Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 20, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘Psycho II’

Psycho II is a movie I avoided for a long time. I’d never seen a great sequel to a great director’s great movie that wasn’t made by that same great director. The non-Kubrick sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey? An unimaginative, dated trifle. Part 2 of Spielberg’s Jaws? My two-word review simply reads “shit sandwich.” Why should I expect any more from a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movie made three years after Hitch died? Robert Bloch, author of the Psycho novel, was not involved either because Universal execs supposedly hated his own literary sequel published in 1982. Anthony Perkins, however, is back as Norman, who is finally being released from the mental institution in which he’d been imprisoned since committing his—errr—youthful indiscretions. So is a tough-to-recognize Vera Miles, who reprises her role as Lila Crane, sister of the showering woman Norman knifed in 1960.



That Psycho II begins with an extended clip of that original murder is not a good sign. A bit of advice to director Richard Franklin: when making an unauthorized sequel to the masterwork of one of cinema’s legendary filmmakers, don’t actually include footage from that filmmaker’s film; it will only make it easier to draw comparisons that place you on the losing end (editor’s note: Richard Franklin is too dead to actually take this advice). It was also a bad idea to shoot a shot-by-shot remake of that shower scene with Meg Tilly, who plays Norman’s co-worker and would-be girlfriend Mary, even if you do toss in a lazy bit of ‘80s body-double boobs.

So many Psychos… so many shower scenes…



So, yeah, there are some major problems with Psycho II (I haven’t even mentioned the bad-taste violence that might be kind of funny elsewhere but feels really out of place in this picture. Oh, wait a minute… I just did). Yet this is actually a pretty good flick. Surely it suffers in comparison to Hitchcock’s movie. That’s a given. But Tom Holland, who went on to write good stuff like Fright Night and Child’s Play, put together a script that remains true to the spirit of the original while also taking the story in some interesting new directions. About an hour into the picture I thought I had the inevitable twist all figured out, but Holland keeps playing games right up until the final scene. He even includes an ingenious parody of the most notoriously clunky scene in Psycho.

Equally important, Anthony Perkins never misses a beat; Norman is just as twitchy, uncomfortably sympathetic, and way creepy as he was 23 years earlier. I also like the fact that director Franklin was actually an associate of Hitchcock, who supposedly schooled his protégé about the ins and outs of German Expressionism. I would have liked it better if he’d used more of what Hitch taught him. Aside from a small handful of distorted shots, the direction is too straightforward. And though it is interesting to see all those iconic sets and props from the original film in full color—and Franklin really luxuriates over them— I think this sequel would have been much better in black and white. Still worth a view, though, even for skeptics like myself.
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