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RETRO RECOMMENDATIONS: “PSYCHO II” (1983)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 | Exclusive

RETROSPECTIVE

Underrated and unjustly scrutinized before a single strand of celluloid could capture the magic, the most unlikely of sequels was poised to dazzle horror fans and genre aficionados in 1983. Who would have the audacity to make a follow-up to Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)? Talk about the temerity of that erudite script weaver. Not only did screenwriter Tom Holland do the impossible and pen a fanciful flick, but he managed not to desecrate the hallowed legacy of an American movie classic.

The narrative forges a character study of the mentally unstable Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who is pronounced fit to reenter society. Holland’s well-crafted script clandestinely operates from a most simplistic level. Firstly, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) is looking to avenge her sister’s death, and finds opportunity a welcome companion when Bates is released on an unknowing populace. Second, a fragile Norman is just trying to live his life and return to some sense of normalcy as he finds himself once again amidst the infamous Bates Motel and house. Lila, along with her faithfully misguided daughter Mary (Meg Tilly), plans to send Norman right back to the nuthouse.

The script is only part of the intricate filmmaking puzzle though. Perkins gives a mesmerizing performance that accentuates the brevity called for by Holland’s screenplay. As audiences did in 1960, a new generation of cinephiles felt for Norman Bates in Psycho II. Viewers were on the side of the lunatic killer from the seminal film even though they know he had more bats in his belfry than Batman did in his Batcave. However, this empathy for Bates doesn’t happen, even with Holland’s prose, if not for Perkins.

Everything about Perkins’ sterling acting is matchless, and the possibility of another thespian pulling off Bates in Psycho II is farcical at best. Anthony Perkins is Norman Bates! You’re rooting for him right up until the end – the very last breathtaking moment. The script lulls audiences into submission and tricks them into their gladdening when Bates escapes the clutches of reproach. And then, with the ferocity of a cornered animal, he wallops Mrs. Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) right over the head with that sickly shovel. Norman Bates’ evil seems reborn, and horror fanatics are left wanting more. As Mr. Bates was so fond of saying, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” Bates just makes a delicious habit out of it.

DID YOU KNOW

Psycho II celebrates its 35th anniversary on June 3, 2018.

Originally conceived as a television movie, Psycho II scared up almost $35 million at the domestic box office. The film’s budget was $5 million for a 32-day shoot. With a $30 million take in cinemas, the sequel did almost as well as Psycho. Hitchcock’s masterpiece took home just north of $31 million in lifetime box office totals.

As a kid, actress Meg Tilly was forbidden to watch T.V. The result: Tilly had never seen the original Psycho. On the set of Psycho II, Tilly was at a loss at the amount of press and attention Anthony Perkins was receiving for the role of Norman Bates. Unfortunately, Tilly made the mistake of voicing this concern within earshot of Tony. Mr. Perkins was so perturbed that he refused to talk to Tilly anymore during the remainder of filming. Perkins went even further by requesting that Tilly be fired, but Meg had already shot over half of her scenes.

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for not only Psycho but the cameos he made in his own films. Hitchcock passed away three years before Psycho II, but that didn’t stop the master filmmaker from making a brief appearance. Wait, really? Look closely as Norman and Mary enter Mrs. Bates’ room. Before the lights come on, look at the wall all the way on the right. Is it Mr. Hitchcock’s silhouette that haunts the frame? And check out the bed when Mary enters. Is that a Hitchcock-ish shadow on the bed? Or is it all ghost stories and haunted phooey?

Producer Hilton A. Green (Sixteen Candles, Psycho III, Encino Man) wanted actress Jamie Lee Curtis to portray Mary Loomis in Psycho II because she was the daughter of Psycho actress Janet Leigh. With the lineage of the actresses, and their connection through horror films, this seemed an obvious fit. But in the end Curtis appeared in Trading Places (1983) with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd while Meg Tilly won the role and drove Anthony Perkins berserk. 

During Norman Bates’ flashback of his mother being poisoned, young Norman Bates’ reflection can be seen in the doorknob. Anthony Perkins’ son Oz portrayed the part. Oz grew up to be a Hollywood player himself. Oz’s acting credits include Wolf (1994), Legally Blonde (2001) and Star Trek (2009).

The Bates house that appears in Psycho II is the same piece of construction from the original film. Almost 60 years later, the famous set piece still stands on the Universal backlot. The famous relic is a two-wall façade built to show off only the exterior of the home which also appeared in other films and television projects including Laredo (1965-1967) and Night Gallery (1971). In December of 1980, the house was finally dismantled and no longer stands in the same spot. However, it was reassembled, and repaired, for the production of Psycho II. Additionally, the motel from the first film no longer existed and had to be completely reconstructed for the sequel. However, the original shower head was slated to be used, but someone absconded with it before cameras rolled.

Psycho II owes nothing to author Robert Bloch’s 1982 novel of the same name. In Bloch’s sequel to his best-selling novel Psycho, Norman’s psychiatrist Dr. Adam Claiborne believes Bates escaped the mental institution so he could travel to Hollywood in order to thwart the production of a movie about his life. Reportedly, Universal Studios was taken aback by Bloch’s portrayal of the horror film industry. This is said to be one of the catalyst that led to development of the movie sequel.

Richard Franklin (Cloak & Dagger, F/X2, Brilliant Lies) got the directing gig on Psycho II largely in part to his 1981 film Road Games. It was said to be heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). Franklin was a student of Mr. Hitchcock, and he met the master while studying at USC.

Three actors reprise their roles from Psycho in the sequel: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles and Virginia Gregg. Gregg, of course, was the voice of dear ole Mother. John Gavin’s character of Sam Loomis was written out of the story because Gavin was the American ambassador to Mexico and consequently unavailable.

Tom Holland wrote a magnificent screenplay that lured Anthony Perkins back to reprise the iconic role of Norman Bates. Prior to Perkins’ involvement, the sequel was simply a made-for-television concept. Perkins’ clout changed the game. Holland’s creativity would later manifest into one of the most beloved vampire flicks of all time: Fright Night (1985). Also, look for Holland’s cameo role in Psycho II as he portrays Deputy Norris.

Much like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the conclusion of Psycho II was a heavily guarded secret. The final pages were not included in the script. Rather, the screenplays used by cast and crew included a memo stating that those pages would be dispersed on the very last day of the shoot. Only screenwriter Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin knew how Norman’s ordeal would end.

Psycho II  opened in theaters on June 3, 1983. The film grossed over $8.3 million on its opening weekend alone on its way to $34.7 million.

Steven Thrash
Author, journalist, film fan and sports enthusiast, Steven graduated Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications focusing on film studies, journalism and theatre. Mr. Thrash then pursued his MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. Dubbed a prolific writer by Hollywood icon Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk, V, The Bionic Woman, Alien Nation), Steven has been honored by the Arkansas College Media Association for his storytelling prowess. He has also received recognition for his dramatic writing from the Eerie, Shriekfest and Screamfest horror film festivals. Publications include: The Benton Courier, Carroll County News, Saline Courier, Forum, Echo, Moroch, ABC Financial, Diabolique Magazine, Morbidly Beautiful, Dread Central, Rue Morgue and Screen Rant. Contact: www.steventhrash.com