1: Norman & Mary's Relationship
Anthony Perkins and Meg Tilly apparently did not get along with each other on the set of PSYCHO II but something really clicks with them on screen and both are impeccable in their roles. Norman Bates and Mary Loomis share a generally platonic, almost familial bond, meshing together as two wayward souls both shackled to their toxic mothers. Mary is not being completely honest with Norman so there's guilt involved but the two clearly want to help each other up and out of their own personal swamps. It's complicated for sure but all in all, it's a rather touching, nurturing relationship that bypasses love interest clichÃ©s and hits the bigger target of basic human empathy. It's illegal in every state to say that PSYCHO II surpasses the Hitchcock classic that spawned it but I truly prefer it due to this central relationship that gives the film a cozy, comforting warmth that its predecessor actively avoids. You get the feeling that you're almost living with them in the house throughout the film, getting to know its rooms and layout and you can almost smell the toasted cheese sandwiches Norman speaks of. It's hard not to root for these two to somehow find a happy ending, which makes the outcome of the film even more tragic.
2: It's Beautiful
The rolling hills behind the Bates Motel are eerily postcard perfect. PSYCHO II utilizes the most beautiful background matte paintings from the legendary Albert Whitlock to wonderful effect and Dean (HALLOWEEN) Cundey's cinematography is absolutely stunning. There's an incredible God's eye view from the top of the house that takes my breath away but something as simple as a shot of a winding country road to the side of the motel can be equally striking. In the film's final moments, when we see a silhouette of an old woman approaching the Bates house framed by an almost biblical looking sky, it's a pitch-perfect visual crescendo.
3: The Slasher Effect
I'll never forget Leonard Maltin reviewing PSYCHO II on Entertainment Tonight back in the day. I think I can even quote him as saying the film "really had him" until a particularly savage gore scene ruined the movie for him. Well, I'm of another school of thought. I LOVE how this movie weaves then current slasher aesthetics throughout and think it does an excellent job blending past and contemporary tastes. Anonymous teens breaking into the Bates house to fool around, only to be attacked by a faceless killer? Yep, I've got plenty of time for that! That knife through the head kill that disappointed Len? I'll never forget how the audience roared in terror at that very moment when I saw it in the theater. It was glorious.
4: The Score.
PSYCHO II's haunting melancholy score by Jerry Goldsmith was the very first movie soundtrack I ever bought on vinyl. Goldsmith (like all in involved) had some mighty big shoes to fill. It's truly impressive how well he salutes Bernard Herrmann's original PSYCHO score while creating a distinctly more intimate mood of his own.
5: Hitchcock's Cameo
Hitchcock was known for making a brief appearance in his films so it's no big surprise that his ghostly profile should appear in PSYCHO II. These days it's no big deal when a film winks or subtly references another and you'd almost have to expect a nod from a sequel to such a classic. Still, I'll always love this subtle tip of the hat because it may be one of my earliest memories of appreciating a cinematic Easter egg and wondering if others had caught it too. I always look forward to this particular moment when I watch the film and it never fails to give me a shot of nerdy glee. Director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland couldn't have done a better job respecting and saluting Hitchcock's masterpiece so I'd say the inclusion of Hitch here is very well earned. It's just one of the many reasons watching PSYCHO II will always feel like coming home to me.