Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #34
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 3, 1983
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $34,725,000
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: Richard Franklin
Producers: Bernard Schwarz, Hilton A Green
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Special Effects: Greg C Jensen
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Andrew London
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Robert Alan Browne, Claudia Bryar, Ben Hartigan, Lee Garlington, Chris Hendrie, Tom Holland, Lee Garlington, Tim Maier, Jill Carroll
Suggested Audio Candy
Jerry Goldsmith “Main Theme”
How do you even begin to go about following up on perfection? When it was announced in 1983 that Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin intended to do just that, by directing a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho, it would be fair to say that the knives were already sharpened. The original was truly ahead of its time, featured one of the most iconic scores in cinematic history, and hadn’t lost an ounce of its impact two decades later so attempting to update its formula was both an incredibly daunting proposition and one seemingly doomed for failure.
Franklin gained a name for himself with his 1978 psychological thriller Patrick grabbing itself a cult audience but it was three years later, with Hitchcock homage Road Games that he proved himself as having precisely the right credentials for this particular job. The eighties were an entirely different proposition for Norman Bates and many believed he would fall into the trap of believing more to mean more, when its predecessor never relied on extreme violence to make its point. However, what he and screenwriter Tom Holland did was both unprecedented and decidedly shrewd.
You see, for all intents and purposes, Psycho II couldn’t be farther removed from the ABC slasher everyone had been expecting. It is actually an intelligent character study and builds on what little we already know about Bates, as opposed to desecrating it. The legendary Anthony Perkins reprises the role that he would ultimately be remembered for and Holland’s incisive screenplay gives him plenty to work from. Here he is the hero, the hard up guy that we all want to see banish those demons and make something of himself. Of course, we all know that a monster rages inside, but he is presented as a middle-aged man whose only desire is to put the past behind him.
“I don’t kill people anymore.”
It is 22 years since the Bates Motel debacle and Norman has done his time. Having been release from the mental institution, he returns to the one place that his heart resides and discovers that quite a lot has changed during the interim. The motel is still in tact but under the ominous new management of local cretin Warren Toomey (a gloriously disagreeable Dennis Franz) and long since transformed into a haven for sleazy hookups and passing undesirables. Thankfully, he manages to land himself a job at the local diner as a short order cook and, to begin with, things appear to be going rather well. He is timid but approachable, hard-working and honest, just the right man for the job it appears.
“I’m telling you there was a note on that wheel from my dead mother.”
The thing about voices in your head is that, while they may take an extended hiatus, there is always a chance that they’ll one day return and a little nudge in the right direction by an anonymous trickster brings them straight back to the frontal lobe. The thing is, Norman keeps himself to himself and precious few people know his history. There is only his psychiatrist Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia) and Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), who admittedly would have a pretty concrete motive given that Norman slaughtered her sister Marion years earlier. Indeed, Lila protested at his hearing and clearly has his number.
“Would you care to share my toasted cheese sandwich?”
However, not everyone appears to be gunning for Norman and a blossoming relationship with down-on-her-luck waitress Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) offers him a lifeline. He returns the favor by offering her free room and board at his house, you know, the one on the hill. At some point, Mary will invariably need a shower, but Norman is determined to remain the gentleman and keep the bread knife in the downstairs draw. Their relationship is sweetly observed and offers encouragement that perhaps he is rehabilitated after all. We hope so. Everyone deserves a break and Bates should be no exception. Perkins’ gloriously twitchy delivery positively demands that we empathize.
Now we too have voices buzzing in our head and Holland’s fine script, married with Franklin’s sumptuous visual accompaniment, both incorporate and uphold a real sense of mystery which serves Psycho II remarkably well. However, the film transcends its subject matter as it ultimately only about Norman’s safe passage. Having been shackled behind the apron strings of a crabby old bag that has been dead longer than she was formerly alive, he has arrived at a crossroads in his journey and it appears that life is offering one final shot at a normal existence, with a divine and wholesome woman of the cloth no less…who just so happens to have one helluva sacred set of coordinates. Look, she’s taking a soak down as we speak. Mine’s the peephole next to Norm’s. And no it’s not large enough for Paulie The Penis. Sheesh!
“No, Mother. I won’t do that. You can’t make me kill her.”
You see? I know which action most red-blooded alpha would take. But not our Norman and surely that restraint alone is worthy of our endorsement. Psycho II is a film about redemption and couldn’t be further away from inconsequential. Lurching Perkins actually went on to provide his lap of honor as Norman Bates in 1986 and took to the director’s chair to boot. For as much as it wasn’t an outright failure, any mystery was somewhat vanquished and therefore could never resonate as powerfully as his turn here.
No sequel could ever hope to elaborate on the works of such eminence could it? Actually Franklin’s film doesn’t even attempt to out-do its predecessor. Once a director sets themselves that lofty task it becomes a slippery slope and instead the focus is on remaining relevant to its time. Psycho II reflects its era hand-in-glove. Everybody was secretive back in the sixties and your problems were exactly that…yours for better for worse. Nobody spoke of such mishap. By the eighties, attitudes had changed and, while we all still conformed, it was to a different idol altogether… that being image and the constant pursuit of acceptance in a material world, ravaged by the allure of the green buck.
It may not share the same significance as its illustrious forebear to some but, as you will be aware, I’m not driven by the views of some. For me, Psycho II stands as tall as its long-limbed lead. Holland is an exceptional screenwriter, one of our finest, Franklin has studied his idol enough to know where he may have pitched this, cinematographer Dean Cundey possesses one the industry’s beadiest eyes for detail, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is truly sublime. Moreover, the cast are great across the board and, 113 minutes later, we are the grateful benefactors of a job very much well done. Welcome home Norman. Your slippers are where you left them. Mary’s taking a shower I believe, see you in our usual spot.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Take a break from all that messy splatter and enjoy a film that replaces it with excruciating suspense. There is a little blood here and there and one decidedly spiteful shovel dispatch that positively begs for freeze frame, but atmosphere is what truly makes Psycho II stand out and it has that in abundance. Regarding the pelt, Perkins still has his personal peeping perversions and the eighties were also the home of Porky’s so this time we get a little more than navel. Thank the heavens for evolution. How did people even wank in the sixties?
Of course, how foolish of me. Like a man in orthopedic plimsoles, I stand corrected. And no that isn’t an erection, it’s just the pleat in my slacks. Tough audience. Right then, back to my peep-hole. Find your own you pervert.
1983 in Horror
Here are ten horror films from 1983 that resonate with me personally. They may not all be the greatest motion pictures, but they’re mine.
Xtro: Without a shadow of a doubt, one of my all-time favorite movies. No need to elaborate further; read Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #10 and I’ll drum on at you until you do.
The Deadly Spawn: Only another film as ridiculous as Xtro could even dream of following it on a list such as this. This, my beloved Grueheads, is what B-Movies are all about.
The Dead Zone: Just in case any of you thought I had become deranged, here is a more highbrow offering. Cronenberg has never really put a foot wrong, he is as calculated a director as any on the circuit.
Videodrome: No reason for this coming after The Dead Zone as it’s every bit as vital. James Woods, Deborah Harry, David Cronenberg – are you getting my drift? The ultimate eighties flick to drop acid to.
The House on Sorority Row: Love the clown. Affable little slice of slasher lunacy and a film I would gladly revisit with a warm heart and open arms.
The Keep: Michael Mann’s Nazi nightmare is almost ancient history but one day it will get the recognition it deserves. Great cinematography, score and cast; not to mention atmosphere which drips from the screen like a leaky faucet.
Mausoleum: A surprise for some but not for others more in-tune with low-budget works of that time. Good splatter and a big rotten heart.
Christine: Keith Gordon is a very intriguing protagonist. His darkness of character perfectly matches his chosen ride in another Stephen King winner and another day at the office for the wonderful John Carpenter.
Death Warmed Up: Oz splatter done right. Mean, bloody, stylish and memorable; this is a far better flick than given credit for.
Spasms: Peter Fonda, Oliver Reed and one of the most mesmerizing sleeve arts ever designed. Good movie too and featuring painful pustules of snake venom to make your face itch.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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