Psycho 2 (1983) – The Gripping Return of Norman Bates

Psycho II - A classic shot fit for a movie poster
3 out of 5 stars

Psycho 2, directed by Richard Franklin, required extreme courage to make. The original Alfred Hitchcock classic came out 23 years prior. Many fans of the horror and thriller genres consider this film untouchable. Even more, bold, Universal Picture and Franklin released this sequel only 3 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s death in 1980. All of this predates Hollywood’s recent insatiable desire to reboot and adapt every screenplay that ever existed. The point being, at the time, critics and audiences did not have the perspective required to consider a sequel of this magnitude. Accordingly, audiences and critics undeservedly received the sequel with an tepid response.

However, when not judged under the towering shadow of the original, Psycho 2 not only proves to a very solid film, but also a worthy sequel to a legendary film.

Psycho II - A classic shot fit for a movie poster
A fantastic shot fit for a movie poster

Norman Bates, Reformed and Released

After 22 years of being incarcerated in a mental institution, the state find that Norman Bates has been successfully reformed. As the state releases Norman Bates into society, Lila Loomis, played brilliantly by Vera Miles, sister of the victim of the famous shower scene in Hitchcock’s original, protests Norman’s release. Regardless, the state releases Norman and assigns Dr. Bill Raymond, played by Robert Loggia to assist Norman during his transition.

Norman tries his best to adjust to life on the outside. A down-and-out co-worker named Mary moves in with Norman. Quickly, Norma begins to regress. Norman is still haunted by thoughts of his mother. Strange notes and phones calls, presumably from Norman’s mother, plague Norman. These lead to unexplained disappearances and followed but suspicion of murder. Is Norman losing his mind, or is something more sinister going on.

Following-Up a Classic

Undoubtedly, the original Psycho (1960) set a very high bar for suspenseful thrillers. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock basically developed the modern archetype for the genre. Franklin explicitly understood that any attempt to out-Hitchcock the original would fail. Instead, he chose to create a more cerebral thriller predicated on deception and betrayal. A murderer hides in plain site, but who is it and why are doing this?

Psycho 2 - The death of Lila Loomis could be taken straight from a Dario Argento giallo
Richard Franklin shows the influence of Italian horror thrillers with artfully brutal kills

Psycho 2 ultimately provides a bridge from the arthouse thriller that Hitchcock created, and the pulp style thrillers that would become in vogue in the 80’s. Basic Instinct and The Jagged Edge come to mind. Even these films would eventually evolve to the likes of SE7EN and The Bone Collector. Additionally, its hard not to see similarities with Italian thrillers that started to influence American suspense films in the 80’s. The kill scenes strikingly evoke the style of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Richard Franklin understood that replicating Hitchcock’s style was a losing proposition, so instead, he assembled his own style from other sources.

Who is Norman Bates?

Richard Franklin expands the character development of Norman Bates. In the original film, Norman feels a bit like a stick figure. We a get a glimpse of his relationship with his mother’s corpse, but we really don’t understand much about him as a man. In Psycho 2 we see a man with vulnerabilities and fears. We also see a man with ambition to change and get better. Getting to know Norman Bates raises the stakes, especially as he assumes the unfamiliar role of a victim. His character’s development pays dividends during several of the twists and turns that the plot makes.

It not a stretch to describe the sequel as a film explicitly about Norman. The original Psycho told the story of a woman murdered by Norman Bates. Psycho 2 tells a story about Norman Bates and his struggle against himself.

Psycho 2 - Brilliant cinematography by Richard Franklin
Richard Franklin tips his cap to Alfred Hitchcock through fantastic cinematography

Respectfully Paying Tribute

The director tastefully makes reference to the Hitchcock’s work with out drawing attention to it. Subtly displaying the silhouette of Hitchcock is one tip of the cap, but even more striking is the vertigo inducing camera work. Richard Franklin uses the Hitchcock dolly zoom, as well as several aerial shots. Low-angle shots of the towering Bates house forebode even in full day-light. I another brilliant shot, Norman Bates scrambles up the stairs of his home into the high angle of the camera. He might as well been clawing his way up a mountain.

In one final tip of the cap, Franklin pays homage to the mouth close-up of Marion Norman stabs her to death in the shower.

Psycho 2- Marion and Lila mouth close-ups
Richards Franklin pays homage to Hitchcock by replicating a piece of the famous shower scene

Re-Evaluating Psycho 2

I has been decades since we watched Psycho 2 the first time. When originally released, critics could not handle the concept of someone hanging a tacky sequel off of a well respected masterpiece. Accordingly, many critics dismissed the work outright. Years later, the film not only holds up, but actually demonstrates extreme technical competence. Psycho 2 does not try to be like the original. It tries to be a worthy successor to the original while still being its own thing. All the while, Franklin’s film pays tribute to the large shoulders on which it rests.

Psycho 2 does exactly what it sets out to do. It weaves a solid, if not complicated, tale and a suspenseful thriller. It pushes Anthony Perkins to expand the character of Norman Bates into new territory. Finally, Richard Franklin punctuates the story with an ending that rivals the original. The sequel is probably better than you remember, and deserves another spin. Malevolent Dark considers it to be a highly underrated horror sequel.

Psycho 2 (1983) - The Gripping Return of Norman Bates - Malevolent Dark
psycho 2 the bates house

Director: Richard Franklin

Date Created: 1983-01-01 00:00

Editor's Rating:
3

Leave a Reply