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.