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22 years later, Norman Bates is released from the mental institution and returns home to the Bates Motel. It's not very long before murders begin to occur. Has Norman returned to his old ways?
For more about Psycho II and the Psycho II Blu-ray release, see Psycho II Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 24, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Lee Garlington
Director: Richard Franklin
» See full cast & crew
Psycho II Blu-ray Review
It's not nice to fool your mother's nature.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 24, 2013
There's hubris and then there's hubris. It's one thing to churn out a sequel to a relatively run of the mill effort that's done well at the box office (consider the ever growing Fast and Furious franchise for an excellent example), but it's something else entirely to attempt to craft a sequel (or two. . .or three. . .) for one of the most iconic and legendary movies in the entire history of film. And yet that's exactly what happened with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's still alarming 1960 opus which peered into the labyrinthine mind of one Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). As I mentioned in the review of that film, younger audiences who have been raised on the slice and dice, hyperkinetically edited rash of slasher films that came in Psycho's wake are often downright puzzled by Hitch's rather languid pace in Psycho, where the justly lionized shower sequence doesn't even take place until well past the 45 minute mark. Hitchcock obviously had more on his mind than mere titillating scares, and Psycho is an object lesson in how mood can permeate a film and deliver a much more chilling experience than mere shots of blood and guts spewing out all over the place. And so we come to Psycho II and Psycho III, two rather different sequels which appeared respectively in 1983 and 1986. Original Psycho author Robert Bloch had actually written his own sequel novel in 1982, but Universal went its own route in crafting the first sequel a year later (though there's one rather odd link between Bloch's follow-up and the second sequel, discussed in Psycho III's review). Universal actually didn't have huge hopes for the first sequel and originally planned for it to go straight to video and/or cable, but they were overwhelmed with public interest and press coverage, and ultimately agreed to release the film theatrically, where it did surprisingly well with both critics and at the box office. That of course only encouraged the bean counters at the studio, who quickly greenlit Psycho III, though in this case lightning didn't strike twice, at least in terms of revenues. Critics still found a lot to like in the second sequel, but audiences had evidently had enough of Norman and Mother—at least for a little while (as the somewhat linked Psycho IV: The Beginning and Bates Motel prove). While the chiaroscuro shadow of the original Psycho looms fairly large over both of these properties, the good news is that both of them were made by people who obviously wanted to honor—at least in part—the spirit of Hitchcock's masterpiece, and the results are generally much better than might be expected.
It's 22 years after the events of the first Psycho, and a judge has deemed Norman mentally stable enough to be released from the institution and matriculated back into society. That doesn't sit well with Marion Crane's sister Lila (Vera Miles, repeating her role from the Hitchcock film), who warns anyone who will listen that Norman is a ticking time bomb and a body count is about to accrue. While obviously a bit shaky and even slightly addled, Norman does appear to be doing better, especially under the guidance of his therapist Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia). Norman moves back into the Bates mansion and is introduced to the rather smarmy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), who has been managing the Bates Motel during Norman's "absence".
As part of his rehabilitation, Norman has been given a job in the local diner run by a kindly elderly woman named Mrs. Spool (Claudia Bryar). There he also meets a sweet if slightly neurotic young woman named Mary (Meg Tilly), who is obviously having some boyfriend troubles, as evidenced by some harried phone conversations she carries on which keep her from attending to her waitressing duties. After work, Mary divulges she's broken up with her boyfriend and has no place to stay, and Norman kindly offers a room at the motel, until he discovers that Toomey has turned the place into a "by the hour" joint. He ushers Mary to the Bates mansion, where she timidly confesses she's heard stories about Norman's troubled past and thinks it might be best if she not stay there. Norman kind of confesses, spilling the beans about killing his insane mother, while conveniently leaving out the stack of other bodies which piled up during his murderous rein. Mary agrees to stay, and the two form a rather odd but touching bond.
At this point screenwriter Tom Holland (then still a newcomer, but a talent who would go on to write Fright Night and Stephen King's Thinner, which he also directed) starts to toy with the audience like a wily cat having its way with a hapless mouse. Toomey shows up at the diner in a drunken rage, and almost simultaneously a note from "Mother" shows up on the order carousel at the diner, putting Norman into a state of near hysteria. Norman has fired Toomey, and when the slimy guy goes back to the motel to pack up his things, let's just say that a certain matronly figure appears out of the shadows and does her typical handiwork.
Norman also starts receiving phone calls from "Mother", to the point that he's convinced she's not actually dead, leading Dr. Raymond to have her corpse exhumed so that Norman can see it and be convinced. Without spoiling any of the rather ingenious surprises Holland stuffs into his screenplay, a brilliant reveal illuminates the relationship between two characters, putting a whole new light on what has transpired so far, but that's only the tip of a very cool iceberg that Holland crafts. In fact after a rather nicely lugubrious Hitchcockian opening act, the last 45 minutes or so of Psycho II cascades one rather surprising turn of events after another, including a fantastically written and staged climax which divulges layer after layer, like a set of nesting dolls. Holland has a series of quasi-finales here, leading to an uproarious final scene which almost perfectly captures Hitchcock's own delirious mixture of horror and humor (I defy anyone not to laugh when director Richard Franklin opts for an overhead shot as Norman decides to take matters into his own hands.)
Psycho II is actually a remarkably well plotted film, one which holds its cards neatly to its vest until the last possible moment. While Holland perhaps throws a few too many red herrings into the mix, he also manages to wend his way to an unusually satisfying conclusion. Perkins does very admirable work here, to the point where the audience is never quite sure if Norman has returned to his bifurcated ways of yore or not. Tilly is also very winsome in her role, bringing just the right amount of naïvete to the part of Mary, which only makes certain plot developments all the more startling down the line. Speaking of Mary, there's an almost Christian subtext to parts of this film. At one point, Norman falls into Mary's arms in a pose that seems to mimic painters' depictions of Jesus being consoled by mother, and later Norman, recovering from some rather bad wounds, stares at his bloody hands, which seem to almost have stigmata. (Psycho III will actually overtly exploit this religious element in several key ways).
Part of what undoubtedly contributed to Psycho II's success was a cast and crew only too aware of the huge footsteps in which they were following. Director Richard Franklin had been a long time student and acolyte of Hitch's, and he brings a measure of Hitch's technical brilliance to the project, and a lot of the technical crew on the film either had worked with Hitch or been around Universal during his tenure there. Perkins is obviously having a ball revisiting the role, relishing in his chance to keep the audience guessing as to whether or not Norman is back to his old ways. Chances are you won't be sure until the last moment, and maybe not even then.
Psycho II Blu-ray, Video Quality
Psycho II is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.84:1. This is a generally extremely nice looking high definition presentation. The elements are in very good condition, and a noticeable but unobtrusive layer of fine grain is in evidence throughout the presentation. Some of the matte work shows its age and the higher resolution of the Blu-ray literally reveals the seams (those who have gone on the Universal Studios tour will remember that the Bates Mansion is really rather small and is surrounded by other sets, necessitating process photography to make it look like it's out in the open—see screenshot 7 for a good example). Cinematographer Dean Cundley, then quite well known for his collaborations with John Carpenter, had gained the nickname "Prince of Darkness", and there are in fact several low light sequences here that suffer from minor but noticeable crush. Fine detail pops quite well in close-ups. Colors seem just a tad anemic at times, but overall this is a very respectable job from Shout!
Psycho II Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Psycho II features both a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix recreating the film's original sound design, as well as a repurposed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (the packaging incorrectly lists a nonexistent 4.0 audio option). Both of these tracks sport great fidelity and admirable dynamic range, The 5.1 mix is not overly artificial sounding, tending to posit discrete channelization only in some expected ways, including sound effects (the slash of the knife) or in Jerry Goldsmith's nice score, which does not mimic Bernard Herrmann's iconic work in the original film. Dialogue is always cleanly presented and easy to hear.
Psycho II Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Psycho II Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I remember going to see Psycho II lo those many years ago with very low expectations but still a sense of anticipation. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how smart this film was, especially with regard to its nicely convoluted plot and its series of cascading revelations which inform its last few minutes. Make no mistake about it—neither of the sequels that Shout! is releasing are on a par with Hitchcock's original, but they're both rather unexpectedly enjoyable. I tend to like Psycho II a bit more than Psycho III, for its tone of intentional ambivalence and its series of neat little plot twists, but your mileage of course may vary. This Blu-ray features great video, audio and supplements and comes Highly recommended.
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