Saturday, June 22, 2013

#159: Psycho II (Richard Franklin, 1983)

Richard Franklin's 1983 sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho is, depending on your aesthetic temperament, an entertainingly pulpy homage to the original or a crass, brazen cash-in on the reputation of the Hitchcock film. Critics at the time of the film's release tended toward the latter point of view, but time has been kind, and recent years have seen an uptick in reputation and a small, growing cult of appreciative fans. Count me in with the film's admirers. I really enjoyed what director Franklin, screenwriter Tom Holland, and star Anthony Perkins did with Psycho II.
Franklin is ballsy enough to open with the entire shower scene from the first film. This is a risky move. Hitchcock was a spatial architect of near-genius, while Franklin is merely a good director, and putting their filmmaking styles side-by-side from the beginning invites an unflattering comparison for Franklin. It works for me because the majority of scenes in the sequel echo, pay tribute to, or affectionately parody Hitchcock's film, and the sequel uses the same sets of the motel and house as the first film and two of the same stars (Perkins and Vera Miles). Unlike the cheap, cash-grabbing knockoff it was derided as in 1983, Psycho II is the love letter of a fan to one of his favorite films. It's like fan fiction, in a way, and everyone here appears to be operating from affection, not opportunism. And those detractors conveniently ignored, or maybe didn't know, that Franklin was a friend and protégée of Hitchcock's.
Psycho II opens in real time, 23 years after the first film, with Norman Bates (Perkins) declared sane and released back into society. Lila Loomis (Miles) is also at the hearing, vociferously protesting his release and claiming he will kill again. Norman's psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), keeps close tabs on Norman and helps him get a job at a diner to help integrate him back into society. Norman befriends a waitress at the diner, Mary (Meg Tilly), and she soon moves into Bates' house after her boyfriend dumps her and kicks her out of their apartment. Norman returns to find a new proprietor of the Bates Motel, Warren Toomey (a seedy, delightfully over-the-top Dennis Franz), and he is dismayed to find out Toomey has turned the motel into a by-the-hour dive for those wishing to engage in illicit sexual and pharmaceutical activity in a private setting. Norman fires Toomey and makes plans to reopen the motel as it was before. Things are going great for Norman, except for the phone calls and notes he keeps receiving from his long-dead mother. Is he going crazy again, or is something more sinister going on?
What follows is a highly entertaining B-movie with a great Perkins performance and nice visual and structural nods to most of the key scenes in the first film, including the shower scene, Arbogast's fall down the stairs, the peephole, the explanatory speech at the end, the car dredged from the swamp, and Mother Bates. There are also a couple surprise twists I didn't see coming, not enough Robert Loggia, an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score, effectively squirm-inducing suspense, genuine shocks, and some lovably cheesy low-budget '80s special effects sequences. It will also make you want some toasted cheese sandwiches.
Director Franklin, an Australian who died in 2007 from cancer, made two cult horror films prior to Psycho II I hear good things about (Patrick and Road Games), the kids' adventure movie Cloak & Dagger, the sequel to F/X, and some television work. Screenwriter Tom Holland would go on to write and direct the hit horror films Fright Night and Child's Play. The cast I'm sure you're mostly familiar with. Oddly enough, Robert Bloch, writer of the novel that was the basis for the first film, wrote a second novel in 1982 that saw Norman Bates escape from the mental institution to attempt to stop a Hollywood biopic of his life from being filmed. Bloch's unflattering take on the film industry supposedly pissed off Universal Studios enough to cause them to develop a sequel of their own, completely unrelated to Bloch's book. That sounds like an apocryphal tale to me, but if it is true, I'm glad their temper tantrum led to this film. It's a good one.

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