So, first things first.
This 1982 novel by Robert Bloch is indeed a sequel to the novel that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary horror film. Yes, Norman Bates does return. For that matter, so do Lila and Sam Loomis. However, this novel should not be mistaken for Richard Franklin’s film, Psycho II, which came out a year later. In fact, according to a later interview with Robert Bloch, Universal actually pressured him not to release this novel because they disliked the story Bloch had come up with and they also felt it would harm the financial prospects of their sequel. Bloch, of course, did what he wanted to and was subsequently not invited to any screenings of Franklin’s film.
As for Bloch’s novel, it’s easy to see why Universal wasn’t enthusiastic about it. It’s perhaps one of the most anti-Hollywood books ever written. When Norman Bates escapes from a mental asylum and goes on another rampage, his doctor, Adam Claiborne, is convinced that Norman is heading to Hollywood to try to stop production of a movie called Crazy Lady, a movie that’s based on Norman’s crimes. Even though everyone else is convinced that Norman’s been killed, Claiborne remains convinced that Norman faked his own death and is still out there.
Needless to say, the book’s Norman is considerably different from the vulnerable manchild that Anthony Perkins played in the films. However, Norman is off-stage for the majority of Bloch’s sequel, the better to keep you wondering whether or not he actually is dead. The majority of the book is dedicated to Claiborne getting to know the cast and crew of Crazy Lady, the majority of whom turn out to be sleazy Hollywood stereotypes. Reading the book, it’s easy to see why Universal didn’t care much for it but, at times, Bloch occasionally comes across as if he think he’s the first person to ever be critical of Hollywood.
Another reason why Universal may have balked at adapting Bloch’s novel was because of a surreal chapter in which Paul Morgan, the actor who has been cast to play Norman, goes undercover at a brothel where all of the escorts look like then-Hollywood stars. Since each escort is referred to by his star’s name, the entire chapter is basically Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and John Travolta making bitchy comments about Hollywood and religion. It’s an odd chapter that doesn’t advance the story but, at the same time, it’s also Bloch at his most subversive.
Though the book’s take on Hollywood was hardly revolutionary, Bloch was a born storyteller and the story moves at a good pace. It all ends with an effective twist, one that provides a proper ending to Bloch’s version of the Norman Bates story. For Psycho and Bloch fans, it’s a must read.