Back in 1983, sequels were not really the done thing. There were continuations to series like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but for a film to carry on from a certified classic that was made and released 23 years earlier, there was considerable risk. In fact, writer Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin fully expected a kicking, having committed an act that would be seen as sacrilege by many. To try and touch on anything based around the mastery of Hitchcock can only end in failure. Which is where the shock comes in: Psycho II is not only a worthy follow-up, but a great film in its own right.
Never mind that the film is excellently made, with some above average performances; you have to justify going back to the material. This is where Psycho II pays off dividends. When people talk about sequels that are worthy of their originals, they say Godfather and Alien; this is also a second film that ups the stakes in some ways. The script is tight and displays inventiveness, but again the reasoning is what makes it work. You can’t have a Psycho film without Anthony Perkins, and on the strength of where the story took his character, he returned as Norman Bates. An iconic role if there ever was one.
It’s 22 years later and Norman has been released as sane enough to re-enter society, he’s even got a job placement. All seems to be going okay, if with a few bumps, then Norman starts to question whether ‘Mother’ is really dead. Has she returned from the grave, or did she never die?
Franklin was taught by Hitchcock, his mentor, and knew how to make a film that thrilled in all the right ways. He pushes buttons, and up-scales the violence for an ’80s audience who were being weaned on slasher films. The characterisation of the young woman who comes to stay in his house is well played out, and the twists work, oh boy do they work. The Bates hotel is a character in itself, and nothing is sold cheap. The writing is sophisticated, and the atmosphere as Norman loses touch with reality never loses its grip. In the end, what people expected to be a cash-in turned out to be one of the most genuine horror films of the decade, and still holds power today. You can’t say that about many sequels.