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 clichés 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.
What a coincidence, I just watched Psycho II this morning. I agree with everything Unk. One thing that stands out the most for me against the original is, like you said, the way you get to know the house and the rooms and the layout this time around. It really opens up Norman’s world in a way.
Something I admire about Psycho II is the fact that Tom Holland’s script examines mental illness, and the social stigma it attracts, in a more direct, maybe even more empathetic, manner, than Hitchcock’s original.
Which makes Norman’s fate at the end of the film, where he finds himself right back where he started due to the manipulations of others, even more tragic. You can read that as the plot and a subtle commentary on Universal insisting on a Psycho sequel.
Leonard Maltin has his strengths as a critic (he co-wrote a terrific book on the Our Gang shorts), but the horror genre isn’t one of them.
My stepmom took me to see this in the theater when it came out, but I haven’t seen it since. All I remember was how adorable Meg Tilly was and someone getting slammed on the head with a shovel. Time for a re-watch! Like Jaws 2, I saw this years before actually seeing the first one.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have so much love for this film!! You hit the nail right on the head with these five things.
Totally agree that Norman and Mary’s relationship was just genuine caring and mutual respect, and not marred by trying to have it become sexual, they didn’t need to go through those typical tropes.
And that score! One of my all-time faves. I’ve spent quite a bit of cash buying cassettes and then bootleg CD’s of this one. Jerry Goldsmith knocked it out of the park, subtle when needed, with gorgeous piano and yet still able to evoke terror with the strings like Herrmann before him.
I love the way the film looks too, especially when he started painting the motel yellow….it was just so appropriate that he thought life was going to be “normal” and happy so why not yellow?? And the scene you mentioned at the end, with the old lady ascending the famous steps with a rolling navy blue sky and the terrifying visage of the house….wow.
I think I need to rewatch this again tonight!! 🖤
Absolutely! I’ve been trying to think of another horror film that utilizes interiors as well and I can’t- maybe the original THE HAUNTING? It’s wonderful how convincing the Diner is as well!
Yes! The film is amazingly respectful towards mental illness especially for a horror film. It’s hard not to sympathize with Norman which is an amazing feat considering he was the killer in the first film and audiences had been fearing him for decades!
I’ve still got my Leonard Maltin review books! I think back in 1983 all critics were turning against gore and violence in films so maybe it was just the times but PSYCHO II remains such a classy film I wish he could have given it more wiggle room in that area. The funny thing is even though that Knife in the head effect is incredible I think Norman grabbing the butcher knife and slicing through his hands on the stairs freaked people out even more!
Ah yeah! Watch it again for sure! I think you’ll appreciate it even more as an adult! If I remember correctly I saw PSYCHO right before PSYCHO II because they played it on TV right before the sequel came out.
I believe Goldsmith did the original score for GHOST STORY and they didn’t use it! I’m trying to backup that claim but I can’t find anything- maybe I dreamt it? Anyway, I hear the PSYCHO 2 score in my head all the time!
I love the yellow paint too! And his shirt is almost purple so the color really explodes. I’m not the tiniest bit surprised this is one of your favorites too!