Twenty-three years after the release of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, director Richard Franklin was tasked with the creation of a Psycho sequel. The original had become an iconic cultural artefact, spawning over $50 million at the box office. Therefore, when attempting to follow up the 1960 academy award-nominated film, there were a number of challenges in the way, as the filmmaker attempted to turn one film’s success into a franchise.
This feature will investigate the way in which Psycho II navigates these challenges, assessing the effectiveness of the film in its own right, but also as one of Hollywood’s most famous belated movie sequels.
Perkins and Bates Reunited
Anthony Perkins stars in the film as Norman Bates once more. The first film’s serial killer has just finished his time in a mental institution, and is re-introduced into society. Given a job at a nearby diner, Bates is offered the best possible chance to reinvent himself and leave his dark, murderous past behind him.
However, this is still a huge struggle for Norman. Perkins’ exceptional performance perfectly depicts a psychologically damaged man, desperately clinging on to his chance at a normal and murder free life.
Psycho II offers a much deeper look at Bates than its predecessor, showing the audience his conflicted mental state, as he slowly and painfully becomes less and less in control of his own actions. Fantasising notes, phone calls and cries from his late mother, he falls deeper and deeper from sanity, and he has no idea that it is happening. This deeper investigation into Bates as a character offers us as an audience the chance to empathise with him, in a way we had not during the second half of the first film.
The representation of Norman is effective as part of the sequel, because it gives the audience exactly what they had been waiting for. After over two decades of no Norman Bates, they are shown more than ever, and from his point of view, allowing the audience new perspective on the first film’s events, as well as a brand-new storyline to follow it up.
The Post-Reveal Sequel
Another issue that horror sequel films often run into is the concept of the reveal. In the pre-franchise era of Hollywood cinema, films tended to end with a complete resolution, that inevitably revealed the identity of the villain of the story. This is true of Psycho, which ends with the revelation that Norman has been dressing as his mother and committing the murders.
This creates a quite blatant issue for a potential sequel to the film, as the writers now have to create suspense, mystery and tension in a film world in which the audience already knows the killer. In Psycho II, this dilemma is carefully avoided, by suggesting to the audience that there might be another killer in the film’s iconic house.
The identification with Norman Bates, as a reforming character on the edge of a return to insanity, makes the audience really hopeful that he might not be the killer. We hope that he doesn’t fall back into his old, murderous ways, not only for the victims, but for himself. This empathy for Bates means that when the suggestion is made that someone else might be the killer, we as an audience begin to trust Norman. We almost hope that someone is pretending to be his mother, leaving notes and making phone calls, to frame him for the murders. We are sucked back into the suspense, and placed in a position where we try to believe that Norman Bates really is a reformed individual.
In the first film, we feel empathy for Marion. Therefore, we hope that she will avoid the killer’s attempts to end her life. This means that we are hoping for Norman Bates to stay away from killing because we care about the victim. Psycho II flips the audience’s empathy on its head, as we begin to empathise for the murdering culprit, and hope that he doesn’t kill because we care about him. This is an interesting way in which the filmmaker maintains suspense in a narrative in which the audience already knows the killer.
One of the film’s new characters, Mary Loomis, symbolises this change within the narrative. Like the audience, she enters the story wanting to see justice for a violent killer. She, like us, has a preconceived view of Norman as a psychopath who cannot be safely released. However, when she tries to help get him arrested again, her opinion shifts. She sees how hard he is trying, and she recognises the tough internal struggle he is dealing with. Therefore, like the film’s audience, she begins to hope that he does not fall back into his old ways.
The sequel also uses the iconic settings of Hitchcock’s film to symbolise this shift in audience identification and point of view. In the first film, we are for the most part positioned in the motel. The camera looks up with Marion at the house, which overlooks the whole area. The motel is being watched by the house, which towers above it at the top off the hill.
Psycho II once again reverses this element of the film. Most of the film takes place within the house. As an audience, where are once again positioned with Norman, from the setting in which he watched over his victims.
In Psycho, the house above the motel represents fear, terror and the concept of being watched. It is a terrifying setting. However, in the sequel, this house begins to represent safety and security. As the rest of the outside world are against Norman, the house becomes a place where he can shield himself from outside influences. From Bates’ point of view, it is not the big house that is scary, it is everything and everyone outside it, who threatens his and his ‘mother’ in their perfect life.
In the diner, the courtroom or the institution, Norman feels lost. He feels vulnerable and fears that people can get to him and make him feel weak. Therefore, his house becomes an important and valuable place to him, that can make him feel powerful. Unfortunately, this draws him back into killing. His (and our) relationship with the house as a setting, therefore, becomes blurred throughout the film. It may protect Norman from outsiders who despise him, and don’t believe he can ever change, but it also limits his progress and reformation. When he is in the house, his ‘mother’ can have an effect on him, and this is when he loses control.
The use of these iconic settings places the sequel in a position where the ghosts of the events twenty years ago are still present everywhere. From the big house to the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock on the wardrobe, the shadows of the film’s iconic predecessor are allowed to stay.
How Effective Is Psycho II?
These elements all come together to produce a sequel that offers fresh perspectives on one of the most famous stories Hollywood has ever told. Changing the first film’s violent killer into a reforming character who we hope can grow into a normal life. Franklin’s film offers the audience all of the recognised iconography of a Psycho film, with the house, the mother and the motel, but doesn’t just remake the film.
Psycho II therefore works well as a belated sequel, offering audiences the iconic sets and characters, with new outlooks on them all.
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