The Test of Time: Psycho II (1983)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Director: Richard Franklin
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and Robert Loggia.

Out of all the horror classics, PSYCHO looms above all, not only because of  Alfred Hitchcock, but because of the psychological terror it caused. Norman Bates wasn’t the boogieman. He was an average guy with serious mama issues which made him more terrifying than anything seen before in cinema. It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple. However, like all movies, nothing is above remaking and sequelizing. Usually, things don’t work out but every so often a sequel can either live up to or enhance the original work. While Hitchcock passed away before this movie was shot, star Anthony Perkins did return two decades later. But does his return to one of the most iconic characters ever mean the film holds up against the test of time?

Under the examination: PSYCHO II.

Oh boy, what did he eat?

THE STORY: Norman Bates has not had the easiest life with a mother who drove him insane. After serving two decades in the nut house for murder (caused by his insanity), the courts have deemed him finally fit to return to society thanks to his trusted doctor (Robert Loggia) despite the strong objections of Marion Crane’s sister Lila (original actress and Kansas’ own Vera Miles). Instead of making a new life for himself, he moves back home to where his mother once terrorized him to find the Bates Motel now run by scumbag Toomey (Dennis Franz). Norman quickly fires him, creating a small town nemesis. At the same time, he lands a gig at a local diner, where he meets young Mary (Meg Tilly), who ends up moving in with Norman. And while Norman knows his mother is dead dead, somehow she has returned, leaving him notes and calling him. Is it in his head or has she actually returned? Now…I could go on, but honestly, if you’ve never seen this movie it’ll suck to spoil it. Let’s just say PSYCHO II should be the poster boy for a plot with twists and turns and death.

Milk, sandwiches, and a knife.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I’d have to wager that PSYCHO II had an uphill battle when it was released in 1983 (much like Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of the original). It could have just duplicated what had been done before, but thankfully director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland (who eventually directed FRIGHT NIGHT and CHILD’S PLAY) decided to go their own way. Actually, original novelist Robert Bloch wrote a sequel in 1982 but let’s just say the plot seemed a little too wacky. And I’m glad they didn’t follow Bloch’s story as the best part about PSYCHO II is the genuinely f*cked up plot. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is a mean, dark movie and one of the more original takes on a sequel that I’ve seen.

Since PSYCHO II was released in 1980s, at the height of the slasher craze, it had to be amped up a little more. But director Franklin, though relatively unknown, was an actual student of Hitchcock and brought plenty of respect to the project. There is gore with a lot of stabbings (Franz takes a knife to the face), but it’s nothing disrespectful to the original or over the top like a Tom Savini project (not that that’s a bad thing). In fact, everything plays like a stylistic homage to the original without repeating it. It’s beautifully shot, looking crisp in HD, which shouldn’t be too surprising thanks to cinematographer Dean Cundey who shot BACK TO THE FUTURE and JURASSIC PARK.

More than anything, PSYCHO II is a showcase for Anthony Perkins. He was phenomenal in the original film…so good that he ended up being typecast in such roles and his career ultimately flatlined. Bates is his role, and he’s a welcome sight. Perkins does a good job of balancing between sanity and insanity, never knowing if what he sees is real or not, like all the nasty notes from mother. The rest of the cast also works. Loggia never disappoints and its entertaining to see Franz play a dirtbag. Tilly seems a bit uncomfortable at times in the role, but that was the point.

At least Mother still loves him.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: As great as it is to see Anthony Perkins back in the role as Norman Bates, he tends to…overact at times. Don’t get me wrong, he still owns the role and the movie would not work without him, but sometimes his reaction to something shocking looks a little too “shocked.” And as he slowly turns back into nutty Norman, he looks like he’s acting, not reacting. Same could be said for Tilly, who I like as young confused Mary, but she’s a little too soft. As PSYCHO II progresses, her character changes, but she doesn’t show the darkness to make her character feel real.

Norman is shocked! Can't you tell?

THE VERDICT: Make no mistake, PSYCHO II is no GODFATHER II or DARK KNIGHT. And it obviously isn’t as effective as Hitchcock’s masterpiece. With that said, PSYCHO II is damn better than expected, with a nasty story that does its best to never repeat what had been done before. Instead, it does what sequels should do – advance the story and the character, taking it in a new direction. It might never be remembered as a true classic, but it should not be forgotten or displaced.  



Was it tie day?

Extra Tidbit: What are your thoughts on PSYCHO II?



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