In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock brought the iconic character Norman Bates to the big screen. A character that for some reason, we all wanted to know about. It is a story that was originally created by writer Robert Bloch, and was published in 1959, but it’s no wonder that it only took Hitchcock one year to release the movie. The character of Norman Bates is full of suspense, mystery, horror and thrills, all of which are defining characteristics of a substantial portion of Hitchcock’s movies. The story of Norman Bates has quite a few similarities to “The Butcher of Plainfield”, aka Ed Gein, the true story of the infamous American murderer who, according to psychiatrists that examined him, was trying to make a “woman suit” to wear so he could pretend to be his dead mother. It’s a disturbing story that is perfect for a horror movie.
Psycho, we all know and love it. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling and filmmaking that elevated genre cinema and still, to this day, is considered by many as one of the greatest slasher movies ever created. It is a story of doing the wrong thing and karma hitting you right back. A man driven so insane by his mother, both alive and dead. It was one of the first horror movies that I ever watched, and contained a twist that I just did not see coming. Pure and utter brilliance. Fast forward to 1983, Psycho II is released. A sequel to one of the most iconic movies of the horror genre. But does it truly deserve as much praise as its predecessor?
I always wished that I was of an age to acknowledge the release of so many great horror movies that I love today. Psycho II would be so high on that list and I wish I could have witnessed how people reacted to the news of a sequel being to one of the most iconic movies of all time. But I picked up a copy of Arrow Video’s recent release of Psycho II, and it made me realise that it absolutely deserves such praise as a sequel that’s up there with the first film.
So how does the story of Psycho II begin? Well it’s in the tagline: “It’s 22 years later and Norman Bates is coming home.” Norman has completed his treatment at a mental institution, and now wants a second chance in life. From here, he returns to the famous but run-down Bates Motel that he knows so well, and in his heart he feels that the next right step is to get a job at a local diner before eventually getting the the motel back up and running. This is where we meet Mary, who is played by Meg Tilly. She feels for Norman, and for those who still have not seen it, let’s just say that this is where we see a unusual relationship in the making.
I imagine that the biggest task at the time, for everyone involved, was to figure out how were they going to live up to the hype. For me personally, there are many highlights. For a start, Richard Franklin took so much care with directing this. He knew that this was a serious challenge at hand, that he had to get right, but it wasn’t just for the fans. You can tell from the get-go that Hitchcock was an influence on Franklin, and in my opinion, there are some shots that the director captures which exemplify this. For example, the scene just before Norman switches on the bedroom light, for a split second you can see the shadow of the man himself, Alfred Hitchcock, reflecting off the wall. This is one of the many small details that shows the care and love that Franklin had for his film-making, influences and audience.
Then we have Dean Cundey. Anyone that is a fan of horror cinema knows this name. The man is an absolute hero. From all the mind-blowing work that he did for John Carpenter on Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, to the Back To The Future trilogy, and even Hook, Death Becomes Her, and Jurassic Park to name a few. Again, his work excels throughout this movie. Cundey’s cinematography is my all-time favourite and there is just an incredible tone from all his work. But what I find so interesting here is that no matter how many times that I have watched Psycho II, Cundey does not make this movie feel like it’s from 1983, it always felt way more modern to me. And this Arrow Video transfer is the perfect way to see it.
But the biggest highlight for me is the story. In my opinion, Tom Holland delivers a near perfect script for how the sequel for Psycho should be told. It was only two years later when Holland released his masterpiece, and one of my top five favourites, Fright Night. The man can tell an incredible story. The chemistry he created for Norman and Mary is so witty, intense, and surprising. But it’s how Holland plays out the character of Norman, and toys with the audiences emotions that blew my mind. We can’t forget who Norman once was, but as you watch the sequel, you will feel sorry for him. In my opinion, this is genius writing. We actually start to feel the same emotions as Mary. This is where it proves that with both Franklin’s exceptional directing, and Holland’s script, that it was an incredible team effort. A scene as simple as Mary casually talking to Norman, but then handing him a knife to cut a toasted cheese sandwich, plays out in such a brilliantly dark humorous way for the audience. Apparently, both Anthony Perkins and Meg Tilly didn’t get on so well on set, which you can hear more about on the audio commentary of this release. But for me personally, I can’t find a single fault in both of their performances. The chemistry within the movie is there, and I would go as far to say that it’s my favourite Perkins’ performance.
This Arrow release has a nice few special features but the standouts are a brilliant new feature titled – Behind The Curtain: The Masters of Horror on Psycho. A conversation between Shock Waves Podcast host Rob Galluzzo, Tom Holland, and Psycho IV director Mick Garris. And a very insightful/fun audio commentary with Tom Holland and Rob Galluzzo.
I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy here from Arrow Video of what I would call the perfect sequel that is, Psycho II.