We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes: Revisiting Psycho II

The good Doctor sticks up for one of the best horror sequels there is. Hello, Norman. 

In a time before remakes and reboots were all the rage, contemplating a sequel to a beloved classic was almost unthinkable, and a big risk for major studios to take. But Psycho II not only managed to remain faithful to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but it also reminded audiences of Norman Bates, ensuring that his legacy would live on.

Twenty-two years after the events of Psycho, Bates is released from the mental institution, believed to be rehabilitated and no longer a threat to society.  He returns home to the Bates Motel where he hopes to live a normal and peaceful life. But, when history starts repeating itself, Norman finds himself questioning his own sanity.

Psycho II was produced on a modest estimated budget of $5,000,000. The film was directed by the late Richard Franklin (Road Games) and written by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play), who like Franklin, was a huge fan of Hitchcock’s work. The writer himself has admitted that Psycho had an immediate impact on him when he first saw it in theatres. Franklin and Holland worked closely together, ensuring that the finished project would be nothing less than a love letter to Hitchcock’s original classic. The creative pair would also collaborate on the adolescent spy thriller Cloak & Dagger (1984). The ever-reliable Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Poltergeist) was hired to write the music. The composer had been good friends with Bernard Herrmann, who had scored Psycho, making Goldsmith the perfect candidate to capture the essence of Hermann’s work as well as bringing his own unique musical flair to the picture.

Despite author Robert Bloch publishing a literary sequel to Psycho a year earlier, Universal decided not to adapt his work into a motion picture, which satirises the slasher genre and kills off Norman. The studio thought it best to make their own original sequel which bared no resemblance to Bloch’s novel. To begin with, Psycho II was going to be a little cable movie, but after worldwide interest spread with the news that Anthony Perkins would reprise his role as Bates, Universal decided to give the film a proper theatrical release instead. Initially, Perkins was hesitant to return to the role that had made him infamous, but thanks to Holland’s well-crafted script, which created great empathy for the character, and the fact that Universal were interested in hiring another actor for the lead, Perkins soon reconsidered and agreed to once again portray the ultimate mama’s boy on the big screen.

Director Franklin was hired to call the shots due to him being a Hitchcock scholar at USC; he had even visited the Master of Suspense on the set of his film Topaz (1969). Franklin hired up-and-coming screenwriter Tom Holland to pen the script after being impressed with his work on cult horror The Beast Within (1982). Holland was terrified of taking on such a daunting task, stating “I approached it with more trepidation because I was doing a sequel to Psycho and I had an overwhelming respect for Hitchcock. You didn’t want to mess it up, you really had almost a moral obligation to make something that stayed true to the original and yet updated it the same time. It really was the next step, what happens when Norman gets out.” The idea even got the blessing from Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia who had been contacted by producer Hilton A. Green to ask her opinion.

Psycho II was released on June 3, 1983, earning a very impressive $8,310,244 in its opening weekend. A great achievement considering the film’s small budget and that Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi had just been released.  In total, the brave sequel would go on to gross over $34 million, making it a surprise box office success. Empire Magazine’s Kim Newman has called the movie “a smart, darkly-comic thriller with some imaginative twists,” writing that “The wittiest dark joke is that the entire world wants Norman to be mad, and ‘normality’ can only be restored if he’s got a mummified mother in the window and is ready to kill again.”

I watched Psycho II again recently, and the film still holds up well after all these years. From start to finish, it’s blatantly obvious that this sequel is a loving homage to the original, with immense effort put in to ensure that the film is a worthy follow-up and not just some cash grab endeavour. The audience’s minds are toyed with over and over; just when you think you have it all figured out, the story takes an unexpected turn. Perkins hasn’t lost a beat as Bates, as he brings out a heartfelt vulnerability not witnessed before in the character. The overall cast is superb, especially young Meg Tilly’s performance as Mary Samuels who befriends and supports the troubled Norman. With a perfect blend of Hitchcockian style and modern horror, this one ticks all the right boxes for an accomplished continuation.

Psycho II certainly deserves more love and respect as one of the most underrated sequels ever made. A masterful piece of storytelling which remains faithful to both Hitchcock’s classic and the dark complexities of Norman’s mind.

 Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Meg Tilly’s character’s name, Mary Samuels, is a reference to the original Psycho. In that film Marion Crane signs her name as Marie Samuels in the Bates Motel. The book upon which the film was based had Marion named “Mary.”
  • The reflection of young Norman Bates in the doorknob when he flashes back to his mothers’ poisoning is Oz Perkins, Anthony Perkins’ son.
  • When Mary and Norman first go into Norman’s mother’s room, before they turn the lights on, you can see Alfred Hitchcock’s silhouette on the wall to the far right.
  • The original house set was used and the motel was reconstructed.

John Cowdell

I have been writing and producing short films for over ten years and are now branching out into film reviews.

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