Movies We Like
Ignoring the radical and bizarre direction that Robert Bloch’s sequel book took, writer Tom Holland (who at the time had penned Class of 1984, The Beast Within, and The Initiation Of Sarah) opted instead to tell a brand new story, picking up 22 years after the events of the first Psycho film. The film had ended with Norman Bates being arrested after a string of murders at the Bates Motel which he committed as his alternate personality, his crazed, wild-eyed mother. Psycho II actually opens with the shower scene since this moment from the original and the character of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) play so heavily into the plot of the sequel. After a brief credit montage, we’re in the court room where Norman Bates is declared to be restored to sanity and is officially set free, much to the dismay of Lila Loomis aka Lila Crane, Marion’s sister, once again reprised by actress Vera Miles. Despite her protests and her signed petition, Norman walks out of the courthouse a free man, is escorted by his doctor, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia) back to his house and his motel, and is set up with a job at the local diner.
Despite the general unease of being back at his old house, all seems fairly normal for Norman as he tries to assimilate himself back into society. He befriends Mary (Meg Tilly), a waitress and co-worker from the diner who decides to take up Norman’s offer to stay with him after having a huge fight with her boyfriend and getting kicked out of her apartment. Norman’s first night back at the motel is met with a somewhat hostile confrontation with Warren Toomey (a fantastic ultra-sleazy performance by the great Dennis Franz) who has let the Bates Motel turn into a drug fueled “adult” motel. All of that aside, slowly but surely, Mary and Norman start to develop a wonderful friendship and you start to really feel a great deal of sympathy for Norman, who’s trying so hard to do the right thing and start his normal life. But alas, there’s something amiss at the Bates Motel.
Norman suddenly starts receiving phone calls and notes from someone claiming to be his “mother” and she wants Mary out of the house immediately; otherwise, she’ll personally take care of the “slut” herself. Then, shortly after yet another altercation with Toomey at the diner, Toomey gets killed by a large woman dressed in all black. Two teens break into the basement of the Bates house to make-out and again they’re met by a large woman in “black” with a butcher’s knife that ensures that the boy never leaves. Who could possibly be responsible for this sudden rash of new murders? Could it be Lila Loomis, the still angry relative of Norman Bates’s most famous victim? Could it be Mary, the gal living with Norman who has suddenly taken a liking to him and perhaps wants to protect him? Could it be Dr. Raymond? Could it actually be Norman’s “mother” Mrs. Bates, long thought to be dead? Or is it Norman again, back to his old tricks?
Part of the fun of the movie is the ‘who-dun-it’ aspect which literally keeps you guessing the identity of the killer (or is it killers?) until the very end. In fact, the pages for that final scene were not in the shooting draft of the script, but instead only distributed the day of so as to not give away the ending to anyone. Only Richard, Tom, and Anthony Perkins knew from the get-go where the film would actually end. And whether you’re right or not in your guess as to who’s responsible, it’s impossible for the audience to believe that Norman could be behind this new set of murders. Therein lays the power of Anthony Perkins’s amazing and sympathetic performance as Norman Bates. It’s what made us love that character as much as we did in the original and, above all, it’s what makes this movie work so well. While that ending is always a hot button for debate, as elements of it get changed in subsequent sequels, overall I think it's fun and a natural progression for the story to go. It also isn’t totally violated with Psycho III or Psycho IV, although there are minor continuity issues that only the most die-hard of fans would pick up on. Love it or hate it, the very end is something you will absolutely remember and want to talk about. And the last shot ends on dark clouds over the nightfall and the sound of thunder, exactly how we first met Norman in the original film.
I can’t forget to mention the brilliant, haunting original score composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith for Psycho II. One of the most iconic aspects of the original film is Bernard Herrmann’s infamous score, recognizable even to those who have never seen it, so it’s interesting that the filmmakers opted to bring in another legend in the field of composing to come up with something unique, original, sad, and somber to fit the overall tone of Norman Bates.
Also of note: look for director Richard Franklin’s Hitchcock-style cameo as the patron playing the video game when Norman gets to the diner on his first day of work. Hitchcock’s infamous shadow also makes a cameo in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it shot when Norman and Mary enter Mother’s room for the first time. Those fun little tidbits, coupled with all the wonderful, subtle nods to the original, make it a very rewarding viewing experience for die-hard Psycho fans.
It’s also interesting to see where the careers of all those involved in Psycho II went after the successful theatrical run of the sequel. Richard Franklin and Tom Holland collaborated together again on their follow-up film Cloak & Dagger,and eventually Holland made the jump to directing with Fright Night and Child’s Play. Meg Tilly had done The Big Chill and later received an Oscar nomination for her work in Agnes of God, while Dennis Franz continued to work on films with Brian De Palma and eventually had a huge career in television on shows such as Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. And last but not least, Anthony Perkins got to make his directorial with Psycho III.
Fun Fact: The one and only time that Anthony Perkins reprised the role of Norman Bates prior to Psycho II was for a 1976 appearance on the late-night sketch show Saturday Night Live for a segment titled “Norman Bates School of Motel Management.”