In Defense Of: “Psycho II” (1983)

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It’s been nearly 60 years since the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel, and the world at large met Norman Bates for the first time. There’s no getting around the fact that Psycho is a masterpiece, one where nearly every single aspect of it became iconic, from Bernard Herrmann’s striking score to its narrative twists and turns to the imagery Hitchcock and cinematographer John L. Russell loaded the film with to the performances, particularly that of Anthony Perkins. Without expounding too much further on its singular legacy – its lasting influence is undeniable and well documented – the bottom line is that it’s a perfect standalone film that does what it needs to do, says what it needs to say, and bows out when the time is right.

Like many movies, especially in horror, one outing tends to be enough. In Psycho‘s case, so much rests on the famous revelation at the heart of its final act that, on the surface, there’s simply no further need to carry on once everything’s on the table. As much as the slasher subgenre of horror owes to the film, with Norman serving as a predecessor to familiar faces like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and all the rest, the simple truth is that Norman is so far removed from the characters that would follow in his footsteps that attempting to turn his story into a franchise would seem pointless.

He’s a troubled guy, sure, but he’s also not the embodiment of evil, nor does he kill hapless teens in the woods or haunt them in their dreams. Of all the cinematic slashers that have popped up throughout history, he’s the one who has his feet planted most firmly in the real world, and bringing him back again and again would only serve to undermine what Psycho achieved in capturing that notion.

And yet, in Hollywood, popularity often equates to franchise opportunities, and by 1983, at a time when slasher films were surging in popularity, Norman was brought back, officially turning the one-off Psycho into a cinematic franchise that spawned three direct sequels, a best-left-forgotten television spinoff, an even better-left-forgotten remake, and the great reimagining that was A&E’s Bates Motel series.

For the most part, the franchise is bookended by its best material, Hitchcock’s original film and the acclaimed A&E series, with everything in the middle overlooked for being either outright terrible or flat out underwhelming. But I would argue that Psycho II deserves more love than it often gets, rising above being what it is on the surface – an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the slasher genre – to tell a story that’s actually a worthy companion piece to its predecessor.

Now, as always, if you haven’t seen the film in a while – or at all – here’s a quick recap: Over two decades after the events of Psycho, which saw Norman Bates being taken into custody and his murders exposed, he’s released back into the public, years of treatment having helped him overcome his insanity. Though he wants to return home and use his second chance to live a normal life, not everyone is happy that he’s been set free, particularly Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), who’s spent the years since the first film living in a world without the sister Norman took from her.

And try as he might, from getting a job at the local diner to finding a friend in the young Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), Norman’s attempt to stay sane is attacked from all sides, as visions of and phone calls from “Mother” begin to plague his daily life, among other things, raising one simple question: Is someone messing with him, or has his psychosis reared its head once again?

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