Norman Bates is released from an insane asylum, despite the protests of the sister of his most famous victim. Returning to his home, Norman worries that his mother has returned to torment him.
A two-decades-on sequel to a true classic might sound like a terrible idea, but Psycho II is a smart, blackly-comic thriller.
Remembering that the original was as much mystery as shocker, screenwriter Tom Holland weaves a clever, surprising plot around Norman Bates. Here, the fragile, nearly-sane Norman is besieged by insensitive clods like the manager (Dennis Franz, wonderfully crass) who has been getting the Bates Motel a bad reputation as ‘an adult motel’ and a callous plot by the vindictive Lilah (Vera Miles, returning to her old role) to drive him crazy again.
Meg Tilly is interestingly ambiguous as a waitress who befriends Norman, but turns out to be part of the plot against him – and unwittingly the cause of a last-reel disaster as she becomes one of several surrogate mothers to take up the wig, dress and knife.
The wittiest dark joke is that the entire world wants Norman to be mad, and ‘normality’ can only be restored if he’s got a mummified mother in the window and is ready to kill again.
Director Richard Franklin stages ‘80s-style gore effects but seems more interested in character quirks.
Though two further sequels show some decline in quality, they’re still interesting: Psycho III, directed by Perkins, finds Norman nearly entering a relationship with an equally screwed-up woman, a suicidal ex-nun (Diana Scarwid); and Psycho IV: The Beginning, directed for TV by Mick Garris from a script by Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, delves into the backstory as Perkins recounts Norman’s early life - with terrific work from Henry Thomas as young Norman and an unexpected Olivia Hussey as Mother.
Surprisingly, even after waiting 20 years, they managed to turn out a smart, darkly-comic thriller with some imaginitive twists.