Yet another week in October? That means we need to take the time to focus on the reason for the season: horror sequels that aren’t that bad! No, really! They are a delight! And thankfully, there are hundreds, if not billions of them to peruse.
Again, thanks to those of you out there in the Interwebnets who have continued to read this earthshattering blog despite the horribly late to the point of nonexistent updates! You are the bedrock of a foundation of a cornerstone of an amazing experience. If it was within my limited and shockingly miniscule power, I would see to it that all of you would receive a half price discount on your favorite beef jerky. No need to thank me, that’s just who I be.
Oh and spoilers are thriving throughout. I mean Psycho is 60 this year and Psycho II is 37 years old. So, dry your tears and relax. Take a shower.
The Sequel: Psycho II (1983)
Original Movie: Psycho (1960)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Anthony Perkins||as Norman Bates|
|Vera Miles||as Lila Crane|
|Virginia Gregg||as Norma Bates (voice)|
|Hilton A. Green||Producer (Assistant Director on Psycho|
To Start With:
“It’s starting again.”
Why in the hell would anyone want to make a sequel to Psycho? Seems absolutely insane, doesn’t it? That’d be like making Two Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Another Bridge on the River Kwai or Pulp Fiction II: Pulp Harder. Golly, that’d be as daft as making a sequel to Gone with the Wind! Oh, wait. Never mind.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was a titanic hit upon release in 1960. Paramount didn’t have much faith in it at the time; they wanted something along the lines of Hitchcock’s previous successes like North by Northwest. This was an exploitative nasty horror film based off of a violent book by Robert Bloch which was partly based on a grisly horrid crime. (By the way, hello Plainfield, WI! Home state pride, I tells you!)
So Hitchcock went ahead with his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV crew, shot Psycho in black & white to save money, developed an publicity stunt by urging theater owners to not allow people into the theater after the film started, and when all was said and done…it worked. Psycho became part of film history, influenced dozens of other films, and has stood the test of time as one of Hitchcock’s great films.
Psycho became such a part of the entertainment landscape that even Saturday Night Live couldn’t help but lampoon it when Anthony Perkins hosted during the first season. Remember this dialogue from Norman Bates himself?
“Yes, a diploma in motel management can be your passport to prosperity, independence, and security, but are you motel material? Let’s find out with a simple quiz.
Question 1: A guest loses the key to her room. Would you…
- Give her a duplicate key
- Let her in with your passkey
- Hack her to death with a kitchen knife”
Michael O’Donoghue was right on point when he wrote this. He knew the incredible impact that Psycho had, even including shots of the stuffed birds in the motel office during the sketch to add atmosphere. It certainly helped that everyone knew the twist from the first movie, as evidenced by the live audience reaction. Can you imagine trying to make a follow-up to Psycho? Where could the story possibly go? A sequel was an absolutely crazy idea. And yet…
By 1983, Universal now owned the distribution rights for many films in the Hitchcock catalogue, including Psycho. During that same timeframe, slasher movies were making a killing. (Extremely easy pun very much intended!) Why not make a little TV sequel to Psycho to cash in? Better yet, why not make a theatrical release with Anthony Perkins returning as Norman Bates, hire Hitchcock acolyte Richard Franklin fresh off of Road Games as director, and bring back the cinematic granddaddy of the genre to show these stalk-n-slash young’uns how it’s done.
Amazingly, Psycho II not only was made, but also came out really well. (Check out The Birds II: Land’s End if you want to see how a bad Hitchcock sequel could be…) For an over 20 year gap in-between Psycho films, the odds were long, but they paid off handsomely. Perkins shone once again in the role that established and forever typecast him. Franklin’s direction was well done, Dean Cundey’s cinematography was great, Tom Holland’s script was tight, and Jerry Goldsmith’s music was apropos.
Is it the first movie? Oh, no. It isn’t. But that’s okay. Just rehashing the same in the sequel wouldn’t have done Psycho II any favors. That would have been just as silly as doing a shot for shot remake of the original film, in color even! Good thing that idea is just an erratic statement from an irrational soul like myself and would never ever see the light of day. Whew!
Anything Done Better than the Original?
“That is legal hocus pocus! And when he murders again, you will be directly responsible!”
Oh, this is dangerous ground for someone that enjoys Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s films as much as I do. (Then again, I think 2010: The Year We Make Contact is better than 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I can be outlandish too! Hah, suck on that Kubrick!) But I don’t think I’m overreaching when I say that Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is better than ever.
Granted, you need to know the events of the first film, but using that as a springboard, Perkins brings sympathy, humor, pathos, madness, and more. Unlike sickos like me that want Jason Voorhees to rise from the dead to begin slaughtering again, we don’t necessarily want Norman to slip back into insanity. We cheer him on, hoping against hope that he can battle his demons because we see the mental anguish he’s experiencing. Perkins was a terrific actor and he puts on Norman like a pair of comfortable shoes. Kudos and more kudos to you, sir.
The original Psycho had Simon Oakland as a know-it-all psychiatrist to wrap things up with a tidy bow. In that film, he comes out of nowhere, unwelcomely over-explaining things to death. And if not for Oakland’s deteriorating health, he would have reprised that role as the doctor that rehabilitated Norman. Instead, we get…Robert f*cking Loggia! (And yes, that is his damn name. Don’t fight me on this; he’s dead and I’m still scared he’d come back and kick my arse straight off the planet.)
Robert Loggia is one of my absolute favorite actors. Normally he’d be a mob lieutenant or any role that required someone who conveyed a “hey, I’m not taking any of your shit”-type of attitude. God love him for that. So seeing him as a shrink is amazing! Can you imagine the therapy sessions? “Look Norman, you’re going to be well by the time I count to ten or I’m going to break your damn kneecaps. Capisce?” To his credit, Loggia is believable, because again, he’s Robert f*cking Loggia!
Anything as Good as the Original?
“When I was little, I had a fight with my mother, so I put some poison in her tea, you know. But I’m all right now.”
The mystery within this film is done very well. We don’t know if Norman is necessarily going crazy or if perhaps someone is driving him crazy or if perhaps someone else other than the people driving him crazy is driving him crazy. Yes, the final twist is a bit of a letdown, but overall this idea works.
Vera Miles as Lila Loomis has been given a bit more to do compared to the first movie. Her quest to nail Norman to the wall is understandable, given that he had made sure that her sister never got to fill out her comment card at the Bates Motel. Being one of the only original cast members to survive Psycho, it was good they got her, she performs admirably, and her death was worthy of any kill from the slasher film catalog.
By the way, John Gavin, who played Sam Loomis in Psycho, was unavailable to join the film because he was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico at the time. (No, really. Reagan put him there. Yes, I’m serious. Look it up!)
Jerry Goldsmith had an unenviable task of trying to write a score after Bernard Herrmann’s iconic music from Psycho. Herrmann’s violin shrieks are still used in everyday culture when someone is stabbing a pumpkin or a random motel guest. But Goldsmith didn’t simply rearrange or regurgitate Herrmann’s work; he made his own score, which is a masterful piece of music indeed.
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“At least, my customers have a good time! What do yours get, Bates, huh? Dead, that’s what they got! Dead, murdered by you, you loony!”
While the cops aren’t outright goofy, they are out of their depth. The sheriff in the original was rather matter of fact and completely believable. This sheriff is not laughably bumbling, at times even giving Norman the benefit of the doubt, but he also is never a full-on threat to Norman. Perhaps if the sheriff was always around to keep an eye on things, always suspicious, always waiting for Norman to trip up, might have been a better way to go.
Maybe it comes down to my personal taste, but I don’t really care for Meg Tilly in the movie. Yes, there are others that have given her the thumbs up and yes, I know that she’s essentially playing a role-within-a-role here, but I’ve never believed her performance. If Psycho II had stayed a quickie TV movie, she’d probably be a fine choice, but for a theatrical film with these supporting actors, I think this part needed someone with more range. Tilly has said that she didn’t have an easy time on set with Perkins and the director. While that might explain part of it, she still doesn’t come across for me, even after the reveal that she is…the…daughter of Lila Loomis! Dun…dun…duuuuhnn!
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
Eh, the ending sticks in my craw as it messes with the Norma/Norman Bates mother/son dynamic. To have Mrs. Spool (who?) claiming to be Norman’s actual mother is a bit off. Not that Norman wouldn’t have killed Norma Bates anyway mind you. She still was a headcase that made Norman’s life a henpecked hell. But it takes a smidge of the matricide angle off with the implication that Norman killed essentially a loony foster parent and not a loony birth mother. Psycho III attempts to fix this plot element by making it hogwash, but that’s rather slapdash in execution too.
Of course, Norman kills Mrs. Spool suddenly, violently, and almost hilariously right at the end. I’ve noticed myself giving a reflexive laugh whenever I’ve watched that part and I hope that I’m not alone with that reaction. (And if I am alone with that reaction, then I was just joking. Yep, joking! Ha! Ha-hah… Ahem.)
Normally I love Dennis Franz, but here? How in the hell did someone dripping with a foot-thick Chicago accent get stuck in the middle of tumbleweed laden Fairvale, CA? But his calling Norman Bates an actual “psycho” is a bit too on the nose for my liking. While I’m nitpicking, Franz’s death is odd too. He looks like a werewolf in early transformation stages as he is offed, due the blood effect piping in his not-as-shadowy-as-it-should-be face.
Now if Franz was doing his best pre-Sipowicz/post-Dressed to Kill impression as the town sheriff, then that would have been an interesting dynamic… But he didn’t, so it wasn’t.
“You could stop stuffing bloody towels in toilets and peering through peep-holes in the wall.”
“Well what are you gawking at? Go down stairs and open the motel! What do you expect us to live on, hope?!”
Since Psycho II made money at the box office and earned some good reviews to boot, Universal greenlit Psycho III, with Perkins also directing for the first time. His Norman is as good as ever. Watching Norman fall in love is wonderfully awkward and sad too. I especially like the touch of Norman straightening out a picture that his intended victim knocked slightly when trying to escape him. Because “Mother” must keep things tidy, you know!
But when Norman isn’t the biggest psychopath in the film, thanks to an over-the-top Jeff Fahey, it takes a bit of steam out of the experience. Plus “Mother” at times is just slashing to slash, which is unusual and out of character for the normally motivated matriarch. That’s fine if you’re Jason Voorhees, but not if you’re Norman Bates. (That reminds me: special mention to Juliette Cummins, who was killed in Friday the 13th Part V in 1985, was killed by “Mother” here in 1986, and then was killed in 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II! You got the hat trick! Great work, Juliette!)
Speaking of 1987, NBC decided to make a TV series called Bates Motel, starring Bud Cort. They then thought better of it, threw the pilot out there to fend for itself, and it died a supernatural death.
1990 brought about another TV movie, Psycho IV: The Beginning. It was a sequel and a prequel, showing Norman’s childhood and past events that guided him on the path to insanity. Perkins was back as current day Norman, and Henry Thomas, who played the younger Norman in flashbacks, did a great job. Olivia Hussey was marvelous, playing a beautiful yet mercurial and unhinged Norma Bates. Special nods to the always wonderful CCH Pounder and John Landis in a cameo where he cameos so everyone can say “Hey, that’s John Landis!” Psycho IV essentially ignores Psycho II and III, but I don’t mind as long as the late great Anthony Perkins is giving his Norman one last appearance on the screen.
Then there was the looniest idea since the idea of making a sequel to Psycho: doing a shot for shot remake in color of Psycho in 1998. Director Gus Van Sant, seemingly flush with the success that Good Will Hunting brought, presumably decided to dare the studio to do this experiment. Now if he just wanted to do a cheapie, “let’s see if I can do this”-type of film graduate program project movie, then I’d probably be okay with it.
Instead it took $60 million dollars with name stars and a poster that flagrantly gives away the film’s biggest twist. The stars are ill-cast for the most part, save for Julianne Moore as the thankless Lila Crane and William H. Macy as the P.I. Arbogast. The entire movie has a bit of polish, with updated script references so the film doesn’t seem dated, but ultimately it begs the question of why Van Sant just didn’t make a period piece redux? Instead we get what we got and nobody wanted that and then some.
And because a reboot/reimagining/redo is trendy, a Bates Motel series launched in 2013 for five seasons on A&E. It was a 50 episode version of Psycho IV and received critical plaudits and I’ve never watched it. But it is there, so enjoy!
“Would you care to share my toasted cheese sandwich?”
Psycho II has no business being as good as it is. From starting the movie with the iconic shower scene of Psycho to ending with a full blown loon Norman Bates standing outside his house, the constantly moving clouds in the night sky behind him, I think there’s definitely more good here than bad. Psycho II is an overall win for Norman, Mrs. Bates, and their booming hospitality service.
Nowadays, the nostalgia factor smothers us. It is completely common for studios and the like to grab any profitable property they can in order to spit shine it and present another entry, good or bad and, more often than not, it is bad. But in 1983, this was an outrageous idea. You just didn’t wait that long for a follow-up or a sequel. It was insane, but Norman was ultimately right: a boy’s best friend is his mother and “Mother” turned out to be our best friend after all.
“Remember, Norman. I’m the only one who loves you. Only your mother truly loves you.”