It takes brass ones to set out to make a sequel to a film like Psycho, never mind doing so over two decades after the original film’s release, but, in 1982, partly as a response to Psycho novel author Robert Bloch’s satirical follow-up, Psycho II (also published in 1982), Universal decided to do just that. Boasting another fantastic performance by star, Anthony Perkins, as well as the assured direction of Hitchcock student, Richard Franklin (who also helmed the criminally underrated Road Games), Psycho II shocked just about everyone when it not only proved to be a critical success, but a commercial one, as well, introducing a whole new generation to old-fashioned Hitchcockian thrills and chills, while still managing to be relevant amongst the gory slasher films of the period.
Set twenty two years after the events of the first film, Norman Bates (Perkins) is released from the mental institution where he’s been a model patient for more than two decades, much to the chagrin of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), sister of Norman’s most-storied victim, Marion Crane. He returns to his old stomping grounds, where’s he’s introduced to the hotel’s new manager, Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), and beds down for his first night “alone” in his old house.
The next morning Norman arrives at his new job, working as a busboy in a local diner, where he befriends both the diner’s aged owner, Emma (Claudia Bryar), and a down-on-her-luck waitress named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). Mary’s been kicked out of by her boyfriend, so Norman offers her a place to sleep at his motel, but, after discovering that Toomey’s turned the place into a seedy rent-a-bed, Norman fires his sleazy manager on the spot, and, instead, offers Mary a bed inside of his home. The two have an awkward dinner, and Norman obviously isn’t above sneaking a peek at his reluctant lodger getting ready for a shower, but it’s an otherwise uneventful night, and, for Norman, a sign that things can only get better.
Sadly, Norman’s optimism begins to wane when, at the diner the next day, a drunk and angry Toomey confronts him, dredging up Norman’s past in front of the customers and Mary, and sends Norman running back to the motel, where he receives a call from a woman claiming to be his mother. Toomey arrives at the motel shortly thereafter, and, after trashing his office, finds himself on the receiving end of a butcher knife wielded by a shadowy figure in a dress.
From here on, we’re presented a series of Hitchockian twists and turns, and all manner of red herrings, including Mary, herself, who is soon revealed to be none other than Marion’s niece, and an essential cog in her mother, Lila’s, plan to get Norman sent back to the sanitarium where she thinks he belongs.
I was thirteen when Psycho II came out, and my mother, who was a huge fan of Hitchock’s original film, sort of twisted my arm to go to a matinee of the movie with her, reminding me of all of the movies she’d sat through for my benefit. Despite the fact that it was an R-rated film, I was unenthused as, at that time, I was really too young to appreciate Hitchcock’s film (it was “black and white, man!”) and had already cut my teeth on the Friday the 13th and Halloween films. I figured I was being dragged to a movie for “old people”, much like Warren Beatty’s 1981 Communist revolution flick, Reds, which she sold me as a “war movie”. I wasn’t remotely prepared for just how cool (and violent) of a film it was, nor was my mother, apparently, as she spent much of the movie gasping at the nudity and violence that was mostly absent from the original. Granted, in retrospect, it’s not a patch on Hitchcock’s original film, but, all things considered, it’s a bit of a minor miracle that the film’s any good at all! Originally slated to be a direct-to-cable release, Richard Franklin’s adherence to his mentor’s formula and techniques and Perkins’ bravura performance elevated the film well-above expectations, and it still holds up remarkably well today.
Scream Factory releases Psycho II in a 1.85:1 1080p transfer that is simply gorgeous. It’s a crisp and clean print that offers an abundance of fine detail, excellent contrast, and is surprisingly vibrant given the film’s rather dusty desert color palette. The transfer is paired with a choice of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix as well as a newly created 5.1 mix, and both are excellent with the choice between the two really coming down to personal preference (as always, I side with the closest thing to source, so it’s 2.0 for me).
Psycho II is presented as part of Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition series, but, unlike other titles in said series, this one does not feature alternative art, but, rather, the film’s original theatrical poster. I’m guessing this is a licensing issue and, most probably, done at the behest of rights holder, Universal. I also noticed that it’s not quite as feature-packed as other Collector’s Edition offerings from the company, but we do get a nice assortment of bonus goodies, including a commentary track by writer Tom Holland (Fright Night/Child’s Play); a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (HD) that features interviews with all of the principals of both this film and the original; a collection of TV spots and trailers (HD), and a series of audio-only interviews playable while watching the film. Rounding out the extras is a fairly extensive stills gallery (HD).
Psycho II is both a throwback to the Hitchockian-style thrillers of the 60s, as well as a surprisingly relevant and intelligent alternative to the youth-oriented slasher films of its era. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation features superlative video and audio quality, as well as an impressive collection of vintage and new extras that make this one a must buy for fans. Highly recommended!