Psycho 2

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/04/04 15:14:44

"Believe it or not, it's actually a great flick."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It’s easy to understand why a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” would be looked upon as a bad idea on par with such modern questionables as a remake of “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town” starring Adam Sandler, an update of “Rollerball” with Chris Klein, or a new “House of Wax” with (ugh) Paris Hilton.

But before you go yelling that “Psycho II” was just some lame excuse to ride the slasher movie trend of the 1980s, just watch the movie. True, the violence has been upgraded to appease then-modern horror movie buffs, but for the most part, it’s a terrific mystery that pays tribute to the original classic without cheapening it.

The film picks up 22 years after the events in the first movie. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, but you knew that) has been declared fit to return to society, cured of mental illness and homicidal tendencies. He returns to his home above the Bates Motel, gets a job at the local diner, and even meets a nice young lady, Mary (Meg Tilly), who accepts Norman’s invite to move in.

Of course, not everybody’s happy to see Norman out and about. Lila Crane-Loomis (Vera Miles) is still plenty pissed, for good reason. Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz) is also plenty pissed, since he was running the motel until Bates came home and fired him. And then there’s Norman’s mother, who may or may not still be alive.

That last one’s a doozy, as it lays the groundwork for some wicked twists that remind the viewer that above all else, the original “Psycho” was a great mind game. The sequel, written by Tom Holland and directed by Richard Franklin (who later teamed up on the underrated 80s kid thriller “Cloak & Dagger”), plays a clever game with the audience, making sure we’re always guessing. Is someone else in the house? Is it mother? Is Norman crazy? Is someone just trying to drive him mad?

I’m not telling, although I will say the surprises still feel sharp after multiple viewings. The final scene is a real kicker, as it gives us one beauty of a plot twist, then a relatively unexpected action... then a few creepy final visuals. The last few minutes alone are worth the rental cost.

While the script plays as a treat for any fan of twist-laden movies, the real treats go to the hardcore “Psycho” fan. This is a film that doesn’t merely understand its roots; it respects them to no end. Franklin and Holland know their Hitch, and they delight in teasing the audience with familiar shots and situations. When Mary stops to take a shower, when we see holes in walls, when we see characters head on down to the fruit cellar, we wait, wondering if we’ll see what we think we’ll see.

And yet, Franklin isn’t merely ripping off Hitchcock’s famed visuals. He provides visual tricks all his own, allowing cameras to glide and wander as gracefully they did in the original, but with different results. He may be working in the style of Hitchcock, but the results are far from carbon copies.

This helps make “Psycho II” its own work, related to “Psycho” but not bound to it. The film has a rhythm all its own, as evident by Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly quiet piano theme - a complete opposite from Bernard Hermann’s famous music for strings. Even Perkins refuses to repeat himself; whereas his younger Norman was fidgety and tightly wound, the older Perkins is a little looser, a little more mellow (until things start to get bad, and we get the Norman we remember).

So no, “Psycho II” is not a bad idea at all. It’s a great mystery and a gripping thriller, a sequel that supports its predecessor instead of diminishes. Franklin and Holland manage to turn one of the most influential films of the last century into the beginning of a franchise - a risky project, but one that comes off effortlessly.

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