*. Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho is usually regarded, correctly, as a movie milestone. I would, however, only call it a distant ancestor of the modern slasher flick, a genre more directly born of Halloween (yes, Black Christmas, but it didn’t have the same impact) and Friday the 13th. It was as a result of the success Michael and Jason had that the early ’80s were awash with so many copycats.
*. So much so that Robert Bloch’s sequel novel, Psycho II, was a parody of the spate of slasher horror movies then coming out, taking place on the set of a film being made about the original Bates murders. That was considered to be too meta, and ahead of its time, for Universal, who wanted something more conventional (and presumably commercial). But perhaps Wes Craven was taking notes . . .
*. So what they ended up with here was something a good deal better than the usual slasher fare of the time, what with some capable direction by Richard Franklin (who’d done the surprisingly good Patrick a few years earlier), and the return of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates and Vera Miles as Lila (now Loomis, having married and been widowed by Sam in the interim). Also helping out is Meg Tilly, performing very well as Mary “Samuels” (the name Marion Crane had signed with in the original film).
*. When Psycho II came out I think it was met with the same sort of trepidation and misgivings as greeted Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake. So with the bar lowered on expectations, it was well received, especially given that it was not a big production. In fact, it had originally been intended as a TV-movie (making it not so far removed from the original, actually). So just the fact that it wasn’t hated (as Van Sant’s film was) is a real achievement.
*. I remember liking it better at the time. Now the story in particular strikes me as altogether too silly. As Roger Ebert observed, “It’s too heavy on plot and too willing to cheat about its plot to be really successful.” I’m inclined to think Bloch had the right idea. I mean, the whole “who’s your real mommy?” angle here is so preposterous it would have played better as parody.
*. I like Meg Tilly, but the script fails her. I just didn’t buy her character, especially in how she’s given all the maternal imagery in her relating to Norman. For him it makes sense — once a momma’s boy, etc. — but for her? Well, I guess she has mother issues as well.
*. In 1960 Perkins had been concerned that the role might affect his career, and that was certainly borne out. Twenty-two years later he was still Norman Bates. And you can see that resignation in his face. Once again he’s a sympathetic figure. He doesn’t even have a social worker, due to cutbacks. Arthur Fleck was going to experience the same problem around the same time.
*. I called Franklin capable, but I wouldn’t want to go much further than that. I like what he does with the actual physical location, but I think he goes overboard with the overhead shots. There are two before we even get out of the courthouse! This just seems like showing off, since they don’t have any purpose (as Hitchcock’s use of them in the original did). Otherwise I can’t say this is a terribly scary movie, though it does have a couple of decent sequences. Most of it just seems too weird, making you spend too much time wondering what’s actually going on rather than being creeped out.
*. The decision to start with replaying the shower scene struck me as a pointless act of homage. It has nothing to do with this story and we hardly needed to be reminded of it. I can’t understand the thinking there. Now restaging that scene from Norman’s point of view . . . that would have been interesting.
*. You can’t judge Psycho II on its own, and at the same time you can’t judge it in comparison to Psycho. As I began by saying, I think the comparison to be made is to other slasher films. As such, it’s miles ahead of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Halloween II (both 1981). This of course reintroduces our old friend the low bar. The original Psycho took as its challenge the making of a “good” exploitation flick, and it more than passed that test. It did not, however, reset the bar. Psycho II doesn’t try to change the game either, but does just enough to meet expectations.