Norman Bates is back!
No, I don’t mean Freddie Highmore from Bates Motel or Vince Vaughn from the odd Psycho remake that I keep seeing on Showtime. No, I’m talking about the original Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins!
First released in 1983, Psycho II is a direct sequel to the classic shocker from Alfred Hitchcock. The film opens with a replay of the original film’s famous shower scene and then immediately jumps forward 22 years. Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norman Bates has been in a mental institution ever since he was arrested for the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arborgast. However, Norman’s psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia, who was considered for the role of Sam Loomis in the original film), now feels that Norman has been cured and is no longer a danger to himself or others. A judge agrees. Marion Crane’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original) does not. She presents the judge with a petition demanding that Norman not be released. When the judge ignores her, Lila yells that Norman will murder again!
Now free, Norman returns to the Bates Motel and discovers that it’s now being run by the sleazy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz). When Norman finds various party favors in the motel rooms and asks Warren what they are, Warren laughs and says, “They’re drugs, Norman.” Norman’s not too happy about that. As Dr. Raymond tells him, the world has changed considerably over the past two decades.
However, Norman has other issues to deal with. For the most part, most of the people in town are not happy that their most famous resident has returned. Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) gets Norman a job at a local diner because, in her words, she believes in forgiveness and second chances. Norman gets to know the new waitress, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) and, when Mary tells him that she’s had a fight with her boyfriend, he invites her to stay at the hotel until she can get things together.
From the minute that he returns home, Norman is struggling to keep it together. When he first reenters his former house, he hears his mother’s voice but he tells himself that she’s not really there. But if his mother isn’t there, then who keeps calling him on the phone and yelling at him about the state of the motel? Who keeps taunting him about his awkward (yet rather sweet) relationship with Mary? And when two teenagers are attacked after breaking into the house, who else could it possibly be but Norman’s mother?
I was really surprised by Psycho II, which turned out to be a really entertaining little movie, an effective thriller with a healthy dash of dark humor. It’s a very plot-heavy film, with almost every scene introducing a new twist to the story. With the exception of the sleazy Warren Toomey, no one in this film turns out to be who you initially expected them to be, including Norman. Meg Tilly does a good job in the somewhat oddly written role of Mary Samuels and even manages to make an awkward line like “Norman, you’re as mad as a hatter” sound natural. Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Perkins’s performance as Norman Bates and what a great performance it is. The best moments are the ones where Norman awkwardly tries to fit back in with society, nervously laughing at his own jokes and struggling to maintain eye contact with whoever he’s talking to. You really can’t help but feel sorry for him, especially as the film progresses.
Wisely, Psycho II set out to establish it own identity as a film, as opposed to just trying to duplicate the shocks of Psycho. (There is a shower scene that’s filmed similarly to the one from the first scene, with a key difference that I won’t spoil.) It’s what a sequel should be, not a remake but a continuation of the original’s story. This is definitely a film that’s far better than you may expect.