Bottom Line: Color filming is the only thing that cuts into what turned out to be a far-better-than-expected sequel.
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles
It’s been 22 years (23 between the films’ releases) since Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was sent to a mental asylum for his murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, first film only). Now, he has been released from the institution, initially a changed man, but it’s obvious he has a few murders in mind when he has three excruciating pressures to juggle: a drug addict who managed his motel while he was in an institution; a woman visiting his motel; and the inevitable return of “Mother”, the crux of his psychotic image.
For me, the original PSYCHO was centered primarily on character Marion Crane and her somewhat-mysterious murder. The first film did not strike me as focusing on Norman Bates until the last five minutes or so. I personally find this second entry much, much more terrifying than Alfred Hitchcock’s preceding 1960 thriller classic, as this seems to be more of a study on Bates as a fictional serial killer. PSYCHO II truly delves into his psyche in a much more horrific way than its predecessor.
The main disappointment about this film is the uneven switch from black-and-white to color. PSYCHO, even though in 1960, was the first film in a while (and the last film at all) for Alfred Hitchcock, aka the Master of Suspense, to direct in black-and-white, so he obviously had a reason: to enhance the amount of suspense delivered. Except for the opening scene, a flashback to the first film’s shower scene, this film was shot in total color. Although it is very suspenseful, the suspense feels in no way the same, and it cannot match the level of suspense delivered in the original.
A truly great part of PSYCHO II, looking at it positively again, is that whenever a knife is raised, the camera does a brilliant darkening effect so that it is close to impossible to tell whether it is Norman slicing and dicing, or if it is (quote-unquote) “Mother”. This effect easily becomes a mixed bag, as Norman is constantly changing his view on his image as a serial killer: after one killing, he is convinced that it must be him because he is also convinced he is insane; after a killing twenty minutes later, apparently “Mother” has been telling him to kill [insert victim's name here], he has denied to do so, so she decides to go off and kill [insert same victim's name here] instead. Hmm. Thankfully, the wheels start clicking within the last ten minutes if the film.
That’s not to say I did not enjoy this film. It was much better than I expected for a sequel released over two decades later; and it would have been nothing without the stronghouse acting from Anthony Perkins and the well-done plot. For anyone who enjoyed PSYCHO, I’d recommend its sequel.