‘Psycho II’ (1983)
Directed by Richard Franklin
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz
Psycho II has long been one of my favourite movies. I watched it many times in my youth because my father had recorded it on VHS. Back in the days when there was no cable television and VCRs were a relatively new fad, we personalised our VHS tapes with whatever we wanted to record and usually watched the tapes over and over again. I must have only been around 10 years old when I first saw it, well below the 17 years I should have been, but I was immediately drawn to the story. It scared me a great deal and both the music and the isolation of the Bates house/Motel spooked me to no end. For some reason, though, I kept coming back for more. Looking back, it is ironic to enjoy a sequel for such a long period of time without having had previously seen the original. When I eventually got around to seeing Psycho, it was a great experience and it helped to clarify some of Psycho II’s plot.
“We know all about that, don’t we, Norman?”– Mrs. Spool
When the film begins, we are in 1960 again re-watching Janet Leigh climb into the shower of cabin 1 at the Bates Motel. The sequence is well-known: she unwraps a bar of soap, turns on the water, and begins bathing herself. As she relaxes under the hot stream of water, a shadowy figure is seen creeping towards the shower curtain. Then, the inevitable happens. We experience Marion Crane’s death all over again.
Why must this painful and violent occurrence be shown to us? The answer is quite simple – to continue in 1982 as the events had been left off in 1960. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has spent the last 22 years of his life in a psychiatric hospital in Kern County, CA, serving time for the deaths of Marion and six other people. We discover that he was not sent to prison because he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. At his parole hearing, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) is there to protest Norman’s release. Lila is the sister of the tragically-murdered Marion. Despite her signed petition, Norman is released and returns back to his family home outside of Fairvale, CA. He is trying to put the pieces of his life back together by following therapy and by taking a menial job a local diner. While working there, he meets and strikes up a friendship with Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), a clumsy waitress with boyfriend troubles. After initially offering her a place to stay for the night, Mary eventually starts living with Norman, sleeping in a spare bedroom. While there, she is witness to the increasingly bizarre events occurring: handwritten notes and phone calls from “Mother” as well as mysterious disappearances and presumed murders.
Final body count: 6
Background & Making Of
In 1982, Robert Bloch published the literary sequel to his novel Psycho. This prompted Universal to make plans for a film sequel. They recruited Richard Franklin to direct and Hilton A. Green to produce. Franklin, a native Australian, was a student of Hitchcock’s filmmaking and was also his personal friend in real life. He sought to preserve the trademark Hitchcock touch as much as possible. Green had worked as Hitchcock’s Assistant Director on Psycho and was initially wary of accepting the assignment because he was unsure that Hitchcock would have approved. However, after talking with Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, he accepted. The screenplay, written by Tom Holland was nothing like the plot to Bloch’s novel. Holland purposefully wrote the script to be a complete departure and more like a true sequel to the original film.
Located on the Universal Studios lot, the set used to film Psycho II was a mix of new and old. The Bates house was still standing but the original motel had been destroyed, so it was rebuilt according to the original architecture. The production crew managed to find many original items from the 1960 film and the props that had to be remade were almost exact replicas of the originals. In fact, Vera Miles was so taken aback by the authenticity that she felt that she was stepping back onto the original Psycho set. Universal’s Courthouse Square served as the fictitious town of Fairvale; this particular backlot would later be converted into the town of Hill Valley for the first and second Back to the Future films.
One of the most important aspects of the film is its soundtrack. Director Richard Franklin was keen on using Jerry Goldsmith’s talents to create a new sound that would capture Norman’s innocent quality. In fact, Goldsmith himself very much wanted for the character of Norman to motivate the score. Annotator Kevin Mulhall is quoted as saying, “The tragically evocative ‘Main Title’ serves as a link between Norman’s past and present, and helps capture some of Norman’s feelings for his mother.” When the opening credits roll, you are immediately struck by its emotional intensity. It begins on a tragic, almost spooky note right after the infamous shower scene is re-shown. You are plunged into this gruesome event once more and upon seeing the Bates home, you are reminded of all the dark events linked to it. As the music goes on, the shot of the Bates house is held and gradually it transitions from nightfall to dawn. With this, the music changes and becomes lighter, almost indicating a sense of re-birth/renewed hope.
A new Norman?
Both the director and the screenwriter’s intentions to prove that Norman’s natural impulse was to be good was effectively shown throughout the film. Norman does seem to be a sweet, gentle soul after his rehabilitation, also furthering their notion that Norman did not know he was a killer (due to him being “taken over” by Mother) and that sympathy could be shown towards him. I personally recognised all of these qualities about Norman and it is not until I reminded myself of the terrible murders that had occurred did I find it odd that I was rooting for him.
There are numerous instances where Norman shows that, in many ways, he is still very juvenile and just a boy. Here are a few examples:
- He is constantly eating peanut butter. (Now, consuming peanut butter in itself does not constitute immaturity but it is a commonly-loved childhood food.)
- His attraction to Mary is very child-like, being platonic but very non-sexual with no hint of the latter ever coming to his mind.
- As he is being driven to a crime scene in a police car, Norman grabs the back window – which is half-lowered – with both of his hands, as if he is holding on in fear/anticipation.
- When Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia) is murdered, Norman puts his hand to his face with a shocked look of disbelief. “Uh-oh, look what you’ve done now…”
- He becomes immediately obedient whenever he speaks to “Mother” on the telephone.
At the same time, Norman does have moments when he acts more grown-up. For example, he has a verbal altercation with Toomey (Dennis Franz), the acting manager of the Bates Motel, and forces guidelines to be immediately implemented. When Toomey refuses them, Norman fires him and orders him out. Later on, Norman stands-up for Mary when Toomey comes into the diner to belittle Norman and sexually harass Mary.
Bloody good company
The cast was nicely put together and all players deliver strong, convincing performances. Perkins and Meg Tilly have excellent chemistry with one another despite there being some behind-the-scenes tension and quibbles. It is unfortunate that Tilly was not included in the documentary film The Psycho Legacy since the character of Mary is an important influence on Norman. She provides him with rare physical contact in a loving, almost maternal fashion and seems to be one of the only people who have ever believed in him. Tilly, who is now a highly respected author, has generously talked about some of her experiences with Psycho II as well as her other projects on her YouTube channel, Meg’s Cozy Tea Time.
Perkins himself once again filled Norman’s shoes with relative ease, as if he had never stepped away from playing the role. “Tony’s instincts for how to play Norman Bates were so right they were almost inborn.” Hilton Green remarked, “He enhanced the role. He brought things to it which had not been planned. A lot of his mannerisms – the hesitations, the little stuttering, and that sort of thing – was Tony.”* Although Perkins was greeted with major stardom and huge success following Psycho, he found it hard to be separated from the character of Norman. It took him over two decades to embrace the character and the effect that the film had had on both his career and existence as a private person. I feel that Perkins had initial reservations about the film but that he became more comfortable as filming went on.
Veteran actors Vera Miles and Robert Loggia add immeasurable value to the film. There was never a moment that I felt that they did not put forth their best effort or consider the project beneath them. The most valuable player award would have to be given to Dennis Franz who so deliciously plays sleazy landlord Warren Toomey. Toomey has no regard for Norman Bates or even for the law since he rents out motel rooms to people who are only interested in sex and hard drugs. You could say that his character deservedly gets what is coming to him.
I highly recommend that you see Psycho II if by any chance you have not already done so. Some critics have surprisingly said that the film has a made-for-television quality though that reaction could not be farther from the truth. This is a respectable and well-done sequel that will not leave you disappointed.
*Source: Anthony Perkins: Split Image by Charles Winecoff