Monday, August 8, 2011

Psycho II (1983)

***(out of four stars)
It's no surprise that the original Psycho had such an immense effect on American audiences back in 1960. That film changed the way we looked at horror films. With one of the greatest scenes in history (the infamous shower scene) how could you not consider that film to be the scariest that audiences seen up till that point? And yet it was heavily based on the real life Wisconsin cannibal killer, Ed Gein. With Robert Bloch penning the script, Hitch took the ball and ran with it. He made that film cheaply and totally stunned movie goers of that era. So, when you hear about a sequel what would your reaction be? Today, sequels are a dime a dozen, especially those uninspired "remakes" that litter theatres everywhere. How can you possibly match an original classic with a sequel that would come 22 years later?

The answer is simple: YOU DON'T!

However, with that being said, that does not mean that Psycho 2 is a bad film. In fact, I think it's a great sequel. The only thing that Psycho 2 may lack is actually not being as great as it's predecessor. But if you sit back and take in this film with an open mind, you'll see its genius.

After being institutionalized for the past 22 years, Norman Bates is released and deemed sane by the courts. But the sister of Marion Crane, (Norman's victim in the original) Lila Loomis, isn't ready for Norman to be released. She's out to make sure that he stays confined behind the walls of the mental institution. Lila is also the husband of Sam Loomis, who was also a character of the original.

Lila's protests fall on deaf ears. Norman is released and ready to try and lead a normal life. Upon his release he finds a job at the local diner as the chief's assistant and re-opens his infamous motel after firing Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), who is the current, drug dealing manager. He befriends a waitress who also works at the diner named, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). She seems to be having trouble with her boyfriend and stays with Norman at his house.

Mary Samuels isn't what she appears to be and we later find out that she's the daughter of Lila Loomis. The two torment Norman, often calling him and disguising their voices as his beloved, deceased Mother. This is a sadistic attempt to drive Norman batty once again, securing him a permanent home at the loony bin. After a while, Mary starts to feel sympathy towards Norman and argues with her mother against her dastardly plans.

Both Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles return in this sequel. Perkins is spot on and this is probably the reason why his career never headed in a different direction. Perkins will always be remembered for his unforgettable portrayal of Norman Bates. We feel sorry for Norman, who at times, seems to be leading a normal life. He has paid his debt to society but never rises above his tortured past because society won't let him. And isn't that what Norman Bates really is: tortured? How could we not feel for a man, who knew no other love than that of his dead mother? A man that dressed in her clothing, talked to her as if she were still alive and nurtured her in declining health. The death of Mrs. Bates has always affected Norman. It festers in his mind and she lives vicariously through him.

It was said that Meg Tilly wasn't allowed to watch television as a child and was totally oblivious as to why Anthony Perkins had so much attention during the making of the Psycho 2. She had never seen Psycho. She made an innocent comment questioning why Perkins had had so much attention. Rumor has it that Perkins was deeply offended by her comment and didn't talk to her during the making of the film. He even wanted her replaced, even though filming was well under way with her in many of the scenes. Still, her character is pretty good for this film. And I think she does a fine job as Mary Samuels. Mary is a character of which that is surrounded by the evil doings of Norman. Her Aunt had been murdered in the shower and although this weighs heavily upon her, she shows mercy and sympathy for Norman.

Other recognizable faces are Dennis Franz, who plays the motel manager. He's offed by Mother rather quickly because of his sinful ways. Robert Loggia plays Dr. Bill Raymond, Norman's psychiatrist. It's a small role, but effective. Dr. Bill Raymond is responsible for Norman's release, yet still has an uneasy feeling about his patient.

Richard Franklin's direction is great. I love how he composes his shots. Especially those of Norman. Quite often, when Perkins is in a scene the camera is above him and tilted slightly, giving that feel of unease with the character. It's paced very well and builds on tension. Franklin tells a great story with his shots, just as Tom Holland tells a well paced story with his script.

And that does bring up another good point with the writing. We're really never sure what is going on. Norman seems fine. Is he doing the killing? Are Lila and Mary behind the visceral attacks? Has Mother cemented a place back in Norman's soul and thus making him a murderous lunatic? These questions keep you guessing. And in the final scene, yet another plot twist evolves.

In the final scene, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) knocks on the door while Norman is sitting at the dinner table. She tells Norman that she's actually his biological mother and that her sister, Mrs. Bates, actually adopted Norman while she was institutionalized. She claims that she was the one doing all the killing in an act to protect her son. Norman then hits her in the back of the head, killing her instantly. But why? If she is really Norman's mother, shouldn't he be content with having her in the flesh? It really doesn't matter because by the end we see that Norman has once again completely gone insane.

And I have to add that the final kill is brutal. That scene where he smacks Emma Spool over the head with the shovel still makes me cringe. In fact, most of the kill scenes are really great. My favorite is probable seeing Lila get a knife jammed down her throat. We get to see the blade enter and then protrude out of her neck. That reminds me of Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetery where another victim meets that same demise.

When you watch this movie ask yourself if it lives up to the original. My opinion is that it does not. But that doesn't matter, because no film can out shine a classic like the original Psycho. (And I really don't think that is what the filmmakers were going for anyway.) It doesn't need to be better. That isn't the point. The film is effective as a sequel and continues with the Bates character. This film is really about Norman and what he's gone through. It's a story about a man who really tries to be civil, and to keep his heinous past behind him. But it is his past that continues to haunt him. He'll never be able to escape it. No matter how hard he tries.

Yes, Mrs. Bates' presence is still felt, but she is hardly the villain.

When Psycho 2 was released it garnished some financial success. It was received well by some critics. However, there were too many people who expected this film to be as magical as the original. When you have that mindset, you might as well not see the film and call it shit to begin with. If you take it in, and set aside that original, (I know it may be hard to do) then you'll find that this film stands just fine on its own merits. This is one of the best sequels to any classic that was ever made. My opinion may not matter to most, but that is what it is: an opinion. I say check it out.

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly and Vera Miles

Directed by: Richard Franklin

Written by: Tom Holland

113 mins


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