Movies to die for

Gail Faustyn

Synopsis: Twenty-two years after the events of the original “Psycho,” Norman Bates is deemed mentally healthy and subsequently released back into society. After getting a job at a local diner, Norman tries to live a simple life. Soon after he arrives, things begin to change. With his past seemingly haunting him, Norman must fight to keep his sanity. If not, the Bates Motel may have a few more future customers.

Directed by Richard Franklin, “Psycho II” is by far among the best horror sequels ever made. Less tense and more thought provoking, the film is shot with massive amounts of inspiration. I would imagine that the director is a big fan of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. That, or he saw the strength of the script, because there is professionalism on display here.

One example is of a shot involving two scenarios playing out simultaneously, one in the attic of, the other in the basement of, the Bates family home. Knowing that the film carries a bit of ambiguity in regard to who is doing the film’s killing, director Franklin chose to accomplish this by using a beautiful crane shot. Traveling outside, from window to window, the camera goes from one scene immediately to the next without any unnecessary cutting. Other, less imaginative filmmakers would have cut to already being in the basement. Franklin has a better visual mind than that, and “Psycho II” is all the better for it.

Sadly the acting in “Psycho II” is as stiff as a kitchen knife and drags an otherwise good film into murky waters. Anthony Perkins, who turned in great work for Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960 original, is painfully out of his element in the follow up. Whereas Perkins played Bates with a heavy dose of sympathy and meekness in the original to give an extra shock to the film’s ending, in the sequel he attempts to play Bates with the same perspective, only with vastly different results. The two films are different in story, requiring a unique and separately inspired performance, not a tepid rehash of the same performance, completely devoid of character growth. Norman shouldn’t be the same as he was twenty-two years ago; the whole springboard for the plot relies on Norman being mentally healthy and released into society. The audience needs to believe the organic nature of the character. I’m not entirely convinced we do.

Also spearheading the film is Meg Tilly, playing the pivotal role of Mary Loomis. Tilly, younger sister of fellow actress Jennifer Tilly, plays Mary effectively enough but obviously lacks chemistry with the main star Anthony Perkins. When dealing with fabricated relationships, actors need to sell us so we go on the ride. I found the lack of believably to be distracting.

Other notable players include Vera Miles, reprising her role of Lila Crane from the original. Miles is arguably the best performer in the whole piece and takes her role seriously, which is impressive for a distinguished actress in a horror sequel. Robert Loggia is also great, as usual, playing Bates’ psychiatrist Dr. Bill Raymond. Though these two help elevate the film, the overall acting in “Psycho II” could have used a few nights rest in the ole’ Bates Motel.

The script for “Psycho II” is without a doubt the strongest aspect the film. Written by Tom Holland, the writer-director of the excellent “Fright Night” and the suspenseful “Child’s Play,” the script is amazingly full of ideas. Unlike most horror sequels from the era, “Psycho II” has many questions for the audience to sink their teeth into and get more than full on food for thought. Should we as a society shun those who have sinned? Is there no place for forgiveness? Are people ultimately the byproduct of how much or little society allows them to be? These are just a few of the questions found within the film’s moral core.

One particular scene showcasing the ideas of writer Tom Holland involves Bates coming to blows with the current manager of the Bates Motel. Warren Toomey, who has been managing the motel in the absence of Bates, has been allowing illicit drugs and other “activities” to take place at the motel. This doesn’t sit well with Bates. The two argue, resulting in Toomey getting fired.

Toomey, played effectively well by Dennis Franz, before his exit states “at least my customers have a good time! What did yours get, Bates? Huh? Dead! That’s what! Murdered by you, you looney!”

Bottom line:

“Psycho II” is far better than your average horror sequel. Though showcasing a few weak performances, mainly from Perkins, the film is full of ideas and confidently directed. Fans of the original classic won’t be disappointed.