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33 Years Later, ‘Psycho II’ is Still the Misunderstood Classic That Demands Your Attention

The sequel to Hitchcock’s horror classic is not only a satisfying piece of film, but arguably a richer experience than its predecessor

“Then who did it?”
“My mother, she told me so herself.”

To many people Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960s horror film, Psycho, is an untouchable piece of art on a whole other level than the rest of cinema. A lot of people consider this film to be the be-all and end-all of horror that how dare they ever try to attempt a sequel to this legend in the first place. Most have even moved through life having no idea that Psycho is in fact one piece of a larger franchise chronicling the journey of Norman Bates. While Psycho II’s existence might come as a surprise to many, that almost ends up making the film be all the more effective. It’s safe to say that a lack of expectations are usually at the door for fodder like this, so the fact that Psycho II isn’t only a passable sequel to Hitchcock’s original, but that it’s actually a very good film that’s arguably as fulfilling as its predecessor makes the sequel’s impact hit even harder. Now, right after the film’s 33rd anniversary, what better time to revisit the misunderstood title and look at what makes it such an exciting piece of horror?

Psycho II is not a film that was just rushed into by any means. This is a sequel that was released 22 years after the original. Hell, films weren’t even being shot in black-and-white anymore. The heavy gap between these films paired with Anthony Perkins’ return to his career-making role shows that this sequel wasn’t headed into without trepidation. Everyone was aware of the stakes present here. In that light, I kind of respect the hell out of this film opening against Return of the Jedi of all things, too. Imagine what a crazy double feature that could have been?

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The film even uses the 22-year break between films to its advantage. This isn’t a sequel that takes place immediately after the first film. It’s a product that has aged in real-time, simultaneously giving both Norman and the audience 22 years to heal. The film becomes a conversation all about that lost time, using the past decades as justification for revisiting this world in the first place. Seeing what Norman’s up to a week later arguably holds diminishing returns, but checking in on him after two decades of rehab is a solid premise. Who knows what that character now looks like in that new light? Along the same lines, Psycho II also smartly plays with the lore and reverence of the original film’s events, treating it like a legend as much as the film itself is. This is again something that can only be achieved through a sequel (or remake/reboot) with Psycho II inevitably having more to say than the original because it’s additionally commenting upon the original.

There’s a solid story being told here with everyone’s favorite schizophrenic seeing release from his 22-year long tenure from a mental institution. Norman’s been passively not hurting flies for long enough to finally be deemed worthy of going home. It’s just a shame that Norman’s home in the case is Bates Motel, a building full of triggers for him in what seems like a situation designed to bring on a relapse of the crazy. Then again, this story is very concerned with Norman confronting his demons in order to overcome his problems once and for all, which requires him returning to this place.

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As incredible as Anthony Perkins is in the original film, he really knocks his previous work out of the park here. This is a much more layered version of Norman Bates and Perkins relishes the opportunity to rise to the challenge. There are moments where he feels like a completely different person than who he is in the first film. He does masterful work in his delivery of lines, and small touches like the quiver in his voice and his speech being just slightly off speak volumes for what is going on with him internally. This is the product of 22 years of extensive therapy being put to work. It’s more than clear that Perkins has an enormous respect and love for this character and franchise (it’s not at all surprising to me that he would go on to be the director of Psycho III—who better to understand that world?). He’s giving everything here.

With Hitchcock not even being a possible contender to be director here, the decision of who would helm the anticipatory film was obviously a huge question, with the Australian Richard Franklin being a pretty solid choice. Franklin was a true student of Hitchcock and had even met with him on several occasions. His previous film, Roadgames, is also a huge love letter to Rear Window, and with Franklin already following up a Hitchcock film there, so to speak, there was a degree of rationale to this choice. Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night), who wrote the script, had extreme reservations approaching the material and because of such things would end up working harder than ever. Bernard Herrmann’s score in Hitchcock’s film is one of the most iconic pieces of movie music that is out there. While Psycho II loses Herrmann, it does gain legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen), who in many ways is just as prolific. His score to the film is some of his strongest work and carries the heavy string theme that Herrmann introduces. You even get to experience the bizarre instance of Goldsmith re-recording the score for “The Murder,” which is like getting Picasso to paint a version of “Starry Night.” Some interesting food for thought here, too. Goldsmith’s original theme for Norman Bates was rejected here, but then eventually used in the second segment (“Kick the Can”) in Twilight Zone: The Movie, if you’re curious to hear his original plan.

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The film made it a point to have the blessing of the original Psycho in as many ways as possible, staying faithful to its spirit. Production would go as far as seeking out Psycho’s assistant director, Hilton A. Green, to be a producer on the film. When unsure of what to do, Green went to Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, on the matter, who said that Alfred would have loved the film and that Hilton should do it. Quentin Tarantino has even gone on the record for saying that he prefers the sequel to Hitchcock’s original (what I would give for him doing a commentary track on the film), and it’s not hard to see why.

The best thing about Psycho II—and why I think it works so well—is it truly digs into the idea as to whether Norman is cured or not. It’s not surprising when murders begin happening at the Bates Motel, but the film effectively keeps you guessing in regard to whether Norman is off the wagon, if he’s just imagining this stuff, or if another party is intentionally screwing with a vulnerable person here, making Norman think he’s killing. The original Psycho has none of that. You’re not trying to figure out who the murderer is. Sure, the film is scary as hell, but it’s all pretty linear until its revelation at the end. Psycho II’s perspective is an exciting, unique take on a horror sequel that has you constantly tangled in empathy. This is a film where its universe is constantly rooting and pushing its “hero” towards being a killer. Where else do you get such a thing? You watch this film wanting Norman to be okay and get out of the other side of this still sane, but this also inevitably has you siding with someone who might be a killer. It’s an endlessly complicated, yet rewarding place to put the audience.

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It almost feels like the film tries to get its baggage out of the way immediately. For instance, that elephant in the bathroom is addressed immediately by the film starting in Psycho’s iconic shower murder of Marion Crane (complete with black-and-white veneer) before cleverly extending the set piece, giving us a glimpse of what Norman went through afterwards. What a better way to kick things off? Granted, a move like this could feel deeply manipulative or forced, but again, the film’s unique vantage point makes these sort of exercises justified. It plays off as Norman being lost in the past or struggling not to revert to former urges as he tiptoes through his former life. There’s some great work done here with the idea that Norman’s behavior might even be instinctive rather than something learned.

There are many moments that harken back to the original picture with Norman echoing himself, like reaching for Marion’s former room key once more, or stabbing shots being identical in composition and rhythm to their counterparts in the original. It acts as a nice way of respecting the original, but is also done for story purposes. Norman feels déjà vu and is unsure if history is repeating itself as shots visually reflect the past. There is even a beautiful posthumous cameo done by Mr. Hitchcock himself, in silhouette, during the scene when Norman goes back into his Mother’s room for the very first time. This kind of commentary can only be done through a sequel, so while as much as an idea like turning Psycho into a saga might make you cringe, it’s nice to see the film being used to expand this material rather than just repeat itself.

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The Easter Eggs and love for the original continue with details like Mary Loomis’ pseudonym being Mary Samuels, after Marion Crane’s moniker, Marie Samuels. The fact that this film involves more of the Loomis family at all, in the form of Mary and Lila (with Vera Miles reprising her role from the original!), is also pretty satisfying. It’s nice to see this sequel in a lot of ways be just as much about the victims from the original film, as it is about Norman Bates. It also makes a whole lot of sense that even if Norman has gotten “better” that the damage he’s done is still out there and there are still consequences to his actions that he’s being forced to deal with. Having this film focus on Norman’s punishment for his actions, just as much as it does on his retribution for it all, is a nice, balanced idea.

If you still have any lingering reservations, this film is far more than just a collection of satisfying nods and fan service. It’s hard to say if Psycho II is actually as scary as what Hitchcock created, but it does go to some genuinely disturbing places. One murder features the victim falling down the stairs, hitting the banister on their way down, which only wedges the knife deeper into their body. Another tough scene has Norman trying to just perpetually embrace the person who he thinks is his mother, while repeatedly getting stabbed, tolerating the pain to be close to her. And then there’s of course the infamous death where a woman straight up gets stabbed through the mouth. Many of these tow the line between reading as comedic beats, but this almost acts as yet another commentary on Norman’s fractured self and how close one extreme can be to the other.

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The prime example of this might be the shocking “shovel death” at the end of the film. This piece receives a lot of flak for coming off as humorous, but I attest that it’s a truly chilling note to go out on. Its bluntness makes it all the more powerful. All of this is combined with the bombshell of an ending that forever changes what we thought we knew about Norman and his mother. Norman finally get a chance at normalcy with a “good” mother but he kills her to keep up the façade that he’s more comfortable with, and embracing the sort of “mother” that he’s used to. The idea that a normal Norman has to involve a dead mother in the window is just a brutal, devastating fate. Once the voice starts up again in the film’s final moments, it’s almost too much.

Look, I understand that Hitchcock is an auteur operating on a near-God level, but once you get past accepting the idea that a sequel to Psycho can actually be good, this experience is a whole lot easier to swallow. There’s a whole lot going on here that would be crazy to miss simply because of thinking this film should suck. Take the original off of its pedestal, put it in the shower, and stab it to pieces. Just give in and have a great time with this horror film because 33 years later, it’s certainly earned it. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up driving me mad.

Then again, we all go a little mad sometimes…



COMMENTS

43 Comments
  • Grandpa Fred

    Mary. I’m becoming..confused again, aren’t I?

    • Grandpa Fred

      Easily my favorite line of dialogue from a horror film, and that’s saying a lot. Psycho II still rules today. Saw it at a drive in theatre in Las Vegas when I was 11. Scared the almighty shit out of me. I love this movie.

  • kevinhorror

    One of my favorite films growing up (i also prefer it to the original). I love the cinematography, the score, the movie poster, everything is spot on. And although a minority opinion, i love Psycho III almost as much. It has its own great score, fantastic direction from Perkins, and a strong crazy flip flopping mother storyline. I think these films represent one of the best trilogies ever. (Don’t care for that pathetic Showtime Psycho 4 prequel, so i don’t really include it).

  • craig smith

    Love love love this movie. Perkins at his best. Great acting. Fantastic music. Amazing storyline. I think better than the original.its non stop from beginning to end. I love the ending.

  • Grimphantom

    I agree this movie doesn’t get too much recognition since it’s one of the best sequels a movie gets.

  • rezblue

    A “good mother” doesnt she say at the end that she killed a bunch of those people?

  • disqus_uqr3Boh0Wp

    its great Psycho 2 the first time I saw it I was guessing right to the end.

  • Blade4693

    interesting write up. I have never seen any of the sequels though I am aware of their existence. I might give this one a watch.

    • NixEclips

      3 gets crazy, so I’d continue with that one, as well.

      • James

        It does but any movie is better with Jeff Fahey

        • Creepshow

          Yup. I can watch Body Parts and The Lawnmower Man any time!

    • Saturn

      You really should – it’s one of the superior horror sequels out there, part 3 is pretty darn good too, although a little bit of a step down from the first 2, it’s still better than a lot of other horror movie part 3’s.
      Psycho 4 is the weakest of the original bunch. but still is worth a watch, as it’s not too bad itself. and for a made for tv sequel/prequel it worth a viewing.

  • Mormo Zine

    Watched this movie with my dad and my grandpa took my grandma to go see Psycho 3.

  • TheonetrueLee

    I haven’t seen it either. Sounds like a good plan for this week.

    • macguffin54

      Psycho III isn’t terrible, either, though it is more gory and kind of weird (and has that woman who I swear was a Sigourney Weaver impersonator). It isn’t as good as I or II, but has an interesting premise and some good scenes l.

  • TheSlitheryDee

    The Psycho series of films is underrated in the Horror universe,

  • Eric Curto

    What is the point of this article? The film has never been “misunderstood” and is often on best of list for horror sequels. Not too mention I never met anyone who disliked this film. This isn’t Psycho 4 in which that film was great but is actually misunderstood.

    • macguffin54

      Why are you complaining? And why bother reading the article if you don’t agree with its premise? The film series is often forgotten about as a “series”‘at all because the sequels are looked down upon. And it is true that a lot of people either don’t know it exists or have never bothered to watch it because they assume it couldn’t possibly as good as the original. Just because you know people who like it doesn’t mean other people can’t know people who don’t.

    • macguffin54

      Funny, maybe you should read the rest of the comments that only prove the “point” of this article.

  • Lee Skavydis

    Norman was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder, not schizophrenia.

    • Mr.347

      It has not been called that in about a decade. It is called D.I.D. now (Dissassociative Identity Disorder). But good catch.

      • Lee Skavydis

        My point still stands……

    • Mr.347

      “Lee Skavydis
      My point still stands…..”

      Yeah, I get it. You tried to be clever and corrected the author which seems to be a past time around here. Listen I know it sucks when your correction is patently wrong and someone points it out but one good turn deserves another as the saying goes.

  • Bradley Hadcroft

    I know a part of me loved this film – cheers for promoting me to re visit it.

  • Dark Darth

    Great film but I’m not a fan of the score.

  • umaneo

    Meg Tilley was wonderful in this. I felt the way Lila (Vera Miles) was written kind of betrayed the original character.

  • michaeldal65

    I love Vera Miles in #2. She’s so switched on and it figures she would be so determined to halt his release and then try and have him recommitted. Her death is one of the nastier ones. Excellent sequel.

  • oh_riginal

    I always loved this movie. I was likely too young to understand it when I first saw it on VHS when my sister rented it (I would’ve been around 7-9 around that time) but remember being into it. Upon rewatching it a few years ago, I was blown away by how it really DOESN’T feel like a cashgrab sequel in any way whatsoever!

    Do I like it better than the original? Well, to me it’s similar to my love/love of Alien and Aliens. Sometimes I’m in the mood to favor the original, and other times I favor the sequel more. Part 3 is okay and even 4 has its moments, but part 2 is one of the best examples of a horror sequel being respectable that I could ever think of.

    One thing I’ve always been curious to see is a true black and white version of Psycho II, and I don’t mean by just turning the color down on the TV! I mean with proper image correcting to really make the b&w work as well or as close to how actual b&w film stock presents the image in a film. That would make a double feature of the first two be an interesting watch I feel.

    • Bob Marshall

      Your Alien/Aliens analogy is spot on.

  • Raul Calvo

    I 100% agree. Both Pyscho and Psycho II are great, although maybe not on the same level. Watching both as a double feature is just awesome.

  • Simon Allen

    Psycho II is such a great movie .
    I loved it when i saw ir at the movies waaaaaay back and it really stands the test of time.
    It has so much going for it , it’s a real class act with heart and soul and well drawn characters , plot and pacing .
    Not to mention some rally great shocks and a few laughs .
    A little Classic in its own right i think .

  • Agreed, Psycho 2 was brilliant. I was in the “unnecessary sequel” camp too until we saw it crop up on Netflix one day and decided to give it a go. Same goes for Exorcist 3, another sequel I expected to be awful but was pleasantly surprised.

  • THGrimm

    I was beyond pleased when I watched Psycho 2. I think it’s one of the most perfect sequels to ever be produced and I would lean towards Quentin’s argument that it is more enjoyable. Like you said, it’s not as linear and plays as a murder mystery with sympathy for Norman. I love the fact that this was made much later and felt all the more real and could also have more graphic kills.
    Stellar flick!

  • sliceanddice

    Never seen it…. never much liked the first one. So should i watch this?

    • Toprak Sezgin

      You should see it. I don’t really like the old Psycho anyway too.

  • Tigernan Quinn

    One of our favorite family memories is the night we watched Psycho II and Wolfen with Grandpa Carl. During Wolfen he pulled off “Whose dogs are those?”, which will live on forever, and during Psycho II he thought the the shovel scene was so hilarious he made us rewind it ten times, howling each time. More to the point – the movie’s pretty good, managing to rise above what it is.

  • JeffCStevenson

    I knew Robert Bloch, author of PSYCHO. When this film was being made, he told me he had already published PSYCHO 2, but Universal didn’t option it since the story was basically Bloch’s reaction to all the gore of 80 slasher films and how Bates would have reacted to those films. (Now there’s a story!) And he got zero money for P2 or P3 or any Psycho spinoffs or merchandise sold at Universal Studies.

    I liked P2 and own it and the other sequels on Blu-Ray. I tried to get into BATES MOTEL but I could never settle with the fact that it took place “now” and all the teen angst and drug dealing, etc. I thought it would have made a great 1950s/60s period piece and never understood their decisions, but people seem to love it.

    A little Psycho book trivia: I met Ray Bradbury and he told me that Bloch’s first wife was just a nasty, mean-spirited woman whose first name was Marion so he used that as the name of the victim in the book. The name “Norman” was a clue in that he was “neither Man NOR woMAN” and Bates was baits of course.

    I was in Bloch’s study and I asked him which book was his favorite (meaning one he wrote) and I was surprised when he pulled out the Bible. “This book has the strangest, most brutal and disturbing stories you’ll ever read, beyond anything I could make up.”

    He told me he wasn’t planning to see P2 so I have no idea if he did, but I think he might have liked but I knew he would not have liked the sequels since they were so violent, and he really wasn’t a fan of that type of violence.

    • Flu-Like Symptoms

      Not only that, but Bates Motel is a remake in itself. They aren’t staying true to canon in almost anything and Norma is weak compared to the dreaded figure the Psycho world has housed for decades. It’s basically Hitchcock’s lore, Hollywood’d out and playing to modern television audiences.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    I enjoyed Psycho II quite a bit. It wasn’t a sequel trying to remake or outdo the original. While staying true to it, it went out on it’s own and established it’s own novelties and succeeded. A feat very few sequels can pull off.

  • Jim

    Such an underrated gem and better than most horror movies, let alone sequels, today. Anthony Perkins gives such a nuanced performance with little touches, like shaking his head no while saying yes or stuttering “C-c-c-cuttlery.”

  • Bob Marshall

    I to prefer Psycho II to the original and I do love the original. I think Psycho II has more rewatch value than its predecessor. The film captures that feel good factor that only 80s films can and its also that 80s horror/slasher feel that makes it fun.

    I think my favourite homage in the film is the Hitchcock shaped shadow in the bedroom during the storm.

  • I loved this movie growing up and the shovel kill is impossible to forget, fucking brutal. The sound the shovel makes when it makes contact with the victim’s head is sickening and realistic as hell. I also loved the part where the policeman is eating ice out of the ice chest and there is a bloody hand just inches away, great suspense. This movie is definitely worth a watch, I think it is more brutal than the original for sure to keep up with the times.

  • Nick Wanker

    TRUE!

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