Psycho 2 is far better than it has any right to be. Its strength is that it doesn’t try to match its predecessor. It retains its ties to the original Psycho, of course, but it is its own movie, and the filmmakers acknowledge this and own it. The film even opens with the famous shower scene, in black and white, but as the camera turns from the dying girl, the torn shower curtain, and settles upon that iconic old house, colour bleeds into the scene.
It is 1983, twenty-three years after Norman Bates, under the influence of a shattered psyche, murdered seven people, including Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Now he is set to be released, deemed cured by his doctor (Robert Loggia), and the Final Girl from the original Psycho, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles), is fighting to keep him locked up. She now goes by the name Lila Loomis, having married Sam Loomis, the man who arrested Norman over twenty years ago.
Lila fails, Norman is let out, and now we follow Norman as he tries to reintegrate into society, to start over with a new life. He returns, perhaps unwisely, to the house he shared with his mother, and there it becomes clear that all of his issues have not yet been resolved. When he meets and befriends Mary (Meg Tilly), a young co-worker, Norman’s problems only escalate.
Making Norman the protagonist here, rather than the creepy foil to a female hero, helps shape this movie into something that can exist apart from the original yet still maintain its heritage. We actually come to feel sorry for Norman as he begins to doubt himself, question his sanity, and wonder if he is in fact responsible for the bodies that inevitably crop up.
Anthony Perkins is a spectacularly underrated actor. He manages here to be both sympathetic and creepy, sometimes in the same scene. He is an oddly boyish charm that makes you trust him, even knowing that he’s killed a half-dozen people, and makes it believable that Mary would accept his offer to room with him in that big, roomy, but undeniably eerie house.
The filmmakers manage to keep you guessing as to the killer’s identity, right to the end, and even throw in a twist or two for good measure. There’s a certain playfulness here, with Mary even taking a shower and those first few shots, as she steps under the stream, matching those of Marion’s perfectly. The kills have also been modernized, often to a truly shocking effect. One death scene is positively acrobatic in its conception and execution.
If the film has one weakness—and it’s a weakness that costs it a whole star—it’s in its ending. To be honest, the ending would be fantastic, if it had taken place just ten minutes earlier. In fact, I’d recommend that, if you watch Psycho II, press stop when there’re about ten minutes to go, before Norman meets up with an old lady in his kitchen. Just leave it there. It’s a great, somewhat open ending and I love it.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t end there. The actual ending is far too pat, too contrived, and too reminiscent of the worst soap opera plot twist. It’s a disappointing end to an otherwise well-crafted sequel to a movie that had set the bar impossibly high.
So, overall, I recommend Psycho II; but it gets only three stars—four stars if you end it before the hum-drum ending.