Psycho II is a shaggy, poignantly defanged sequel that often resembles one of those lame TV specials that used to revisit the characters of a cherished show that ended 20 years prior. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has been released from the mental institution to which he was committed at the end of the first film, and he gets a job as a short-order cook’s assistant at a local diner not too far down the road from the Bates Motel. Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) is understandably a little perturbed, as it was her sister whom Norman famously filleted in a motel shower some years back. She’s petitioning for Norman’s reinstitution, but with the exception of a few creeps and bullies, not to mention a new killer on the loose, most everyone else in the film is hilariously matter-of-fact about Norman’s past misdeeds. Hey, everyone deserves a second chance.
The film’s only real friction resides in its makers’ apparent blindness as to how deeply, deeply ridiculous this setup is as presented; you keep waiting for Mrs. Voorhees to turn up somewhere selling flowers. Norman is a terrifying cinematic icon, of course, and to see him treated so banally, as if he stole a pack of Luckys some years ago from a 7-Eleven, is to feel as if you’ve wandered into a stoned SNL sketch presided over by Luis Buñuel. The premise might actually make for a good deranged farce, but Psycho II attempts to honor the first film with fatal self-seriousness, and it also has that weird sense of time displacement that recently characterized the A&E series Bates Motel. Director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland can’t seem to figure out if Psycho II should resemble a film from the 1950s or the 1980s, so they split the difference, and the result is a bland, meandering movie with no real look or tone at all. A teenager killed at one point could’ve stumbled in from a community production of Peyton Place, and the sheriff is given to spouting the kind of folksy homilies that Alfred Hitchcock once intended as sly jokes, only here we’re meant to more or less accept them at face value. And on the other end of the spectrum you have Dennis Franz doing one of his patented 1980s greaseball numbers.
There isn’t much to be gained from comparing Psycho II to Psycho, one of the greatest and most subversive of all American movies. It would be theoretically more fruitful to compare this sequel to Strait-Jacket, a nasty William Castle melodrama that also baldly ripped off Psycho, and was even written by the author of that film’s source novel, Robert Bloch. Except Psycho II doesn’t benefit much from that comparison either: Strait-Jacket also follows a killer, played by Joan Crawford, as she attempts to adjust to small-town life following her release from an institution, and it revels in a barely suppressed sleazy hysteria that remains unnerving, while Psycho II, which borrows considerably from Strait-Jacket, is comprised of a flabby series of tediously homespun Norman rehab routines. The film’s one distinction is that it isn’t as bad as you might initially reasonably expect it to be, and it isn’t a true folly like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, but this forgettable competency quickly grows grating. Psycho II manages to refashion the raw materials of an authentically dangerous horror film into a soporific personal-remedy video randomly replete with fatal kitchen utensils.
The film may be a low-watt dud, but this transfer at least allows one to revel in the nostalgia of painterly 1980s matte shots (though you’d be better advised to seek out Shout’s recent release of Lifeforce). The image boasts an appropriately subtle level of grain, inadvertently revealing the limited shelf life of certain effects, particularly the aforementioned matte work clearly involved in the medium to wide shots of the Bates home, but the artificiality is welcome and even poetic. There’s some softness, but that’s almost certainly true to the film’s original look. There are two audio tracks: the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for purists who want a sound that’s closely representative of the film’s original mix, and the English DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 for modern consumers accustomed to a bit more heft and depth in their A/V presentations. Both are clean are nuanced, and the 4.0 is a graceful expansion of the 2.0 track.
The vintage cast and crew interviews may be of interest to people curious to see how EPK material was presented in the early 1980s, but the actual sentiments expressed are typical of frivolous promotional fodder of this or any other era. The audio commentary by screenwriter Tom Holland that’s hosted by Rob Galluzzo is enjoyable and geek-friendly, but Holland also has a tendency to puff himself up a bit, especially in regard to laughing at his own not-so-clever allusions to the first Psycho. Still, it’s punchy and reverent, and it’s nice to hear so much goodwill directed toward director Richard Franklin, who was capable of producing good work. Trailers, TV spots, and an image gallery round out the package.
Norman Bates gets out of the funny house and reacquaints himself with the tedium of a day job. It doesn’t go well.