Monday, May 15, 2017

Psycho II: A Review


For better or worse, Anthony Perkins' greatest screen performance became a curse on him, condemning him to be seen as one type: the murderous lunatic.  For the longest time Perkins found work, but still found himself tied to his most famous character: Norman Bates from Psycho.  It's a reconciliation between Perkins and his character in Psycho II, a sequel that isn't up to the level of the original, but which is still a pretty good film in its own right.

Twenty-two years after the events of Psycho, Norman Bates (Perkins) is found to have been restored to sanity and released.  This infuriates Lila Loomis, formerly Lila Crane, sister to his victim Marion (Vera Miles, reprising her role from Psycho).  Despite Lila's loud objections, Norman's psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia) finds that Norman is able to function in society and gets him out.  He also gets him a job as a cook's assistant at a diner, and return of his property, including the Bates Motel.

Norman is displeased by hotel manager Toomey (Dennis Franz) who has made the place a den of drugs and illicit sex.  Using his property owner's rights, he fires Toomey, which infuriates the latter.  Norman also bonds with Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) a waitress at the diner.

Norman, however, cannot escape the past, as he keeps finding notes and phone calls from "Mother", pushing him towards insanity again.  Mary is there to try to help him past his issues, but there is something amiss.  A boy is murdered by someone who looks like Norman's late mother in their basement, and Toomey disappears as well.  There is someone inside the Bates home, peering through a peephole and Norman is locked in the attic at one point, after having seen his mother's room exactly as it was when he left.

The hijinks and murders continue, pushing Norman closer to the idea that his Mother isn't really dead.  He soon agrees with one phone call regarding his mother, and he soon starts referring to the difference between "Mrs. Bates" and his real mother.

Has Norman Bates gone mad again?

We eventually learn that Mary is not an innocent bystander to all this, but part of an intricate plot to put Norman back into the institution.   She, however, has seen that Norman is a good man now and won't be a party to the scheme anymore. There is however, a third player in the machinations, someone no one is aware of who is playing her own game, inadvertently foiling the schemes of Mary and Lila, with her own agenda.

The bodies of Toomey and the boy are found, and suspicion builds around Norman, who appears to have gone mad again, talking to 'Mother'.  Mary, who has been unmasked by now, is desperate to help, but cannot.  In the chaos, she accidentally kills Dr. Raymond and is convinced Norman is now a threat to her.  When she and Norman accidentally discover the murdered Lila in the fruit cellar, that proves to Mary that Norman is indeed a killer, but fortune smiles on Bates and is saved at the last minute.

The 'real Mother' emerges from the shadows, but true to form, Norman murders her and puts her in 'Mother's' room, and opens the Bates Motel for business.

Psycho II (back when Roman numerals were still being used for sequels) builds its story pretty logically.  A second viewing shows that Tom Holland's script didn't cheat but that almost everything works towards its conclusions, that the twists within it do work.

I say almost because at times I thought the coincidences of things worked a little too well, as if having both Lila and "Mother" simultaneously work at Norman is a bit hard to believe.  There is also the matter of the boy who got killed in the fruit cellar after failing to escape with his girlfriend during a botched make-out session,

It does seem a rather extraordinary coincidence to have them go into the fruit cellar when Norman is locked up.  Granted, since Norman getting locked in the attic and the murder weren't connected it could be a wild coincidence, but it is a bit much.

Still, with regards to the plot Psycho II is a pretty well-constructed one.

Another highlight are the performances from the cast.  At the center of it is Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  He does wonders whenever we see his hesitancy, his fears about his condition.  By the end though, one isn't quite sure whether he has really gone mad or is just pretending in order to play with Mary (and by extension, his old foe Lila).

When he is on one phone call to 'Mother', Mary rushes to another phone pretending to be 'Mother' and ordering him to hang up.  There is a strange smile in Norman, as if he knows what is really going on but decided to have some fun with this, a way of teasing and taunting his tormentors.

At the end, when we see "Mother", even then we wonder whether Norman has really gone crazy again or is just now either evil or just more comfortable with how he'd like things to have been.  It's a standout performance.   

Miles, returning to the role of Lila, is all anger and righteous fury, but even if you hadn't seen the original you can see why she is so determined to see Norman locked up again.  It's not an unsympathetic performance, and her own demise is shocking and a little sad.

Tilly, despite her Oscar nomination for Agnes of God, I don't think has been given enough credit for being a good dramatic actress.  Here, her Mary was again sympathetic, the island of kindness that Norman clings to, making the revelation about her surprising.  Her evolution from secret antagonist to secret ally to ultimate victim is a strong performance, and it's a shame Tilly hasn't been more recognized for her abilities.

Jerry Goldsmith's score, again not close to Bernard Herrmann's iconic music for the original, manages to hold its own.

About the only real place where I would take Psycho II to task (and the reason I knocked it down a bit) is in the more graphic nature of the film.  First, there was more open nudity in Psycho II than I think was necessary (another shower scene that showed a bit too much), but second and more important, the more graphic nature of the violence. 

The final confrontation between Mary and Norman was almost a bit comical (the stabbings looking fake), but other parts were more graphic and gruesome (particularly Lila's murder, where she's stabbed in the mouth).  That and "Mother's" end didn't work for me, the latter both because of the graphic nature of it and for the obviousness of it.

When "Mother" meets her end it was obvious she was going to get whacked, and when Lila's body is discovered that too could I think been done better (perhaps not show us where she was hidden and had it revealed at the same time the characters found her).  Not only would this have shocked the audience, but confirmed that Norman was sane at the moment (when Lila's body is found, it looks like Norman is genuinely shocked by it, the pretense over).

Psycho II is a pretty strong film on its own and a good, though not necessary, sequel to the original.  It didn't need to have been made, but fans of the original I doubt would have much to complain about.  More graphic than necessary to me, Psycho II still has some strong performances and a logical script in its favor.

It even has a door ever so slightly open to a sequel.


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