Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the latest Scream and Shout column. If you're new 'round these parts, Scream and Shout takes a detailed look at the Blu-Ray releases of Shout Factory and its horror arm Scream Factory.
I am back from San Diego Comic-Con, have caught up on some rest and Today we're going to look into an earlier Scream Factory Blu release which also happens to be a particular favorite horror sequel of mine:
Man is this a smart sequel. One of the key reasons Hitchcock's original film has stayed relevant over the last 54 years is Tony Perkins' note-perfect portrayal of Norman Bates. He's such a sympathetic character that when I rewatch the movie I find myself hoping that reality bends a little bit and this time Norman is the hero, saving the day and stopping the real killer.
Screenwriter Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin clearly understood that element was the secret weapon of Hitchcock's genre-starting masterpiece because their approach to the sequel was to make Norman Bates the good guy. And he totally is the good guy in the movie. I mean, he's still kind of crazy, but at the start of the movie he's been rehabilitated and you get the feeling it would have stuck if it wasn't for the revenge-seeking assholes trying to shatter the fragile sanity he spent 20 years building.
Quick aside: I'm going to assume that if you clicked on this article you've seen the movie, but on the off-chance you haven't then stop now, bookmark, watch and return because I'm going to go into the plot pretty heavily in this write-up. This is your fair warning!
Okay, back to Norman Bates... What makes the Psycho series unique is the main threat, the iconic villain, is someone you're supposed to like. In the original movie it's to hide the twist, but in the first sequel he's genuinely the victim. 100%, no question about it. I've seen people mistake some of the (quite graphic) kills as coming from Norman Bates, but in reality he doesn't kill anybody until the last 90 seconds of the movie and the person he kills is actually the murder! If he didn't have that pesky mental snap along the way he'd be the hero of the story!
That starting point, keeping Norman sympathetic after the super creepy reveal at the end of Hitchcock's Psycho, is the brilliant foundation of Part II, but it's not the only reason it's such a great sequel. The movie's complex. There's a genuine emotional connection in the relationship Norman builds with Mary (Meg Tilly), made all the more complicated by the fact that she's his main tormentor.
The biggest asshole of the story is Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) and she has every right to be. Norman murdered her sister! Well, technically “Mother” killed Marion in the shower, but try explaining split personality disorder to Lila and see how far that gets you.
There are no truly evil acts in this movie. Even the real killer is murdering to protect Norman. Lila and her daughter, Mary, are fucking with Norman mostly out of revenge for an act he did commit, but partially out of a sense of protecting the community at large from this monster who they just know will kill again.
The problem is Mary sees Norman as he is, just a poor middle-aged man who is trying his damndest to just be an average, tax-paying member of society. Like anybody he wrestles with his inner demons and like most he's got a tenuous grip on them.
Point is the only straight up bad person in the movie is Dennis Franz's sleazy motel manager, Toomey and he's not Hitler or anything, just a drunk, vindictive slacker who is pretty much there to give the audience someone to enjoy watching get it... and get it he does. The original Psycho was shocking at the time and the sequel certainly carries that torch. There's some crazy gore in the movie, especially one particularly graphic gag where one character gets stabbed in the damn mouth.
The only scene that feels out of place is a bit where random teenagers go make out in Norman's basement. Now, I like the scene, but it's so transparently done to keep pace with the slashers of the time. Teen boy cops a feel, smokes weed and gets straight up stabbed for his transgressions. It's a bit more Friday the 13th than Psycho, but it does give us one of the best shots in the movie, when the soon-to-be-victim is peeking through an open door and we see a hand holding a knife coming up just out of his line of sight.
So, I'm not really complaining about it, but it really is the only scene that feels thematically out of place; one that could have been cut with almost no consequence to the story.
Can we talk about Meg Tilly for a second? Good God, y'all. Between this and The Big Chill I think I'm permanently in love with this woman. Word round the campfire is she and Tony Perkins didn't get along on this shoot, but you couldn't tell in the film. Their connection is not quite a romance, but Tilly's character Mary is probably the only person who gets who Norman is, warts and all. In a way she falls in love with him, although I don't get the impression that Norman falls for her. When he says he just wants someone in the house with him I don't think he's lying to hide his perviness.
Tilly brings a whole lot of humanity to Mary and is perfect in the role. She's smart, calculating, but also empathetic, protective and has a huge heart. She's also hot as the sun, but that's more for our benefit than any story or plot reason.
The end. No, that's not me finishing the review, I mean it's time to talk about the ending. So, if you haven't seen the movie yet and decided not to heed my earlier spoiler warning now's the time to stop reading because we're into the twist now.
It's a testament to how well structured this movie is that the twist doesn't come off as phony. The concept of “Norman's REAL mother” is something that feels like a stretch on paper, but because the twist is actually secondary to Norman's full descent into madness it works as the final cap to his arc.
The whole movie is designed to bring Norman back from the brink of sanity and return him to the broken mama's boy of the first movie. There's a certain tragedy at play as at each stop off along the way to Crazy Town we see a way for Norman to get out, to stop the spiral, but he either doesn't take it or the option is taken from him.
So by the end the circle is complete. Norman has his mom back at the window, his motel is open for business and he's as nutty as he ever was. Sadly, the one woman in the world who could have probably saved him from himself is gone and gone because she took a little too long to stop pushing his buttons. If she had stopped even a day earlier things might have been different.
But she didn't and we get a great, iconic final shot of Norman in front of his house and you know things are going to be worse than they ever were before. Even for a horror movie that's a fucked up ending. For that reason and the many more I listed above, I declare Psycho II to be rad as hell. Good job, gang!
THE SPECIAL FEATURES:
The only new special feature is a commentary with writer Tom Holland, but it's a good commentary track, so don't get all upset. Much of the reason the commentary works is because it's led by my buddy and ultimate Psycho super fan Rob Galluzzo. Rob totally did his homework here and spurs Holland on at any hint of downtime in the commentary, so the thing is filled with stories, confirmations of the legends surrounding this peculiar sequel and a lot of great humor from both parties.
I won't spoil the whole thing if you haven't heard it yet, but they cover a few interesting things, such as the legendary drama between Perkins and Tilly, how the film was nearly a TV movie and would have been if Perkins hadn't taken to the script and signed on and, my favorite, that Carrie Fisher read for the Meg Tilly role and they didn't cast her! Remember, this is 1982. She was at the height of her Princess Leia fame!
The overall feeling you get from the commentary track is that both Holland and Richard Franklin worshipped Hitchcock's work. All of it, not just Psycho, and really strived to make a movie that he would have been proud of. You can tell in the finished film. Minus a few of the more typical '80s slasher moments, it's a smart, heady flick that twists audience expectations with much of the same dark humor as in the original.
Also included is a vintage featurette that has interviews with Vera Miles and Tony Perkins. It's standard fluff marketing stuff, but does feature some behind the scenes footage that's pretty cool and, as always, it's great to hear Tony Perkins speaking for himself, especially around the time of the making of Psycho II, before he soured a bit on the role.
You can tell they didn't go frame by frame painstakingly restoring the original negative on this one, but it's a very clean and sharp transfer. Occasional scratches can be seen, but it's not very distracting and for me only helped the illusion that I was watching a great 35mm print in my own home.
The movie's great, the release isn't quite jam packed with multiple discs worth of special features, but it's a loving release of a very under-appreciated horror gem and likely the best you could hope for on a title like this. The print is sharp, the commentary is actually worth listening to and the movie itself is top tier stuff. It also happens to feature a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score, so there's very little to complain about here.
THE NEXT SCREAM AND SHOUT TITLE WILL BE...
I was originally planning to take a look at the new Phantom of the Paradise Blu-Ray because that movie's awesome and I'm dying to pop the plastic on this new transfer, but Guardians of the Galaxy has inspired me to dig back to the 2011 Shout Factory release of one of the best Star Wars riffs of all time: Battle Beyond the Stars.
Soooooooooo, that's what I'm gonna do. Swan will have to wait a week. See you for the next Scream and Shout!
Previous Scream and Shout Columns: