31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #15: Psycho II (1983)

Posted: October 16, 2016 in Movie Review
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15. Psycho II (1983)

Director: Richard Franklin

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz

Let’s face it, any story which had the misfortune of directly following in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was doomed to seem inferior by design. I don’t know what the feeling was back in 1983, but the very idea that a sequel was even considered (much less executed) now seems completely bonkers. I’m imagining it as being one of those sequels that no one either wanted or asked for. Those quick to put down the movie based on the comparison to the original “Psycho” would be well within their rights to do so… except for the fact that “Psycho II” is, by itself, a very good horror movie.

After 22 years in a mental institution, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is declared no longer a danger to society, and is free to go home. Naturally, Norman’s release is met with considerable opposition, especially by those whose lives have been irreconcilably altered by the awful things he did. The loudest of these voices is Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), whose sister, Marion Crane, was killed by Norman in Room #1 of the Bates Motel. But Norman seems genuinely rehabilitated, and the only truly questionable aspect of his release is the decision made by Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia) to bring Norman back to the Bates’ house, which is where all of his troubles began. Maybe it was thought that continuity would help Norman with the adjustment process, but it doesn’t seem very logical.

Once home, Norman meets the Bates Motel’s current manager, Mr. Toomey (Dennis Franz), a real sleazeball. Yeah, these two are gonna get along just fine! Norman also attends his first day as a busboy for the local diner. There, he meets a sweet old woman named Emma Spool, and a clumsy young waitress named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). Mary confides in Norman that she’s been kicked out of her boyfriend’s house and doesn’t have a place to stay. This allows Norman an opening to invite Mary to stay at the motel, however he amends that offer to staying inside the Bates’ house once he sees the condition of the motel. In Norman’s absence, Mr. Toomey has turned the Bates Motel from a quaint rest stop with the stigma of a violent past into a go-to place for young kids who like to party (i.e. drink, do drugs and have casual sex). Norman and Mr. Toomey get into an argument, during which Toomey defends his version of the motel by noting that, running things his way, the motel actually makes money. Despite making his point, Toomey is fired by Norman.

It isn’t long before “Mother” seemingly returns. At both the house and the diner, he begins finding threatening notes regarding Mary’s presence in his life. Inside the house, Norman hears strange voices. He even begins receiving phone calls from “her.” What does it all mean? Soon, Mr. Toomey is murdered by a shadowy, feminine figure. Later, Norman visits his mother’s old room, finding to his surprise that it has been arranged to look as it did 22 years earlier.

Investigating another strange noise, Norman becomes locked in the attic. At this time, a couple of teenagers break into the old fruit cellar to have sex. Presumably, this is something kids have been getting away with while Norman was institutionalized. Not anymore. The boy is stabbed to death, while the girl runs away to find police. Back in the attic, Norman finally gets out when Mary opens the door. Strangely, she says it wasn’t locked. In no time, the sheriff arrives. When an inspection of the cellar turns up no evidence of foul play, Mary covers for Norman, not wishing for him to be arrested. Norman wishes she hadn’t done that. He’s feeling confused, like he felt all those years ago. Norman is starting to believe that he has slipped back into his old murderous ways.

In fact, what is actually going on is that Lila Loomis and Mary, Lila’s daughter, have been purposely pushing Norman’s buttons to try and drive him insane again so that he’ll have to be put away once again. But Mary has been having second thoughts after getting to know Norman better. Lila, who was responsible for the phone calls and for dressing up as Mrs. Bates so as to allow Norman to see “her” through the window of the house, returns to once again wear the wig and dress. Returning to the house, Lila goes down to the cellar to retrieve the wig and dress, when she is confronted by the same person who killed Mr. Toomey and the young boy. Lila is then stabbed and killed. Dr. Raymond had seen Lila entering the cellar, and so he then enters the house to confront Mary, whom he knows is Lila’s daughter.

By this time, Mary is starting to think that her mother’s plan, for which Mary is now remorseful, has indeed been successful. Despite the fact that she has come clean to Norman, and that Dr. Raymond has shown Norman the exhumed body of Mrs. Bates, Norman is still answering the phone calls from “Mother.” Mary picks up the upstairs phone, thinking it’s Lila again, but hears no other voice. To prove a point, Mary dresses as Mrs. Bates, but Norman says the calls are coming from his “real” mother. Dr. Raymond sneaks up behind Mary, who inadvertently stabs and kills him. Norman promises to cover up for her as he always has. Mary runs down to the cellar, where she discovers her mother’s body under a pile of coal, which is all the evidence she needs to suspect Norman as the killer. Still carrying the knife, Mary moves to attack Norman but is shot dead by police, who’ve just arrived on the scene.

With police now satisfied that Mary was the killer all along, Norman is visited later that night by Mrs. Spool, the nice lady from the diner. She is the one responsible for the recent string of murders. Mrs. Spool declares herself to be Norma Bates’ sister. Further, Mrs. Spool claims that Norma had adopted the infant Norman after Mrs. Spool herself was sent to a mental hospital. Whether or not her claims have any merit, unbeknownst to Mrs. Spool, Norman has poisoned her tea the same way he did when he killed her sister. As Mrs. Spool is slowly dying, Norman finishes the job by hitting her in the back the head with a shovel. Carrying her corpse up to his mother’s room, Norman begins talking to himself in his mother’s voice, revealing that he is once again quite insane.

Faced with the impossible task of living up to its predecessor, “Psycho II” is a surprisingly good sequel that only falters when it falls prey to the trappings of the slasher genre, in particular with the over-the-top and unrealistic death of Lila Loomis. It displays a terrific plot, showing how the past actions of one psycho have only served to create more psychos. Except for the revisited shower scene from the original film, replayed during the prologue, “Psycho II” is missing the powerful Bernard Hermann score. This is understandably unavoidable, since Hermann had passed away in 1975. Instead, Jerry Goldsmith provides a more peaceful main theme which matches up well with Norman’s rehabilitated, yet still very fragile psyche.

The character of Norman Bates once again fits actor Anthony Perkins like a glove. He effortlessly manages to make Norman seem sympathetic this time around. Meg Tilly is also outstanding as Perkins’ co-star. Not everyone will pick up on it at first, but her character’s name of Mary Samuels should set off a few red flags fairly early on, as Marie Samuels was the fake name which her aunt Marion used to sign in to the Bates Motel on that fateful night 22 years earlier.

There are many sequels out there which, frankly, are so bad that they really don’t deserve to exist. “Psycho II” is not one of them. Released during the peak of the slasher genre, it’s much better and more complex than most of its kind. Comparisons to the original “Psycho” are indeed futile (Richard Franklin is no Alfred Hitchcock), but are just as unnecessary. “Psycho II” is a movie that deserves to be judged on its own merits. When you can do that… when you set aside any prejudices and grade “Psycho II” on what it is rather than what it is not… it will be clear that “Psycho II” has earned its place on your video shelf.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Anthony Perkins, especially, makes this movie worth seeing, worth giving the benefit of the doubt!

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