For the most part sequels deserve their bad reputations, more often than not they’re simply insincere, diluted versions of the superior films they’ve spawned from. They’re not inherently bad though, and when done well and with respect to their predecessors, they can add a multitude of additional layers and meaning to their namesakes. More importantly, they can reveal how a character has evolved over a period of time in a way that one lone film never can. The truth is, there are a lot of worthwhile and sometimes even brilliant sequels out there, so many in fact, that you can’t really blame the studios for rolling the dice. Imagine a world without ALIENS, EVIL DEAD 2 or THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and you’ll see what I mean.
On June 3rd 1983, 22 years after the original, and in the height of the slasher boom, Universal studies released a sequel to possibly the highest regarded horror film of all time, ALFRED HITCHCOCK‘s PSYCHO. This amounted to sacrilege to many (thank God the interwebs were not born yet), and although the film was a financial and, for the most part, critical success, there really wasn’t a chance it could ever move beyond the shadow of the original. Well, it’s now been MORE than 22 years since PSYCHO 2 was released, and I’m here to tell you it really deserves to be known as one of the best sequels of all time.
What’s really unusual is that when we last left Norman Bates (ANTHONY PERKINS) in the original PSYCHO, we had discovered that he was a multiple killer and completely insane. (SPOILER ALERT: If this is news to you, you are insane too). In the sequel he is the misunderstood hero who may or may not be “up to his old tricks again,” and there’s no question that the audience is meant to take his side either way. How often does this happen in horror movies? Norman goes from raving lunatic to final boy and never breaks a sweat. The script, by soon to be genre director TOM HOLLAND (CHILD’S PLAY, FRIGHT NIGHT), is a near perfect exercise in audience sympathy manipulation and has more twists than a crate of Slinkies. Director RICHARD FRANKLIN (ROAD GAMES) who’s surely under the most scrutiny is able to pay constant tribute to HITCHOCK‘s famous mastery of suspense without ever going overboard into parody. Much of what he brings to the table is uniquely his own, the shots of the BATES HOUSE with ALBERT WHITLOCK assists are particularly remarkable. The supporting players (MEG TILLY, DENNIS FRANTZ, ROBERT LOGGIA and VERA MILES) are more than up to snuff, but they definitely have their work cut out for them playing against PERKINS who takes his signature role up to new, stunning, stuttering (“c-c-cutlery“) heights. The soundtrack by JERRY GOLDSMITH is literally one of my all time favorites and truth be told, I’m listening to it at this very moment. PSYCHO 2 is exactly what a sequel should aspire to be, a wonderful addition that takes nothing away from the original.
There probably wasn’t any question since UNIVERSAL was essentially trying to cash in on the slasher boom by waking up NORMAN in the first place that a few bones would have to be thrown to the more bloodthirsty audience members. In my opinion, these scenes, one which involves a very well done butcher knife through a head, do exactly as they are required to do and in no way detract from the tight psychological tone already established. Purists may have wagged fingers at the time, but the original PSYCHO pressed the same envelope in its day, whether actual knife penetration was shown or not. Which brings me to the scene I’ve been dying to mention…
Midway through the movie, two un-established teen characters break into the Bates house basement. It’s sort of out of nowhere and that’s why I love it. It’s as if two characters from a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie playing in the theater next door just crashed the screen PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO style. They are there to: 1. Smoke pot 2. Fool around sexually and 3. Be killed. It’s great to see the ‘60s era Mrs. Bates take on these eighties teens and show them what’s what old-school style. The scene begins and ends with an astounding aerial shot looking down from the top of the house. This little compartmentalized bon mot is such a great marriage of two separate horror era’s defining imagery that it has always left me giddy. Some may view it as pandering to the times, but I think such bridges between decades should be commended rather than condemned. Interestingly, MEG TILLY‘s role was originally offered to JAMIE LEE CURTIS, eighties scream queen and daughter of original PSYCHO victim JANET LEIGH. TILLY, whose throat may have still been sore from screaming her head off in ONE DARK NIGHT, couldn’t be better but I can’t help imagining that PSYCHO II would be even more of a perfect hybrid of horror eras with CURTIS on the marquee. It certainly would have boosted the film’s overall presence in the minds of die hard slasher fans. Whether you have never seen PSYCHO II, or if it’s just been a long time since you have, do yourself a favor and give it a spin. Sure it’s a sequel, but this baby is strong enough to stand on it’s own two feet.