ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Psycho II (1983) Blu Ray from Arrow starring Anthony Perkins
A cure for insanity?
This sequel is set 22 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece and begins with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) being released from incarceration on the advice of psychiatrist Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia). This is despite the objections of Lila (Vera Miles) - the only one of the two Crane sisters who survived his original rampage.
Dr. Raymond brings him back to his old house where he used to stay with his mother and fixes him up with a job working at a diner. While working there as the chef’s assistant he strikes up a friendship with a young waitress named Mary (Meg Tilly). When she tells him that she has busted up with her boyfriend, he offers to let her stay in his motel.
Unfortunately, the inn’s sleazy caretaker - named Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz) - has rented out all of the rooms for various young people to take drugs and party. After Norman fires him, he manages to persuade Mary to stay in the old house with him for the night instead.
Messages from beyond the grave
Norman begins receiving a series of written messages claiming to be from his mother and starts to see visions of her standing in a window of the house. Is he beginning to lose his grip on sanity again, or is someone trying to gaslight him? Things begin to get even more worrying when people start getting bumped off. Is Norman guilty of this new spate of murders?
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A surprisingly worthy sequel
The idea of a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece sounds like one doomed to eternal disdain. However, against all odds, Psycho II turned out to be much better than perhaps it even had the right to be. Of course it’s not as good as the original, but it does manage to be a very worthwhile film on its own right by striking out in its own direction and adding more depth and ambiguity to Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates character.
In the original he was largely a de facto monster - a strange outsider figure who gave the audience good reason to fear him. Here, however, Tom Holland’s script tears us between guessing whether he’s capable of killing again, or whether we should sympathise with him as a damaged and misunderstood soul. Perkins’s fine performance teeters engagingly on the borderline between the two.
Investing in Bates
Another thing that adds heart and emotional investment to the film is the developing relationship between Bates and the mysterious Mary. The latter begins to form a surprising bond of trust with the enigmatic former and gives the audience a beacon of hope in the possibility of rehabilitation.
On the other hand it paradoxically makes the proceedings more disturbing; if the hope proves forlorn, the fall will thus take place from a much greater height. Psycho II never loses sight of its remit to be an effective horror thriller as the numerous story twists and corpses pile up. While longtime Hitchcock admirer Richard Franklin’s direction could never match the stone-cold brilliance of his inspiration, he does manage a fine and stylish job of keeping the tension high. Likewise, Jerry Goldsmith’s score isn’t quite up to Bernard Herrmann’s classic work on the original, but it still manages to be effectively nerve-jangling during key moments.
There’s some particularly good use made of overhead camerawork, including one audacious crane shot from the round attic window down towards a pair of teens sneaking into the basement. There are also some cleverly-arranged shots involving a peephole in the bathroom affording a sneaky view of the shower.
Superior slasher movie
Unlike Hitchcock, Franklin succumbs to the early 80s demand to depict the murders with graphic prosthetics. Even here, however, his work is a degree or two smarter than the average slasher director. The first two murders show only a brief, small amount of blood before leaving the rest to the imagination. However, the finale dwells over a variety of gruesome knife-slayings, and ends up being all the more shocking because its style breaks with what has come before.
The one slight weakness here is that some of the plot twists do feel overly contrived. Still, the film’s engaging approach to its central character and its solid grasp of horror-thriller mechanisms means that this flaw never really spoils things.
Runtime: 113 mins
Dir: Richard Franklin
Script: Tom Holland, based on characters created by Robert Bloch
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The colours are somewhat blanched on occasion, but startling at other times. There is a fine sense detail, right down to the dust on deserted house, the time-faded wallpaper and the characters’ wet hair when they come in from the rain. The audio presentation is suitably clear and dramatic.
Highlights amongst the extras
The essay “Psycho II” by Jon Robertson is a fine critical analysis of a sequel that, perhaps undeservedly, has been forced to live in the shadow of the original for many years. “Without a Hitch” is an excerpt from director Richard Franklin’s unpublished autobiography which discusses the making of the film. He reveals that, since producer Hilton Green (who was assistant director on Psycho) was a vice president of Universal, a watchdog wasn’t assigned to the production - meaning that it could be made without interference.
Franklin also talks about the challenges involved in creating a sequel that worked, and a few non-Hitchcock influences that he worked in (he asked cinematographer Dean Cundey to copy the look of Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter). He also tells us how he tried to use as many people involved in the original as possible, his colourful experiences during the film’s opening night and more. A great read.
Audio Commentary with Tom Holland
An enjoyable gab through the production hosted by Rob Galluzo who interviews writer Holland. The latter reveals that the film was originally intended to be a made-for-cable affair with Christopher Walken in the Norman Bates role. However, when Anthony Perkins came aboard the worldwide response to the news startled Universal, who decided to promote it a cinema release.
He also reveals original Bates house was torn down shortly after Hitchcock’s film was released, so it was rebuilt on the Universal backlot right down to individual props, and was turned into a part of the studio tour even during shooting, which proved to be a nuisance to the production. Carrie Fisher, Meg Ryan and Linda Hamilton were amongst the actresses considered for the role of Mary before it went to Meg Tilly. However, despite the latter’s evident onscreen chemistry with Perkins, he had issues with her and wanted her replaced halfway through production (which clearly wasn’t feasible).
Holland also points out a brief silhouette “cameo” by Alfred Hitchcock (evidently not the real person, who died before this sequel was shot).
Behind the Curtain: The Masters of Horror on Psycho
The Psycho Legacy director Rob Galluzo leads a panel discussion with Tom Holland and Mick Garris (who directed the later Psycho IV - making him the only surviving director of the four films). They talk about their first experiences discovering the original film, Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Bloch. They reveal that Perkins was “challenging” to work with, and that Universal Studios hated him due to his frequent arguments with them over money.
Garris, meanwhile, makes a rather frank proclamation about the slasher genre that came in its wake: “If Psycho was the mother of slashers, I wish she had an abortion!”
Giving Bloch His Due
Chet Williamson who wrote the novel Psycho: Sanitarium discusses the legacy of Psycho novel writer Robert Bloch. He briefly talks about Psycho and some of the other novels and scripts that Bloch wrote - including short stories for the magazine Weird Tales, and a number of Star Trek episodes. When he discusses Bloch’s novelisation of Psycho II a Spoiler Alert caption is put up when he reveals a key difference between it and the film version. However, this revelation has also been mentioned openly by Tom Holland in both the interview and commentary on this disc without forewarning us, thus making the alert a rather pointless in this context.
Anthony Perkins TV Interview
Since Anthony Perkins has long since passed away, the prospect of a new interview is impossible. Instead, we get this snippet of an old TV show presented by the (again, long-deceased) Australian film critic Ivan Hutchinson. Perkins (who looks surprisingly younger than he did in Psycho II, despite this being shot around the time) opens by discussing the last time he was in Melbourne, Australia (for the film On The Beach) and then goes on to discuss Psycho II.
He reveals that he disagrees with Bloch’s novel version of the Psycho sequel as it featured Norman Bates escaping from an institution, with him maintaining that the character is too fundamentally strait-laced to do so. He is also rather complementary here about co-star Meg Tilly (perhaps out of professional courtesy) despite Tom Holland mentioning in other interviews here that he wasn’t happy with her.
We also get audio interviews, a glimpse of Richard Franklin on-set, Franklin commenting on a pivotal scene, 9 vintage featurettes, a demo of Jerry Goldsmith’s score, trailers and a gallery. There is some inevitable overlap here, but nonetheless this is a treasure trove.
If you haven’t seen it, you will find Psycho II to be a much better sequel than you might reasonably expect. If you caught it years ago, it’s well worth revisiting. This Blu Ray version is also another excellent package courtesy of Arrow.