Thursday, October 6, 2016

Franchises: Psycho. Psycho II (1983)

As I said in my review of the original Psycho, I knew that there were sequels to it long before I saw it myself thanks to our town's video rental store, which had the VHSs of the original as well as this one and Psycho III. In fact, I saw a good bit of this one before I saw the original. Along with my mom and dad, I happened to catch a bit of its second and third acts one night when I was quite young (I'm not sure but I think it was on Sci-Fi Channel) and there was stuff about it that always stuck in my mind, like the scenes between Mary and her mother at the hotel, when Norman finds Dr. Raymond down in the cellar of his house, and the ending, where Norman kills Ms. Spool, takes her upstairs into his mother's old bedroom, and that last shot of him standing out by his house on the hill. Years later when I learned that the original was released in 1960, I assumed that the sequels were made not too long afterward, like in the late 60's and early 70's; it wasn't until I was in my teens that I learned that they were actually made in the 80's, after Alfred Hitchcock had died. I also learned that the general consensus on them was rather dismissive, and that Psycho II, which was touted as the best of the sequels (the back of the first DVD had a quote from Leonard Maltin, who called it "surprisingly good"), was itself also considered to be inferior to the original at the end of the day. That said, though, I was still interested in seeing it and the other sequels, which happened not too long after I saw the original for the first time. In fact, Psycho II ended up becoming an important film for me personally and something of a turning point in my movie-viewing life for two reasons. One, it was one of the first DVDs I ever bought after I got my first DVD player in the summer of 2002, in a batch that also included Psycho III, the 1988 version of The Blob, and Jaws: The Revenge. Two, and much more importantly, it was the movie that showed me once and for all that I needed to stop taking popular opinion as the end all, be all on movies and use my own judgement, as I felt that Psycho II was a very worthy successor to Hitchcock's original classic the first time I saw it. And over the years, I've felt the same way and it's only continued to grow with each viewing. For me, this is a very well-made little thriller, with some top notch acting, a well-crafted story, and enough twists and turns, as well as suspense, that would have made Hitch himself proud.

(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?

While it may seem blasphemous to think that anybody other than Alfred Hitchcock himself should have been the one to direct a sequel to Psycho, when Universal hired Australian director Richard Franklin to helm the movie, they made a very wise choice. Not only was Franklin a very talented filmmaker in his own right, he was a student of Hitchcock, having arranged a lecture by him at the University of South Carolina where he studied film and even having visited him on the set of Topaz in 1969. He knew Hitchcock's work like the back of his hand (if you see interviews with him on the DVDs in the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection boxset, it becomes quite obvious) and he would apply his techniques in his first few films, like Patrick and especially Roadgames, which I've never seen but I've heard is a well-done, unique take on Rear Window. In Psycho II, Franklin really shows what an admirer of Hitchcock he was, creating a lot of camera angles and edits that Hitch would have surely done himself as well as creating some good moments of suspense in his own right and, while putting in some in order to appease slasher fans, not completely drowning the movie in gore. It's a shame that he didn't return for the other sequels, as he could have probably made them better than they were. And it's also really sad that he never had the really big directing career that he deserved after Psycho II, returning to Australia in the 1990's after becoming disillusioned with Hollywood and dying from prostate cancer in 2007 at the age of 58, with his last film having been 2003's Visitors. He was enthusiastic about being part of the Psycho Legacy documentary that was released in 2010 but he died before he could be interviewed, which sucks.

Tom Holland in the documentary, The Psycho Legacy
Credit must also be given to Tom Holland, who was an up and coming writer around this time, having written The Beast Within, which got him the job here, and Class of 1984. Holland has said that he took the task of writing a sequel to Hitchcock's classic very, very seriously, saying that he felt a moral obligation to get it absolutely right. What Holland really has to be commended for is having enough respect for Hitchcock to decide to write a story that was a continuation of the original, rather than taking the easy way out and making it a gory rehash of the first film (which, unfortunately, is what Psycho III became); he tried to make it the next step and, in my humble opinion, succeeded with flying colors. There are some parts of the story that I do feel are a bit too complex but, otherwise, I think it's as great a follow-up to a classic film as you could want. And like Richard Franklin, it's a shame that Holland hasn't had the career that he should have given what a good writer and director he is, having gone on to do Fright Night and the original Child's Play, both of which are great, but not having done much since Thinner (which I've heard is awful), during which he developed some kind of illness that really impeded his career.



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."

Meg Tilly has never been one of my favorite aspects of the movie. While she's not horrible in her role as Mary Loomis, I've always found her performance to be pretty bland and wooden for the most part. Except for the scenes between her and Vera Miles and when she's freaking out at the end when Norman has clearly snapped, I've never found there to be much emotion in her acting here. Her character of Mary is an interesting one, though. She starts out as a pawn in her mother's plan to drive Norman insane again, working her way into his life by preying on his sympathetic side, acting like she's been thrown out of her boyfriend's apartment and now has nowhere to go. Given what you eventually learn about her, it's likely that she was either not talking to anyone on the phone in those previous moments or was talking to her mother to make the charade more convincing. There's a section early on where Mary seems to attempt to bail on the whole plan, trying to get out in order to stay with someone in town, no doubt because she's terrified at the possibility of being alone in the house with Norman, given what she knows about him, especially after the moment where she had him cut a sandwich in half with a big knife. While Norman does manage to talk her into staying the night, Mary puts a chair underneath the doorknob to her room and, the next morning, gets up early to try to find if she can stay with a friend of hers. She still slips one of the notes meant to be from Norman's mother on the wheel where he gets the orders from but still seems intent on getting out... when she shows back up at his house that night, asking if she can still stay there. My guess is that her mother found out what she was trying to do and forced her to go back to Norman. She begins staying with Norman full-time and, while I think she'd already started to sympathize with him beforehand when she saw how nervous and desperate he was for her to stay with him and after the confrontation with Toomey at the diner, that's when her conscience really starts to get to her about what she's doing. Although she still goes along with the plan to lure Norman into the attic and lock him in after making him see his mother's room completely fixed up, she makes up an alibi for him when Sheriff Hunt questions him about a possible murder that happened in his fruit cellar, feeling that there's no way he could have done it since she knows he was locked in the attic during the time it supposedly happened. She tries to get her mother to understand that and tells her that it's not right for them to be trying to destabilize Norman after all he's been through and how he's trying to keep his sanity, but it falls on deaf ears.

Mary's sympathy for Norman grows as that nigh goes, as she feels that the bloody towel the two of them find stuffed down the toilet is another one of her mother's attempts to drive him insane and tries to assure him that he didn't kill anyone. She also feels that Lila is still in the house, trying to frighten Norman into thinking his mother is still alive, and when the two of them stay the night in her room, Mary, I feel, goes to Norman's side once and for all when she cradles his head in her arms and she realizes just how emotionally tortured he is as he pours his heart out to her. I personally don't feel that she ever becomes romantically interested in him, as he himself asks later on, but rather that she sees him a good guy who's had a troubled life and deserves to be left in peace. Later on when Sheriff Hunt confronts her with what she and Lila have done, you can see the guilt on her face when she realizes that she doesn't have much of an excuse for it and clearly feels like crap now. In any case, her feelings prompt her to confront Lila and demand that she stop torturing Norman. She becomes frustrated when Lila denies any knowledge of what happened the night before and when she tells her to do one more thing to push Norman over the edge, Mary tells her, "Mother, I've signed your petitions, I've been to all your meetings, I've done everything you've asked, but I am not going to hurt Norman anymore." When Lila tells her, "Well, if you won't do it for me, at least do it for your father," to which Mary snaps, "I'm not living for dead people anymore, Mother! Not for your sister or my father, not even for you!" For me, that last line suggests that Lila was once a pretty good mother but, ever since she found out that Norman was going to be released, she's become so obsessed and overbearing that to Mary, the mother she knew is dead. Mary then severs all ties with Lila and when they get into an argument, she tells her that she'll be sorry if she goes near the motel again. However, Mary does start to become alarmed by Norman's increasingly erratic behavior when he acts like he's talking to his mother over the phone when there's no one there, forcing her to get on the other phone in the house and act like her to get him to hang up and even standing in front of him, dressed like her. Her fear at his behavior causes her to accidentally stab and kill Dr. Raymond and when she's confronted by him afterward, she repeatedly stabs him as he backs her into the fruit cellar. When Lila's body is revealed underneath the coal in the cellar, Mary mistakenly believes that Norman actually has been killing people and attempts to kill him herself, only to get gunned down when the police break in as it looks like she's the one who's gone mad and is attacking Norman, leading the sheriff to believe that she was the killer.

One of the interesting things about Psycho II's story is how it allows the two returning characters from the original to trade roles, with Norman now being the victim while Lila has become the villain. In her return performance as Lila, Vera Miles paints her as a very embittered, vengeful woman, who's been widowed from Sam Loomis after having married him following the events of the original and is now horrified at the idea of Norman being released. While it's mainly due to his having murdered her sister, it also has to do with her feeling that no amount of psychiatric treatment can curb his psychotic ways and that he will kill again. The opening scene at the courthouse is the only time she and Norman share the screen together but still, you can feel the hatred she has for him when she speaks up in court about her petition, raving at others for not doing anything about it, and tells the judge, "It's all too obvious: our courts protect the criminals, not their victims." In the following scene where she confronts Dr. Raymond about it, if you look at her, you'll notice that she's looking at Norman the whole time Raymond is trying to explain to her why he's being released and although you can't see her face since her back is to the camera, you can only image the expression she must have while staring Norman down. After this, she and Mary put into motion the plan to drive Norman crazy again, a plan that, while understandable (in an interview around that time, Miles said that she would feel the same way in real life), is still pretty heinous considering what it is they do to him, especially considering what we know about his past. The fact that she drags her own daughter into it, forcing her to gain Norman's trust in order to more effectively hurt him, is quite disgusting as well and is proof that Lila has not only become quite obsessive but also fairly unhinged in her own right. Her unwavering feeling that Norman will always be a danger to society and that he belongs in an institution for the rest of his life makes her a prime example of a villain who's so blinded by their agenda that they don't see the negative impact that it's having. Not only does she not see the toll the plan takes on her daughter but she fails to recognize the fact that it's possibly worked too well, causing Norman to kill other innocent people, the very thing that she was supposedly trying to prevent. In fact, Lila is very dismissive of the murder of the teenage boy, seeing it as nothing more than a catalyst for him being recommitted, regardless of whether or not he actually did it.

This leads me to something I only just now pondered: is it possible that Lila herself killed that boy? At the end of the film, Ms. Spool confesses that she was the actual killer, although she specifies that she killed those who hurt or were trying to hurt Norman. Those kids in the cellar posed no threat to him whatsoever, especially since he was locked in the attic when they showed up. What's more, the room where they saw the figure is where it's later revealed Lila and Mary have been keeping their Mrs. Bates getup, complete with a very real butcher knife. Maybe Lila snuck into the basement, put on the dress and wig in order to do some other part of the plan, and when she realized that there was someone else down there, decided to take the opportunity to do something that would most definitely get Norman put back into the asylum, only for Ms. Spool to cover up all traces of it afterward, which included hiding the blood-soaked towel in the toilet. Other evidence for me is how Lila is very quick to ask Sheriff Hunt why he hasn't arrested Norman for the murder, saying that it's all over town even though, as far as we know, the girl only told the police, and how she's quite surprised by Hunt's revelation that they no found no body in addition to Norman having an alibi. Her suggestion to Hunt that he drag the swamp for the body could quite possibly be because she thinks Norman, or maybe even Mary, discovered the body and hid it in the swamp. And it's very possible that Lila was simply trying to put the blame on Norman for the murder without implicating herself when she talked to Mary, despite the hole in her idea, especially with the way she contradicts herself by first saying that it makes no difference if Norman did it or not and then seeming sure that he must have escaped the attic and done it. This is just a theory and I'm sure someone will find holes in it too but it is something to ponder and I think it's possible, considering how deranged Lila looks and acts in the latter parts of the film. Just look at the way she tells Mary that she can sense Norman's growing insanity over the phone and the expression on her face and the manic way she tells Mary to dress up like his mother once more in order to send him over the edge. This attitude of hers and her refusal to believe Mary's claims that Norman could possibly be a decent guy who doesn't deserve what she's doing to him causes estrangement between her and her daughter, and even then, she's undeterred. She attempts to call Norman once more and when that doesn't work, heads to the house and sneaks into the basement in order to dress up as his mother herself... which is where she gets a very nasty and fatal surprise.

Robert Loggia so often played scummy, sleazy villains in his career that it's refreshing to see him in a role where he's not only a decent guy but, also, the most likable guy in the movie next to Norman (this was the first movie I saw him in, though). As Dr. Bill Raymond, he's the man who treated Norman in the institution and after his release, he continues to be both his psychiatrist and a close friend. He's the one who never fails to defend Norman right from the start, when he tries to explain to Lila that he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and when he drops him off at the old house, he offers to get him a place in town, warning him that he's very likely to experience flashbacks while living there. He also comments that he wished that there hadn't been so many cutbacks so that a registered nurse could look in on Norman from time to time and when Norman asks, "Well, I have you, don't I?", Raymond responds, "Damn right, you do. I've had the phone reconnected. Any problems, use it." The week after Norman's return, Raymond goes to Sheriff Hunt about the phone calls and the notes, prompting Hunt to check up on anybody who'd want to do something like that to Norman, and he also gets him to check up on Mary as well. When Raymond learns that Mary is Lila's daughter, it doesn't take him long to realize what's going on and he warns Norman about it, not knowing about Mary's change of heart. Proving to him that his mother really is dead so that she won't continue to have any hold over him becomes Raymond's priority when Norman says that he thinks she's still alive, to the point where he has Mrs. Bates' corpse exhumed at the cemetery. Raymond then begins keeping tabs on Lila, following her to the motel and the house at one point, confirming to him that he was right. However, he finds that he now must prove to Norman that he had no other mother than Mrs. Bates and that everything that's happened was due to Lila and Mary, which he believes he can when he finds the former's car near the motel. He calls Norman from the office to tell him that Lila has been using that phone to call his house but when Norman starts talking to him as if he's his mother, he knows something is wrong and heads up to the house. Sneaking in, he comes across Mary dressed as Mrs. Bates and, thinking he's caught her in the act, grabs her from behind, only to be killed when Mary swings around and stabs him in the chest.

The most unlikable character in the entire movie is Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), the new manager of the Bates Motel. There's no other way to describe him than as a sleazebag asshole who's turned the motel into a place where people stop by for a couple of hours to have sex, take drugs, and then leave. He puts on a cordial enough front when he first meets Norman, laughing off the drugs he found in one of the rooms by saying, "This town. If it isn't the kids, it's the parents," and mentions that he threw out two kids he found having sex in the house (although who knows if he really did or if that even happened?), but when Norman demands to know what kind of motel he's running, he drops the front and tells him, "The kind that makes money." Norman promptly fires him and Toomey at first threatens him with, "Yeah, well why don't you try puttin' me out, Mr. Wacko?", but backs down when he says he'll go to the police about it if he doesn't leave by the next day. As Norman heads up to the house, Toomey yells at him, "At least my customers have a good time. What's yours get, Bates? Yeah, that's what they get. Dead! Murdered by you, ya loony!" Toomey shows up drunk at the diner where Norman works the next day in order to hassle him and sexually harass Mary, repeatedly accusing her of having had sex with Norman the previous night. When Norman finds a note purportedly written by his mother on the wheel where they put the orders, he immediately believes it to be Toomey and calls him out, prompting Toomey to challenge him in the middle of the diner. Norman is tempted to use a nearby knife on him, and Toomey is all to eager to goad him into doing so and showing everyone, "What you're really like," but ultimately backs down, with Toomey yelling, "See?! Not only is he crazy, he's chickenshit!" Toomey shows up even more drunk at the motel that night to move out, yelling at the house and throwing rocks to get Norman's attention, calling him "psycho" and a "nutcase" and then saying he wanted him to know he's moving out. However, Toomey doesn't get a chance to do so, as he's stabbed to death by a certain knife-wielding figure in the motel office.

In stark contrast to Toomey, another really decent character is Sheriff John Hunt (Hugh Gillin), who is very familiar with Norman's case, having been deputy back when he was arrested in 1960 (although, that's always confused me because in the original film, Sam Loomis said at one point that Al Chambers himself was the deputy sheriff of Fairvale). Despite that, though, he's willing to give Norman another chance and when Dr. Raymond comes to him with Norman's claims about the phone calls and the notes, as well as about Mary, Hunt promises to check up on both. Of course, when the teenage girl comes to them about the murder of her boyfriend in the house's fruit cellar, Hunt has to investigate and does initially seem to suspect Norman, although he decides to give him the benefit of the doubt when they find no trace of the crime in the basement, especially after Mary gives him an alibi and says that she cleaned up the basement herself (both of which are lies). Hunt also defends Norman against Lila when she comes to him asking why he hasn't arrested him for the murder, telling her of his alibi and the fact that they didn't find a body, and when Lila suggests he drag the swamp before there are more murders, "Unless you want it on your conscience," Hunt remarks, "If Norman Bates is crazy, there's a whole hell of lot of people around here running him a close second." When they do decide to drag the swamp and find Toomey's briefcase, Hunt does become suspicious of Norman again, although he lets him go when he has no evidence to tie him to it, and then proceeds to give Mary a massive verbal beatdown for what she and her mother have done. When Mary says, "I didn't mean to," Hunt icily says, "Well, that's what Norman said twenty years ago, only he was crazy. Now what's your excuse?" Mary then admits that she doesn't have an excuse and Hunt makes it clear to her when he says goodbye that he'd better not see her or her mother around Fairvale ever again. After Toomey's car is pulled out of the swamp and they open the trunk to clearly find his body, Hunt and the police arrive at the house to arrest Norman, only to find a scene that makes him think that Mary was the killer, possibly along with Lila. He gets half of the story right, as he deduces the falling out that occurred between Mary and Lila from a desk clerk at Lila's hotel who overheard it, but he has no idea that his assumption that Mary had lost her mind at the end and was attacking Norman was dead wrong.

When Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) is introduced near the beginning of the film as the kindly old lady who owns the diner Norman begins working at, one who welcomes him with open arms and says, "I feel it's very Christian to forgive and forget," you would never guess that at the end of the movie, she would turn out to be both the one behind the killings and Norman's real mother (at least, until Psycho III undid that completely but let's not get ahead of ourselves). According to Norman, she told him over the phone that she's his real mother, that she's committing the murders to protect him, but doesn't reveal who she is until the ending where she shows up at the house. She tells him that she gave birth to him out of wedlock when she was very young but was then put away for some time herself, with her sister, Norma, adopting him and raising him as her own son. By the time she got out, Norman had already been committed for his murders and she decided to wait for him, probably waiting for the right time to tell him the truth after they first met at the diner. However, when she saw what Toomey, Lila, and Mary were doing to him, she decided to kill them in order to protect her son. I always found the idea of her going around knifing people to have been a little hard to buy, though. Some people have said that they find it hard to believe that Mrs. Voorhees could have committed the murders she did in the original Friday the 13th but I can go with it because of Betsy Palmer's physical presence and deranged performance, while Ms. Spool looks like a frail old woman who couldn't kill anything and doesn't appear to have a spot of madness either. It also doesn't help that the figure of "Mother" in the murder scenes was played by a man, one who was clearly much larger and more agile than Bryar could have ever hoped to be ("Mother" may have been played by someone other than Anthony Perkins in the original but the way it was done there makes it a lot easier to buy that Norman was the one killing people). Regardless, while she may have done it to protect Norman, her actions combined with everything else ultimately drive him insane again and she ends up both poisoned and smashed on the head by him, her body taking the place of Mrs. Bates' corpse up in the bedroom.



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.

Another noteworthy tie that this film has with Hitchcock is that it features some matte paintings by Albert Whitlock who, starting with The Birds, did work on every movie he did from then on. His matte paintings here aren't exactly showy, often doing little more than extending landscapes and the horizon far past the scope of the frame (which was his specialty), but they're still very well done and often look quite convincing, especially the big wide shots of Norman and Mary as they leave the diner and the high-angle shot of the teenage girl retreating from the house after her boyfriend's been murdered. I'm pretty sure he did some matte work on that final shot as well, like the sky (which he probably also did for many of the night shots) and putting the silhouette of "Mother" in the bedroom window, which they couldn't do with the actual house on the Universal backlot since that's nothing more than a hollow fa├žade, and it's flawless work as well.





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.

Psycho II is truly a rare specimen: a sequel to a legendary classic film that, rather than embarrassing its predecessor, manages to rise up to the challenge and tell a great story in its own right. The cast, especially Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles, is top notch for the most part, the story is a continuation of the original rather than a rehash and a fascinating one at that, the film is well shot and directed in a way that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud, the production design is well-done for a fairly low budget, it doesn't have a ton of gore but what is here is very satisfying, and the music score is as different from the original as possible but is awesome and fitting in its own right. Other than Meg Tilly's kind of wooden acting and the mystery being a bit too complicated and hard to follow at times, I really don't have a problem with this movie, and it's a shame that it doesn't get more respect than it does. While it's certainly the most highly-regarded of the sequels, it's still often seen as a film unworthy of Hitchcock's original, possibly by a number of people who haven't actually seen it and just dismiss it outright purely because of the idea of someone having the audacity of doing a sequel to the Master of Suspense's most famous film. If you're one of those people, I highly suggest that you put that bias aside and judge the movie on its own terms. You might just be surprised of what a good movie it really is.

2 comments:

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  2. I love Psycho II. It is one of the best sequels ever made under such tense circumstances and high expectations.

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