Saturday, 3 March 2018

Psycho II (1983)

Psycho II is, quite obviously, a sequel to Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. Now personally I think that making a sequel to a Hitchcock movie is a seriously bad idea (just as remaking a Hitchcock movie is a seriously bad idea). The chances of falling flat on your face are just so overwhelmingly high. Nonetheless someone at Universal decided that a Psycho sequel would be a fine idea and Australian director Richard Franklin was given the assignment of directing it. It was originally intended as a TV movie but ended up getting a theatrical release (and doing well enough to lead to the making of Psycho III).

Franklin certainly nails his colours to the mast straight from the start. Psycho II not only opens with a clip from Hitchcock’s original, it opens with the famous shower scene in its entirety. Which means Franklin is really setting himself up to look foolish if he can’t deliver the goods. He certainly can’t be accused of trying to make things too easy for himself.

Psycho II takes up the story just over twenty years after the events of the first movie. Norman Bates (again played by Anthony Perkins) has been pronounced cured and released from the mental hospital in which he had been confined. Perhaps a little unwisely he’s decided to return to the Bates Motel. Even more unwisely his psychiatrist Dr Raymond (Robert Loggia) doesn’t seem to think this will be a problem.

The motel is being managed by the sleazy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz). Norman has got himself a job in a local diner where he befriends waitress Mary (Meg Tilly). Norman isn’t exactly relaxed around women and given his incredible twitchiness plus the fact that Mary knows he’s been in a mental hospital it’s a little surprising that Mary moves into the Bates House after breaking up with her boyfriend.

Norman is pretty obviously becoming obsessed with Mary and he’s also started getting messages from his dead mother. Adding to Norman’s rapidly increasing anxiety levels is the vendetta that Warren Toomey launches against him after Norman fires him.

It’s not exactly a shock when the murders start happening. The local sheriff is however not convinced that Norman has gone back to his old habits. He’s not prepared to take any action without hard evidence and such evidence as he has is a long way from being conclusive.

Of course the murders haven’t stopped yet although the final body count is not particularly high by the standards of 80s slasher movies.

The problem for Norman is that he has no way of knowing if he’s responsible for these murders. He never did remember carrying out his original series of murders.

This movie begins very conventionally and with the kind of obviousness you expect in a TV movie. After it’s drifted along in this vein for a while Franklin clearly decides he’d better start doing something clever. If you’re going to attempt a Hitchcock sequel you’re going to have to pull off at least a couple of impressive visual set-pieces. The first murder is rather disappointing. The second though is extremely well done, and it’s in keeping with the tone of the original movie as well. On the whole Franklin does a fine job with some nice use of odd camera angles and lots of atmosphere.

Screenwriter Tom Holland faced a real problem. Anybody who had seen the first movie would already know the whole setup with Norman and his mother. A mere rerun of the same events would have been too obvious and entirely lacking in suspense. He had to find a way to keep within the framework established by the first movie whilst somehow convincing us that maybe this time events would follow a different course and that the final explanation might not be quite the same. He had to make us consider the possibility that maybe this time Norman wasn’t the killer, or then again maybe he was. This was certainly a challenge.

He meets that challenge reasonably well. The story keeps to the spirit of the original but with some completely new and startling twists. What’s perhaps most unexpected is that this movie plays fair with the viewer. The big surprise twist will surprise you but it shouldn’t since there have been numerous clues pointing in that direction. But then there’s some nice misdirection as well.

Tony Perkins is even twitchier this time around. He really goes all out with the crazy person stuff. It works because he does manage to make us feel sympathy for Norman as a man who thinks he has conquered his insanity but is now put under extreme stress - the twitchiness really is only to be expected.

Meg Tilly is pretty good. She manages to make Mary seem like the sort of girl who might well make a habit of befriending recovering serial killers. She has a certain innocence combined with an odd protectiveness towards Norman. The Norman-Mary relationship is certainly a bit strange but it’s weirdly touching and against the odds Perkins and Tilly make it seem convincing.

Obviously this film is not in the same league as Hitchcock’s film. Having said that it stands up as a fairly interesting variation on the slasher movie theme with less gore but more intelligence than most movies of that type. Overall it’s one of the better 80s horror movies. Recommended.

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