Friday, April 19, 2013

Psycho II

On Monday night, Heather and I went to see Hitchcock at the hole-in-the-wall off of Via del Corso that shows English language movies.  We were impressed.  It's a testament to the legacy of Psycho that fifty years later someone's even made a movie about how it was made.  While it's hard to see Hitchcock and not immediately want to go home and rewatch the original film, it actually reminded me of something else.

It isn't common knowledge outside of horror fandom, but Psycho spawned a line of non-Hitchcock directed sequels.  What's even more uncommon knowledge is that Psycho II is actually pretty damn good.

Now pause right there.  Why do you find that hard to swallow?

There are certain films, like The Wizard of Oz or the original Star Wars trilogy, which contain a level a vision that elevates them to an untouchable status.  They weren't just at the top of their game, they ushered in a new era of film history.  That's why Return to Oz and whathaveyou are thought of as appendages rather than successors.  

Also, horror franchises have a bad connotation.  Without getting into a discussion about what constitutes "high" and "low" art, Psycho is a scene by scene, line by line, frame by frame masterpiece.  Despite belonging to a genre typically sneered at by the literati, it's regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.  Slasher flick sequels, however, are traditionally low-rent and targeted at teenaged audiences with lukewarm expectations.  Lumping Psycho in with the five hundred Nightmares of Roman Numeral Street seems downright insulting.

But somehow, this one works.

Psycho II opens with a flashback to the Shower Scene.  Right away, we know what we're in for.  By cut-and-pasting one of the most iconic and intricately shot scenes in film history and presenting it before the title credits, the film admits up front what it is: a midnight movie hinging on a classic.  Now that we all know where we stand, it's that much easier to take the film on its own terms.  And if you do, it's a fun ride.

One of the interesting things about this film is that it asks the age-old question: what happens after the horror movie?  Sure, the villain's been defeated (at least for now), but now what?  How do the survivors piece their lives back together after all they've been through?  How does the terrorized community begin to heal?  Can the madman be redeemed?

The action begins twenty years after the death of Marion Crane.  Norman Bates (played by an appropriately aged Anthony Perkins) has been released from the psych ward, supposedly rehabilitated, and is attempting to assimilate back into society.  He gets a job at a restaurant.  He tries to make friends with everyone.  He meets a girl he kinda likes.  Above all, throws all the dirt he can on the memory of Poor Dead Mother.

But it's not so easy.  A few of the locals aren't eager to forgive and forget, and soon, the phantoms from the past start rattling their chains.  Norman receives eerie reprimanding notes signed with his mother's name.  A few townies who go snooping around the Bates Motel turn up missing.  The silhouette of an old woman is seen in the upstairs window.  In the spirit of the original, each revelation brings us almost to a resolution, but always with one awkward piece left over.

The absolute coolest aspect of Psycho II is that this time Norman's the hero.  He's made an honest attempt to reform, and now the mystery he has to solve is himself.  Is he being tormented by his enemies?  Is he losing his mind again?  Maybe both?  I don't want to give any more away, but I will say that Norman makes for an easily likable antihero.  After all, he's not evil.  He's just fucking nuts.

Bottom Line: If you can suspend disbelief for two hours, you'll see what Hitchcock's greatest would look like as a grindhouse flick.

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