Director: Richard Franklin
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz
Length: 113 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0
There are as few thankless tasks in the horror genre, and arguably in filmmaking as a whole, as making a sequel to a classic film. In the insurmountable shadow of a cinematic juggernaut, it’s incredibly difficult to make something that matches the audience’s unrealistic expectations and works as an original film in its own right. Tack on biased detractors, the risk of defiling a legacy and making narrative logic from the story’s continuation, it’s easy to say that the odds are against you as a filmmaker. However, as the old saying goes, “when there’s a will, there’s a way, and when there is talent behind that will, the chance for a pleasant surprise is not only reasonable, but conceivable.
Psycho II is exactly that: a pleasant surprise born from a ripe slasher genre boom and a follow-up to Hitchcock’s most recognizable film. Utilizing a clever and twist-laden script from Tom Holland, director Richard Franklin decides to not try to emulate the first Psycho beat by beat, instead finding a way to continue the story of Norman Bates that’s tangible and in-line with the cultural subtext behind the first film. And with reprisals by Vera Miles and Anthony Perkins, Psycho II carries a certain credibility within its pedigree, and adds gravitas between its grue.
Where one may argue that the first Psycho was not specifically the story of Norman Bates, who doesn’t show up until after a third of the film has already progressed and whose secret is unknown until the film’s final minutes, Psycho II is entirely focused on the story of Norman, who is released from a mental institution and attempts to rebuild the life his “mother” took away from him. With the help of Dr. Bill Raymond and his co-worker Mary Samuels, Norman seems headed back to relative normality, living in an uneasy coexistence with his past and learning to control his sexually charged impulses. Suddenly, however, Norman begins receiving phone calls from his “mother”, corroborating with strange visions and inexplicable coincidences that cause doubt about his recovery.In eschewing the murder-thriller mystery aspects of the original for a whodunit character study, Psycho II is much more slow-burn than Psycho, playing with inevitability to build suspense rather than the unknown. The most important card in Franklin’s deck is that audiences already know Norman’s past, both as a killer and as a sexual deviant, which allows the subtext to reflect the physical depiction of his relapse into madness. Holland’s script is riveting, pitting Norman against the sleaze of the ‘80s as well as social conformity just the same as it pits him against those looking to put him back in the looney bin, and there is rarely a turn or twist that feels unjustified or not instrumental to the film leading to its eventual finale. Psycho II is much better than a sequel to Psycho ever had the right to be, and by crafting something so essentially different from Hitchcock’s original film, Franklin was able to break the stigma of the slasher film and bring back horror into the story of Norman Bates.
Of course, a large part of why Psycho II works is the fully committed cast at hand, many of whom understandably devoting themselves to living up to the expectations of the fans of Psycho. Perkins is once again riveting, still exuding his boyish charm but with an even more nervous nature, bringing a self-reflexive sense of inner turmoil greatly missing from his first performance in this go-around. Meg Tilly is also absolutely incredible, putting an embodiment of corrupted youth against Bates’ aged innocence which makes her own conflict all the more sympathetic and eventually, heartbreaking. Furthermore, the supporting cast is rather stellar, with Robert Loggia (as Dr. Raymond), Dennis Franz (as the antagonistic Bates Motel manager, Warren Toomey) and Vera Miles (reprising Lila Loomis) making the film all the more impressive with their solid character work and refusal to sleepwalk through their roles.
SHOUT! does a great job here with its 1080p video transfer, although once again at the bane of those who hate the sight of natural film grain. There’s very little damaging evidence of DNR, instead providing a great color composition and retainment, and there is little evidence of crush throughout. This is definitely one of the stronger video transfers from Shout!, as natural aging of the film is barely evident and there isn’t a scratch to be seen, keeping away distraction to notice the beautifully toned sharpness and unfiltered contrast. In all, a beautifully natural, filmic presentation.
As per usual, SHOUT! does an admirable job with the audio transfer. There is no hiss present, and the range is clear and unmarred, allowing dialogue to be present and understandable and the score from Jerry Goldsmith is beautifully balanced and mixed.
The features on this set are smaller than expected but worthwhile for what they are. The Cast and Crew Interviews are culled from the Universal Archive and are definitely fascinating, albeit with its own transfer issues. There’s a Cast and Crew Interview Commentary, which is separate from the previous interviews. There’s a Commentary with Tom Holland, which feels more like a moderated discussion over the film rather than a straight introspective commentary. There are also standard issue Trailers, TV Spots and a Still Gallery.
Psycho II is definitely recommended, especially with SHOUT!’s current release, as it not only defies expectations but leads the legacy of the Psycho series down the right path. Richard Franklin refuses to imitate Hitchcock, rather serving a similar aesthetic but with a completely unique and unsettling narrative structure. Although not necessarily as drop dead horrifying as the first film, the mystery and suspense are shockingly effective, and Perkins and the supporting cast pull the film off with flying colors.