because this story, even more so than the original, absolutely hinges on the character of Norman Bates. Fortunately, Perkins agreed to return and, in doing so, gave a performance that's right up there with his legendary one in the original. As in that film, Norman is a very sympathetic and likable character, albeit for completely different reasons. Here, we see him completely freed from his horrific split-personality, having finally become the truly good person he would have been had his childhood not been so abusive, and now, all he wants is nothing more than to put the past behind him and have a normal life. While this doesn't excuse the grisly crimes he committed before, the fact that he is genuinely remorseful about it, combined with what we learned in the original about how his psychosis came about, makes it very easy to empathize with him and want him to have a peaceful life. This is what makes the film's events so sad: you can see that he's trying so very hard to be a decent guy but his sanity is slowly but surely undermined by those who feel that the mental asylum is the only place for him. When he arrives back at the motel, he's clearly very nervous, despite his insistence about wanting to stay there, having a flashback about when he poisoned his mother immediately after he arrives, and, although he offers to let Mary stay with him there partly because he's just a good guy, it's also because he's rather scared at the idea of staying the night in the house by himself. Other than that, a little situation between him and Warren Toomey at the diner where he works, during which he's tempted to pick up a nearby butcher knife and use it, and some other minor incidents, Norman's readjustment into society goes fairly well... until he sees a figure like his mother through her bedroom window and, after finding that her room has been restored to the way he used to keep it, is locked in the attic. After that, when he sees that her room is back the way it was and Sheriff Hunt arrives to tell him that a teenage girl is claiming that her boyfriend was murdered in his fruit cellar, Norman begins to feel his sanity unhinging again, telling Mary, "It's starting again." Things only get worse for Norman as that night goes on, when he and Mary find a blood-soaked towel stuffed down the toilet and, after Mary sees someone watching her through a hole in the wall that divides Mrs. Bates' bedroom and the bathroom, Norman becomes convinced that his mother is alive again and that she's in the house, waiting to kill Mary. This leads into the most poignant scene involving Norman. As he and Mary spend the night in his old bedroom, Norman, realizing that he's becoming confused again, asks Mary, "Just... don't let them take me back to the institution." She then cradles his head in her arms and, after he tells her that the way she smells reminds him of the toasted cheese sandwiches his mother used to bring him when he was sick, Mary tells him to just try to remember the good things she did for him. That's when he says something truly heartbreaking: "I can't. They're not there anymore. The doctors took them away, along with everything else. Except... except those sandwiches." His voice starts to break on that last line and it's really sad to hear just how emotionally tortured he is and continues to be.
After that first section of the movie is when I think it becomes obvious that Norman is beginning to slip into psychosis again, from his more flat, robotic voice and emotionless facial expressions. He does get some closure when Dr. Raymond has Mrs. Bates' corpse exhumed, proving to him once and for all that she is dead, but then, after he gets a mysterious phone-call that doesn't seem to have been from Lila, he now says that Mrs. Bates only raised him, while his real mother is somebody else entirely. The way he talks to Mary about it and asks if the reason why she stopped going along with Lila's plan to drive him insane again was for any other reason besides the fact she realized it wasn't right is another hint to me that Norman's losing it again (although, the smile he had on his face when Mary got on the phone and, telling him that she was his mother, told him to hang up I think shows that he hadn't totally lost it yet at that point). The same goes for the scene between him and Raymond in the cellar where, after Raymond tells him that he'll prove that Mrs. Bates was really his mother, Norman, after he leaves, says to himself in absent-minded type of voice, "It would mean a great deal off my mind." When Mary rushes back to the house after the police pull Toomey's car out of the swamp behind the motel, Norman is now really acting like someone who's out of touch with reality, playing the piano while Mary tries to convince him that they need to leave before the police arrive to arrest him and calmly telling her that there's no point in doing so. When Raymond calls Norman from the motel parlor to tell him that Lila has been using that phone to call his house, he begins acting as if he's talking to his mother, even after Raymond hangs up, although whether he actually believes it or is doing it to keep Mary from knowing who he's talking to for some reason is left unclear. Whatever the case, though, he's clearly not rattled when Mary dressed up like his mother to try to get him off the phone, continuing to talk as if there's someone there. I think the moment where Mary accidentally kills Raymond and Norman sees the body is what finally pushes him over the edge, as he acts totally deranged, talking to Mary as if she is his mother and not reacting to the stabs she inflicts on him, backing her into the fruit cellar to try to make her hide before she's ultimately killed by the police when they burst in. The way Norman looks when he's sitting in the police station afterward is clearly that of a disturbed man (it kind of reminds me of the way he was sitting at the end of the original) and you need no more proof than the ending, where he kills Ms. Spool, the woman who reveals herself to be his real mother, takes her up to Mrs. Bates' bedroom, and begins talking in her voice again. Having seen the decent person that he can be at the beginning of the movie, it's quite gut-wrenching to see those years of therapy fall apart and reduce Norman back to the madman he once was.
As in the original film, while she may be dead, Norman's mother is still very much a presence in his life, as the film makes it clear that she continues to haunt him despite the psychiatric care he's received for the past 22 years. And as Lila's plan to unhinge his mind again progresses, she becomes to come back to life again, as he "sees" her, finds notes that are undoubtedly stuff that she would tell him, and hears her, not only on the phone but also when he's asleep in the attic and when he's downstairs at one point (in regards to the latter incident, whether what he heard was Ms. Spool calling to him or if it was just in his mind is never made clear). At first, he thinks that his mother somehow survived his poisoning of her (which is quite a far-fetched thought to have, given the knowledge that he stole her corpse) but after he sees Mrs. Bates' corpse, he realizes that it's not her and learns that it's his "real" mother, a notion that makes her even more larger than life. He feels that she's been doing the killings to protect him and, after Mary has been killed and her and Lila blamed for the murders, Norman's need for his mother again has become so strong that he kills Ms. Spool and begins exchanging dialogue between the two of them like he did with Norma Bates, although he still uses her voice and attitude even though Ms. Spool came across as much more warm and loving than she ever was. Again, it proves the power of the hold she's continued to have on Norman even after all these years, a hold that is summed up in the film's final line: "Remember, Norman, I'm the only one who loves you. Only your mother truly loves you."
Given that it was made in 1983 at the height of the slasher genre, you would expect this film to be infinitely sleazier and more gruesome than Alfred Hitchcock's already seedy original but instead, Richard Franklin strove to make it a compliment to the original and it fits very much with the feel there. Granted, it is much gorier than the original, as we'll get into later, and the nudity in the scene where Mary takes a shower is more graphic than anything you saw of Janet Leigh, but it's not done in the very exploitative way most slasher films of the time did it. Even the customary teen make-out scene between the couple in the fruit cellar (the only teens in the movie, I might add) has no nudity and the drugs that Norman finds in one cabin are there simply to reinforce the idea that that kind of stuff is going on, while the act itself is never shown. In fact, the character of Warren Toomey is the sleaziest aspect of the movie and is definitely somebody you could only see in a movie made around this time but he's in so little of it that it's inconsequential. Overall, the film does acknowledge that it's a completely different world than that of the original but it keeps at bay for the most in order to feel as much like a companion piece to Hitchcock's film as possible. What's more, the movie sometimes feels classier than the original, in that most of it is spent at the Bates Motel and inside the fancy-looking, Victorian house, rather than the low-rent hotels (the only other hotel in the movie is the very prestigious-looking one Lila is staying in) and average-looking apartments we saw before. In fact, the only locations that have an everyday, small town feel to them are the diner where Norman works and the police department.
Technically, the film is also very well-made. Dean Cundey, who shot Halloween for John Carpenter, as well as his early classics like The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, was the cinematographer and he brings the same technical skills he did for his work with Carpenter to this film. You see a lot of his trademark blue lighting in the night scenes, which give it a look and fell that's very beautiful and stylish but, at the same time, ominous and otherworldly, and he and Franklin also strove to honor Alfred Hitchcock (note the shadow in the right corner in the first shot here) by creating a number of shots that feel like stuff he would have done. There are a lot of high, birds-eye view angles in some scenes, low angles in others (particularly the shot near the end where you see Ms. Spool walking up the stairs towards the house), and long, smooth camera movements and pans, particularly in the scene that reveals someone watching Mary showering through a hole in the wall, all of which could make you think that Hitchcock himself was in the director's chair if you didn't know that he died three years before. There are two parts of the movie in particular that feel very Hitchcockian to me. The first is when Norman first arrives home and has a flashback of when he poisoned his mother. The way that scene is composed, with tight zoom-ins on the bedroom door, the Vertigo-esque pull on Norman himself at one point, the superimposition of the image of young Norman in the wood of the door and his reflection on the doorknob as it turns (Anthony Perkins' own son, Osgood, plays the young Norman in those shots), and the shot of Mrs. Bates' convulsing hand hitting the floor through the crack of the door, is stuff you would definitely expect of Hitch. However, even more Hitchcockian, and my personal favorite part of the entire movie, is the final shot of the completely mad Norman standing on the hill in front of his house, while the figure of "Mother" watches from her bedroom window. That shot is just as iconic as anything from the original film and is so striking that they decided to make it the image for the poster. Above everything else, though, the film looks very good. Despite a fairly low budget of just $5 million, they managed to give it the look and feel of a big budget movie and it's all the better for it.
Being such a huge fan and admirer of Hitchcock, Franklin also couldn't resist recreating some of the notable shots from the original Psycho, particularly the shower scene. When Mary takes a shower in one scene, the shots and editing are almost exactly the same as those when Marion did the same in the original. Even Mary's expression when she begins to wash herself are the same as Marion's and Franklin also recreated Hitchcock's full-on shot of the showerhead with the streams of water going right past the camera. Everything's so identical, in fact, that when you first see the movie, you're half-expecting her to get attacked in the same way (and speaking of Mary, her alias of Mary Samuels when she first meets Norman is virtually the same as Marie Samuels, the alias Marion used when she checked into the Bates Motel). In addition, when Norman carries Ms. Spool's body up the stairs to his mother's old bedroom is shot from the same, high-angle that Hitchcock shot him carrying Mrs. Bates' corpse down into the fruit cellar, and the same goes for the editing back and forth between him and the house when he walks up to it upon seeing his mother's figure in the window, which is very similar to how it looked when Lila snuck up to the house previously. Plus, there's no denying that the shots of the house are very similar to the way Hitchcock shot it, although there are really only a few good angles you can get on it.
Speaking of the Bates house, like I said, it and the motel are the film's chief locations this time around and, while we never see the inside of the motel except for some brief scenes in the office and parlor, we get to see a lot more of the house's interior, including some rooms we didn't see at all before, like a living room with an old-fashioned couch, piano, and fireplace off to the left immediately inside, the bathroom with the old-fashioned bathtub, flowered wallpaper, and vividly red door, and the attic that's full of old junk and has that circular window up near the top of the house. We also see more detail in the rooms we did see before, like the kitchen, Norman's old bedroom which now looks much more ordinary and less childish (they must have gotten rid of all the toys and the kid's bed after the original murders), the fruit cellar and the adjoining room, and Mrs. Bates' room, which you see both completely undone and fixed up the way it was back in 1960. Surprisingly, seeing the house and the motel in color doesn't hurt their effectiveness (the motel sign in particular looks good in color), especially when they're lit as well as they are here. The exterior of the house is especially well shot and looks just as ominous here as it did before, with its more time-worn look adding to that feeling. It's especially creepy-looking in the scenes where you can see the figure of Norman's "mother" in the bedroom window, be it when Norman is being lured to the house or that final shot at the end. Surprisingly, the first shot of the house following the opening with the original shower scene is actually a very beautiful one, as we see the sun slowly rise behind it as the opening credits roll. It's another example of great cinematography on Dean Cundey's part and the inclusion of Jerry Goldsmith's lovely music adds to the unexpected beauty of it. And while it's not dwelt upon, we do get to see a bit more of the swamp in the back of the motel, which looks scummier than it did before now that we can see the ugly green, slimy texture of the water.
As I've been saying, there's not a ton of blood of in the movie, especially given that it was made during the height of the slasher genre, but Richard Franklin was still probably obligated to put some in to satisfy gorehounds and what is here will definitely do so. It doesn't seem like it's going to be bloody at all at first since the first death, that of Toomey, has only one, bloodless slash across the left eye and the rest of it occurs off-camera. However, the deaths become increasingly graphic from the second one on. When the teenage boy gets knifed down in the fruit cellar, you get some nasty close-ups of the stab wounds in his back and the knife's blood-covered blade, punctuated by his hand slowly sliding down the inside of the window as he dies. The bloodiest scene in the entire movie isn't even a kill but the moment when Norman and Mary discover the blood-soaked towel that was used to cover up the mess from the boy's murder jammed down in the toilet. When Norman hears the toilet making noises that signify it's backed up, he flushes it and it overflows with bloody water. There's some much blood down there, in fact, that it starts coming up through the sink (a shot that made me think of the 80's version of The Blob, which I had just watched like the day before), letting us know that what we saw of the kid's death wasn't even the half of it. Following a hideous close-up of Mrs. Bates' exhumed corpse in the cemetery (which, while a nice effect, looks a little too fresh given how old it must be by this point), we get the movie's grisliest actual death, which is that of Lila when she goes down into the fruit cellar in order to put on her "Mother" costume, only to be ambushed by Ms. Spool. She gets the butcher knife jammed right through her mouth and out the back of her neck, a kill that definitely makes you go, "Ooh, shit!", and is a fitting end for her given what she was trying to do to Norman. Similarly horrific is Dr. Raymond's death. After Mary accidentally stabs him in the chest, leaving the knife sticking out, he falls over the railing and lands on the edge of the stairwell down below, jamming the knife even further into him. But as wince-inducing as that was, it's nothing compared to what happens next. As the deranged Norman backs Mary down into the cellar, she continuously stabs at him with the knife, getting him in the palm of his right hand (admittedly, the prosthetic hand there does look fake, as does that of Lila's head when the knife stabs into her mouth, but it's onscreen so quick that it's hardly an issue), and in his left shoulder, and then, Norman grabs the blade and Mary pulls it back, slicing open his hands as blood streams out between his fingers. God, that shot drives me nuts! And the last kill, that of Ms. Spool, may be the most bloodless in the entire film, but it's still shocking since Norman hadn't done anything remotely violent before and because of the brutal impact, the overhead shot of her convulsing body on the floor, and Norman casually whistling afterward as he puts away the shovel and draws the shade on the window.
If I have any major problem with Psycho II, it's that the mystery at times gets a little too tricky, where it's sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly who's doing what. By the end of the movie, we know that Lila and Mary were the ones leaving the notes and, at first, calling Norman, pretending to be his mother, while Ms. Spool was the one who killed everybody. Also, at one point, Norman gets a phone-call that was possibly from Ms. Spool, telling him that she's his real mother (you'll see why I said "possibly" in a minute). However, there are some moments that are downright confusing even in hindsight. The biggest example is after the scene in the bathroom with the blood, where Mary sees someone watching her through the hole in the wall and discovers that whoever it was did so from Mrs. Bates' bedroom. As she's looking through the hole herself, the face of woman suddenly appears on the other side, frightening her. As quick as it is, though, you can tell that it's the face of a woman much younger than Ms. Spool; in fact, it looks much more like Lila, making it very possible that she was snooping around the house and did lie to Mary the next day when she said she went back to her hotel after they talked in the Bates Motel parlor (and why it's also possible to believe that she was the one killed that teenage boy). But then, there's a moment afterward where Norman is looking around downstairs, knife in hand, and hears the sound of a woman's voice calling for him. The question is, is he imagining that or is it actually either Ms. Spool or Lila calling for him? And if it was either of them, what exactly were they planning on doing if he followed the sound of their voice, especially if it was Lila? Also, going back to an early scene in the film where Norman finds one of the notes on the little wheel in the diner where the waitresses put the orders, when exactly did Mary have time to put that note on the wheel when we only saw her put one piece of paper on there after she arrived, one which, when you count it up with the two another waitress put there when the camera pans up to it, is clearly just an order? Was it already there? Did Mary come by early when the diner wasn't open yet and put it there? If so, how come no one saw it before? Also, they try to make a big mystery about the note suddenly disappearing after Norman sees it when we saw him take it off the wheel and toss it upon reading it. Maybe he was frazzled after everything that happened and he forgot that he did that or maybe the mystery is supposed to be who picked it up and got rid of it afterward, although they focus on the wheel. It also seems that things are happening off-camera that we only hear about, like when Mary accuses Lila of having called him recently, even though, to our knowledge, a phone call hasn't happened for a while by that point. Again, was it Lila or Ms. Spool? And if that's the case, did Ms. Spool's call to Norman about her being his real mother happen that first time he believed he was talking to his mother or was it another off-screen moment? These complex parts of the plot don't ruin the movie (some of them manage to add to the mystery, which was the point) but, when you try to sort them all out, it can be quite maddening.
Like the movie itself, the task of composing a score that could live up to Bernard Herrmann's legendary work on the original was a massive one but, fortunately, the filmmakers hired another master composer, Jerry Goldsmith, who also a friend of Herrmann's, and he more than measured up in what he did. One thing Goldsmith did with the music that was really smart was he made it completely different from the original score. Save for a re-orchestration of Herrmann's music for the shower scene at the beginning of the movie (which, I have to say, isn't as effective to me as the original piece) and a bit that sounds a lot like it for Lila's death scene, this score is its own animal and a very well-done one, I might add. Like I mentioned earlier, the main theme, which you first hear during the opening credits and is basically the theme for the Bates house, is a surprisingly beautiful and touching one that begins with a soft, piano tune and builds to a sweeping, orchestral sound that is just lovely. You hear it quite a few times throughout the movie in different forms, such as when Norman comes home after being released, when he and Mary go into his mother's bedroom (there, it's much softer), when he finds that it's been fixed up the way it was 22 years before (it's more ghostly-sounding there), when Mary cradles Norman's head in her arms as he tries to remember the good things his mother did for him (it's the saddest there, as it punctuates the massive emotional turmoil he's going through and has been for his whole life), and when he returns home from the police station at the end (again, it sounds very ghostly and ethereal). It's also reprised over the ending credits, only it becomes more ominous sounding near the end, closing on a very eerie tune that sounds a bit like a funeral dirge. Another notable theme and my favorite of the score is one you first hear when Norman gets the phone call where he seems to honestly believe that he's talking to his mother. It's a soft, two-note piece that, while not exactly threatening, is alarming in that it seems to be tied to the idea that Norman does appear to be losing his sanity again. You hear it a few more times afterward, such as in a faster, building version when Norman acts as if he's talking to his mother when he's actually talking to Dr. Raymond, a very low version when Norman goes down into the basement after being brought home from the police station and shovels some coal into the furnace, and in a slower version when he's carrying Ms. Spool's body up the stairs to Mrs. Bates' old bedroom.
The theme for the killer is a very coarse, electronic piece that has two different parts to it. One is a nasty-sounding rhythmic tune that you hear when she moves in for the kill on Toomey, the teenage boy, and Lila, and the other is a lower, discordant one that you hear when Mary is being watched while she's in the shower and is heard again a couple of more times, again in the bathroom. There's also a piece that begins with a high-sounding piano part that grows into a more and more urgent and frightening-sounding string theme when Norman sees the figure of his mother through the bedroom window. Music for the tense scenes and the scares are very loud and sound as mad as what's going on, with lots of strings and horns used get the feeling across, particularly when Mary is trying to fend Norman off with the knife near the end. And the music that plays during the last shot with Norman standing outside of his house perfectly fits it, with the loud horns and piano keys making it very clear that the Bates Motel is now definitely back in business.