Director: Richard Franklin
Writer: Tom Holland; based onCharacters created by Robert Bloch
Cinematographer: Dean Cundey
Producer: Hilton A. Green and Bernard Schwartz
by Jon Cvack
Allegedly Quentin Tarantino stated he thought this film was better than the original which, if true, makes me question whether Tarantino actually has good taste in movies. To think this film is in any way superior to Hitchcock’s masterpiece and one of cinema’s all time greats strings credulity. It’s a movie that gets better every time I watch it; to the point where I knew I had to just bite the bullet and see what sequels had to offer. I thought nothing could be worse than A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 (1985) this year, but this film is a close runner up.
It takes place 22 years later as Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from the hospital with the help of his lawyer Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia) who vouches that he’s cured. Marion’s sister Lila Loomis attends the proceeding, still played by (Vera Miles) who disagrees with the ruling, declaring that Norman’s still a murderer. Norman returns back to his home and motel, using the same, now famous Universal backlot set. The hotel is now run by the film’s best character Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz) who’s let the place slide into a drug and sex destination; stating that there’s no other way to attract customers.
The odd thing is that although Norman has a hotel to run, he’s forced to get a job at a diner where he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). When she breaks up with her boyfriend, Norman invites her to stay over at his house. She agrees, the two head back and Norman continues to see and hear his mother get murderous ideations. In one scene, he fixes Mary a sandwich, finding a butcher knife, pulling it out and exhibiting nearly every indication to Mary that he’s about to stab her, though she doesn’t fully seem to grasp the situation - a troubled man bringing her back to his creepy mansion where he gleams over a knife.
From there the film falls into complete disaster, running far too long to make any of the murders worth the long waits. Mary essentially moves in with Norman in order to help with his issues and so a mystery unravels, revealing that Mary is Lila’s daughter, and that the cook at the diner, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) is actually Norman’s mother who gave Norman to her sister.
It’s not a terrible turn of events, but at nearly two hours long, the good stuff simply takes too long to get to and what happens in-between doesn’t quite pass the time. Anthony Perkins is odd to the point of distraction, no longer possessing that uneasy and psychotic persona. The performance is odd and feels fake, pulling me out of most scenes. The other issue is that for the vast majority of the film, we’re asked to accept that Mary just so happens to not mind staying with a peculiar and unhinged, former ward of the state who keeps hearing his mother tell him to kill. It makes sense when explained, but up until that point, it breaks credulity. Either people don’t buy it, or they’ve figured it out. It just doesn’t work.
Once Warren gets killed, there’s little else that kept me engaged with the film. By the time I reached the last third, I was pissed that I had to waste another night on finishing the thing. It’s made poorly. The scares aren’t engaging or effective. Most of the characters feel like parodies. It never makes an effort to capture the errieness of the Bates Motel. The original worked because we had no idea what to expect; going so far as to kill its main character off midway through. We didn’t know if the mother was the killer, or something supernatural, or if Norman was psychotic. After it’s all explained there’s very little left to explore. As decent as the ending could have been, it doesn’t add anything. It just saturates a great recipe. Hitchcock accomplished the rare, achieved by perhaps only The Shining (1980), in being a horror film that prevents a functional sequel. Psycho is a completely full and perfect story that doesn’t need to go any further.
BELOW: About as good as it gets, and that ain't saying much
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