I was three years old in 1983, but horror purists must have been appalled to hear that Universal Pictures was greenlighting a sequel to Psycho, the grandfather of all slasher films and one of the greatest horror films of all time. It must have taken some nerve to steer an American film classic into slasher franchise territory, and likely, no one expected much. Unbelievably, Psycho II succeeds on every level as an excellent follow-up/homage to the original.
It's been 22 years, and Norman Bates has been deemed "cured" by the state of California, and ready to re-enter society. His release from custody is vehemently protested by Mrs. Lila Loomis (yes, that Loomis), who hates Norman for obvious reasons. Norman returns to the Bates Motel, which has since become an "adult" motel that rents by the hour and is run by a sleazy manager. He takes up residence in his mother's old house and gets a job at a local diner, and seems pretty well-adjusted, all things considered. Before too long, however, old problems raise their ugly heads. Norman starts receiving notes and phone calls from his dead mother, and sees her in the windows of the old house. A few people go missing. Is Norman returning to insanity? Is someone with a grudge trying to force Norman back to the nuthouse? Or is it all just a product of Norman's diseased mind?
Psycho II is what I like to call a "classy" slasher. The complex, intricate plot is masterfully written by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play, Class of 1984) and will keep viewers guessing until the final frame. Director Richard Franklin completes the difficult job of paying homage to the original masterpiece without insulting its legacy, by borrowing from a number of Hitchcock's shots, including the infamous shower scene and the swamp scene. There are also a bunch of internal references to the original that you'll have to closely look for (see if you can spot the classic Hitchcock silhouette). Unlike a lot of other 80's slashers, and particularly sequels, the film doesn't rely on gratuitous gore. There is, however, one Fulci-style stabbing and a bunch of nasty incidents involving a butcher knife and hands that will make even the most seasoned veteran wince.
The acting is outstanding as well. Anthony Perkins effortlessly slips back into his trademark role and convinces the viewer to both fear and feel for him. Robert Loggia is excellent as Norman's psychiatrist, and an adorable Meg Tilly plays Mary, Norman's new friend from the diner who may have an agenda of her own. Dennis Franz (of NYPD Blue fame) turns in a strong performance as the scumbag hotel manager, and Vera Miles is outstanding as Lila Loomis, the widow with a score to settle.
There are so many twists and turns in Psycho II that it is literally impossible to guess who, if anyone, is responsible for the happenings at the old Bates estate. The ending simply cannot be foreseen, and will knock you on your ass. Hitchcock wouldn't have had it any other way. Psycho II is one of those rare slashers that is likely to be enjoyed by genre fans and non-fans alike. This film is a can't miss.