It’s thirty years later, and Norman Bates is back in PSYCHO II, hitting Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory’s “Scream Factory” collector’s edition line.
Twenty-two years after being institutionalized for the murders of Marion Crane, Detective Arbogast, and at least five other people, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has been deemed “restored to sanity”. Despite the virulent objections of Marion’s sister Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, THE SEARCHERS), Norman’s psychiatrist Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia, SCARFACE) assures him that he is cured. Norman returns to home with a job working as a short-order cook – courtesy of forgiveness-minded waitress Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar, PAT BARRETT & BILLY THE KID) – where he meets hapless Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly, THE GIRL IN A SWING) whose boyfriend throws her out of their apartment. Norman invites Mary back to the hotel – which is being maintained by sleaze-ball Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz, DRESSED TO KILL) – but sends her up to the house when he (rather than mother) disapproves of the promiscuous clientele. Norman fires Toomey who makes himself a nuisance and rehashes Norman’s past to Mary (and anyone else who will listen). Then someone starts leaving Norman notes from “mother” that no one else sees and phone calls no one else hears. If that wasn’t enough to have people suspecting that Norman is going off his rocker, a hysterical teenager claims that her boyfriend was murdered in the Bates house. Norman starts to believe that his mother – his real mother, that is – is responsible for the strange goings-on. The police find no evidence of a crime, and the sheriff (Hugh Gillin, PAPER MOON) start to suspect something fishier (than a madman running around in his mother’s clothes with a butcher knife). Mary is not so easily scared off, and she too begins to suspect that there is someone else in the house besides herself and Norman, and not the “someone” she thinks…
A sequel to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most revered suspense films – especially one twenty-two years later – seemed like sacrilege; but apparently more to cineastes than Universal Studios, who okayed the project for the cable market until international reception of the sequel’s announcement proved overwhelming. Australian director Richard Franklin had been offered the project on the strength of his very Hitchcockian films PATRICK and ROAD GAMES, but he was more than merely a fan of Hitchcock. Franklin had attended film school at University of Southern California, had screened retrospectives of Hitchcock’s work there, and had befriended the director and been on-set for TOPAZ and FAMILY PLOT. He worked closely on the script with actor-turned-director Tom Holland (who later directed FRIGHT NIGHT), meticulously storyboarding sequences to quote not just the camerawork and editing of PSYCHO but Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre. The lighting of cinematographer Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN) is appropriately moody, but he and Franklin hold back audacious camera movements until later in the film, including a wonderful crane shot that moves from an attic set down the exterior or the real house thanks to a traveling matte created by Albert Whitlock (CAT PEOPLE) to seamlessly mask the transition. Jerry Goldsmith’s score isn’t as effective as Bernard Hermann’s original for the scare scenes, but it warmly embodies the sense of melancholy that is emphasized in this film’s characterization of Norman. Henri-Georges Clouzot had beat Hitchcock to the screenplay rights for Pierre Boileau’s and Thomas Narcejac’s “Celle qui n'était plus” and the resulting film LES DIABOLIQUES influenced Hitchcock’s approach to PSYCHO; and it’s plot could be said to been at least a partial influence on PSYCHO II, although perhaps the least satisfying thing about the film is the ultimate explanation (although the capper is blackly humorous as it is shocking). Whether PSYCHO II was a worthy follow-up to PSYCHO, or if it even should have had a follow-up (Robert Bloch’s sequel novel took a very different approach) is still debatable, but it’s still a neatly diverting thriller.
Perkins was apparently reticent to return to the role of Norman Bates, having been typecast in such roles in genre projects like the Curtis Harrington’s TV movie HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALAN and had parodied himself in the 1976 Saturday Night Live sketch “The Norman Bates School of Motel Management” (which you can learn at home “in the privacy of your own shower”). He slips back into character here; and our sympathy towards him even before we realize that what is really going on reminds us that the Norman half of his character was always sympathetic (providing more interest after Janet Leigh’s character exited the picture than Miles’ or John Gavin’s characters). PSYCHO II and PSYCHO III, however, lead to more films exploiting his most famous role including Ken Russell’s CRIMES OF PASSION, Gerard Kikoine’s THE EDGE OF SANITY (a Ken Russell/Jess Franco-esque take on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in which experiments with cocaine turn repressed Jekyll into Jack the Ripper-esque “Jack Hyde”), the German Ruth Rendell adaptation A DEMON IN MY VIEW, as well as the made-for-TV PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (in which Henry Thomas played a younger version of Norman in flashbacks) and a 1990 Oatmeal Crisp commercial (“Look mother, I’m eating my oatmeal”). Fresh-faced Tilly remains sympathetic enough throughout the plot to keep us guessing as certain plot twists are revealed while others continue their circuitous development, while Miles’ has more of a “special guest star” role with limited screen time but a spectacular exit.
Since PSYCHO II was produced with television in mind – see the commentary – the film has always looked pretty good on cropped TV and VHS releases (even Universal’s 1992 remastered laserdisc was fullscreen). When the film was first released on DVD, it was via Goodtimes Home Video and their early arrangement with Universal. That release was a good-looking fullscreen transfer with a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround rendering of the Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Universal subsequently reissued the film in 2005 with an anamorphic transfer and a 4.0 encoding of the matrix Dolby Stereo mix with the trailer as the only extra (this version was later reissued in a two-disc set with PSYCHO III and the made-for-cable PSYCHO IV in 2007). I’m not sure if Scream Factory’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1.85:1 disc is a brand new transfer, but the enhanced resolution does occasionally look less cinematic and more TV-movie in close-ups. It also does reveal the face of Perkins’ double in the opening shower scene (wow, I’ve just realized that not only have I not seen PSYCHO on Blu-ray yet, I haven’t even seen it on DVD so I can’t tell you if I saw this on any digital transfers of the first film), as well as the increase in grain during the mid-pan optical transition from the original footage to the recreation of the pan from the bathroom to the motel room window for the opening credits. The transfer is also clear enough that the clouds of Albert Whitlock’s traveling matte in the final shot can actually be seen passing “through” Perkins silhouette. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 version of the film’s Dolby Stereo track is more of an upmix, but the 2.0 track does a perfectly good job of rendering the track which depends on detailed natural sounds (like the slide of silverware in the drawer when Norman yanks it open to get a knife when he suspects someone else is in the house) to unsettle rather than jolt (in fact, the stereo sound doesn’t actually make itself known until Hermann’s shower theme comes in during the remixed version of the sequence that opens the film). Optional English subtitles are also included.
Screenwriter Tom Holland (FRIGHT NIGHT) is on hand for a lively audio commentary hosted by Robert V. Galluzzo (director of THE PSYCHO LEGACY). Among the surprising revelations – at least for those of us who haven’t seen THE PSYCHO LEGACY – is that PSYCHO II was intended as a cable film and not considered for theatrical release until late in the shoot thanks to international reaction to the film’s announcement (presumably the producers kept foreign theatrical release in mind since the film doesn’t look at all cropped at 1.85:1), and that Christopher Walken was considered for the lead if Perkins did not sign on. Carrie Fisher, Meg Ryan, Kathleen Turner were considered for the Mary role, and producer Hilton A. Green also suggested Jamie Lee Curtis but she had just made HALLOWEEN II (not to mention PROM NIGHT and TERROR TRAIN). The Bates house – which had been part of the Universal tours since the sixties and had popped up in episodes of THRILLER, NIGHT GALLERY, THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, and a number of other TV series and films (including the 1981 Chevy Chase comedy MODERN PROBLEMS) – had to be relocated to another part of the lot since more standing sets from other films had been erected around it, and the motel had to be rebuilt from production designer Henry Bumstead’s original plans since it had been torn down long ago (the new motel along with the original house have shown up in other TV series and feature films since). Holland points out Franklin’s cameo, his own, as well as the aforementioned Hitchcock one buried in the art direction, and the small supporting bit by actor/boyhood friend Chris Hendrie (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) with whom he had seen the original film on the big screen as a kid. He also speaks briefly of his previous script for THE BEAST WITHIN for American International as well as his immediate follow-up to PSYCHO II with Richard Franklin: CLOAK AND DAGGER, although there is little discussion of his Holland’s other genre credits which also included the script for the TV movie THE INITIATION OF SARAH and SCREAM FOR HELP as well as his directorial efforts FRIGHT NIGHT, CHILD’S PLAY, and THINNER among others (he also mentions that he wrote the original script for JOHN CARTER which was recently produced by Disney with a different script and notoriously tanked at the box office).
Aside from the new commentary, the rest of the extras are rather disappointing. The film can also be audited with another alternate track featuring a handful of vintage audio interviews with Anthony Perkins, Alfred Hitchcock himself (archival material), Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and Richard Franklin that can be heard over the first fifteen minutes of the film. One of these interviews actually capitalizes on the “controversy” of whether there is any nudity in the shower scene – with Janet Leigh insisting that there is the illusion of nudity through montage while Franklin discusses the revealing shots (which reportedly got by the censors because Hitchcock said they used an adolescent male double) – urging viewers to see for themselves by going to see PSYCHO II. The featurette labeled “Cast and Crew Interviews (35:20)” is actually the film’s original electronic press kit, which is pretty much a series of endlessly recycling sound-bytes from Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh (the oft-quoted one about how she was afraid to take a shower after seeing the finished version of the murder scene), Vera Miles, and Richard Franklin promoting different aspects of the film with variations in the selected clips from PSYCHO II and the original film. It’s an interesting archival extra, but not very illuminating at all. Also included are two trailers for the film (3:42), four TV Spots (2:00), and a stills gallery. (Eric Cotenas)
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