I really can't think of any task more daunting for a filmmaker than making a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, one of the most respected and beloved horror films of all time. It's a totally ballsy move, especially to do it over 20 years later, as it's pretty damn impossible for such a film to ever be seen as anything more than an inferior follow-up. Which is why it's so incredibly impressive that Psycho 2 comes out of it all smelling like one of Mrs. Bates' delicious cheese sandwiches. But let's backtrack here for a second...
Anthony Perkins reprises the role of Norman Bates in Psycho 2, 23 years after first playing the part. That whole time, Bates has been in a mental hospital for the criminally insane, following the murders we saw him commit in Hitchcock's film. At the start of Psycho 2, Bates is released from the hospital, on the grounds that he's finally fit to be back in society. Or is he?
In perhaps the stupidest move in the history of horror cinema, Bates' psychologist decides to not only allow him to return back to his mother's house on the hill, but also hooks him up with a job in a diner kitchen, where he's of course always around kitchen knives ... and food which is about to be consumed ... even though he years prior killed his own mother by poisoning her tea. Ya, good call, dude. It's almost as if he says, "Here's a big knife and full access to all your past problems .... go have fun, Norm".
Anyways. So Bates returns back to the Bates Motel and his mother's house, where things all quicky begin to go downhill for him again ... and for everyone that checks in to his life.
**FUN FACT : THIS FILM WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO GO STRAIGHT TO TELEVISION, WITH CHRISTOPHER WALKEN BEING ONE OF THE ACTORS CONSIDERED TO PLAY BATES. IT WAS ONLY ONCE PERKINS SIGNED ON THAT THE FILM RECEIVED A THEATRICAL RELEASE**
Psycho 2 brilliantly begins with footage of the entire infamous shower scene from Psycho, immediately setting the mood and thrusting the viewer right back into the world of that film, no lengthy re-introductions to characters or explanations of past events necessary. Often sequels get muddled in wasting way too much time trying to re-establish things most people seeing them would already know, but with something like this I think it's pretty much common knowledge who Norman Bates is and what happened in Psycho, even all those years later. So it was awesome to see that right off the bat they just got right to the plot of this film, rather than wasting too much time re-establishing stuff from the first one.
I just used the word brilliant above and brilliant is most definitely one of the words I would use to describe Psycho 2 as a whole. The script by Fright Night/Child's Play writer/director Tom Holland is absolutely brilliant, a fascinating examination of a man with serious mental issues rather than a run of the mill slasher flick about a cold blooded killer who's just been sprung from prison. I feel like a lesser writer would've gone more for the latter take on the material, and it would've been a whole lot easier to do that, but Holland smartly makes the film all about Bates and what's going on in his head, as opposed to the kind of killer set free film I quite frankly expected it to be. Serious kudos to him for that.
The whole movie is essentially about Bates coping with life after being in prison for over 20 years, forced to resist his natural urges and quell his mental issues in an effort to remain free on the outside. Holland's script masterfully plays with that material incredibly well, as does Perkins' acting, and you truly get the sense that Bates wants to do good but his brain will simply not allow him to. It seems that every character in the movie is almost tempting Bates to return to his old ways (and some indeed intentionally are), including the young girl who works at the diner who he has taken into his home. At one point she places a kitchen knife in his hands so he can cut a sandwich in half (which he himself moments earlier had avoided picking up) and at another she makes a point to tell Bates she's going upstairs to take a shower ... which he of course can't resist peeking in on. The movie has a lot of fun with all that stuff, which makes it a true pleasure for any Psycho fan to watch.
**FUN FACT : AS AN HOMAGE TO HITCHCOCK'S WAY OF INSERTING HIMSELF INTO ALL OF HIS MOVIES, THE MAKERS OF THIS ONE PROJECTED A SHADOW ONTO THE WALL OF THE BATES HOUSE IN ONE QUICK SCENE, WHICH RESEMBLES HITCHCOCK'S FAMOUS SIDE PROFILE**
Now the really interesting and brilliant thing here is that Psycho 2 is a whodunit flick more than anything else, which you really wouldn't expect it to be. How does a sequel remain as suspenseful as Hitchcock's masterpiece when we already know who the killer is and what his intentions are? Well, Holland's script isn't so cut and dry and he never has Bates outwardly be the 'bad guy'. Yes, we know what Bates has done in the past, and what he's capable of, but throughout the whole movie we're never quite sure who is donning the Momma Bates attire and doing the killing. Is it Bates himself? Is it a copycat killer? Or is it Marion Crane's sister (played again by a returning Vera Miles), in an act of revenge to get Bates re-committed to the mental hospital? Not only do we not know the answer to this question throughout, but neither does Bates, which is another brilliant little touch. Due to his fragile mental condition, and his proclivity for blacking out, even he is never sure if he's been dressing as his mother and doing the killing or if he's totally innocent and no longer a killer or even if his mother herself is actually still alive (which he at times thinks is the case). Hell, I almost felt like I was going a little mad myself just watching it all play out! Hate to keep using the word but again, it's all incredibly brilliant. It's not just 'who's the killer?', but it's also 'is Bates still crazy?', so there's plenty enough going on to keep the film utterly engrossing throughout.
I know I'm focusing a lot on Holland's script here, but I have to also point out that the direction from Richard Franklin is superb as well. A whole laundry list of incredible and unique shots and camera angles evoke the spirit of Hitchcock, bringing the script to life in a very captivating and at times quite visually striking way. It's a true joy to watch this movie play out.
Full of fun twists and turns and rife with an air of suspense that'd make the Hitch himself proud, Psycho 2 manages to do what would seem to be the impossible; be a worthy follow-up to the original Psycho. In many ways it's a love letter to that film, and Franklin is in fact a big time fan and friend of Hitchcock's, but its ultimate display of love towards that movie is the fact that it's so smart and well made. Especially given the incredibly large shoes it had to live inside, I've gotta go ahead and consider this one of the very best horror sequels of all time. I just loved this movie a whole lot and was so impressed by how it never once comes off as being an inferior follow-up, and more than overcomes the inherent disadvantage of being a sequel to such a classic. It's its own movie, both an homage and an expansion on Hitchcock's, and it's damn good at being everything it is; a classy and respectable sequel to a classy and respected film. It was quite clearly born out of love for the original, rather than a love for money, the latter of which many horror sequels unfortunately are a product of. The film actually made me even love Psycho and everything about that whole universe all the more, which really says something.
I don't want to get too sappy here, but I felt an incredible sadness come over me watching Perkins in this movie. I feel like for the first time I really felt his loss, both as a human being and as an actor, and it's just such a bummer that he's gone. That man was a true treasure and I'm so glad, and thankful, that he got a few sequels to really dig deep into the character of Bates, which is a treat that he has forever left behind for us all. He's just so damn likeable, even when he's about to plunge a knife into your chest!
On that note, I honestly cannot wait to dig into Psycho 3 & 4, both of which Perkins also stars in. Definitely gonna be checking them out very soon, since I've got that DVD 3 pack of all the sequels. I look forward to it very much!