Sunday, April 4, 2010

Movie vs. Book: Psycho II


It had to happen. In the past couple months, the movies I’ve had to watch for this really weren’t horrible. That could only last so long, and it ended this round. I can honestly say that this is the worst movie I’ve done yet, and even now thinking about watching it makes me twitch.
Psycho 2 is probably the most useless sequel ever made. Produced a full 23 years after the original, there could have been no other motivation rather than simple greed. Money was there to be made, and by golly, they were going to make it. In fact, the first ten minutes had more footage from the original than not, a trick that hasn’t failed this bad since Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. Instead of reminding us of the horror of the story, it just shows how bad this one is in comparison to the original.

Anthony Perkins is back as Norman Bates, freshly released from a mental institution. They deemed him sane enough to return to daily life. Why, I have no idea. From the first glance into his eyes, it’s obvious that Perkins’ Norman isn’t all there in the head. He gets a job at a diner where he meets a down-on-her-luck waitress (Meg Tilly, whose voice is oddly an octave lower than in any other role). He lets her stay with him at the motel, and the two look like they could be on their way to a happy, if not perfectly sane, couple.
Only, things don’t go so well for poor put-upon Norman. He keeps getting calls from “Mother”, even though she’s been dead since before the original. Then people start dying, presumably being murdered by Mother. And his new girlfriend isn’t who she seems—she is the daughter of Lila (Vera Miles, reprising her Psycho role), sister of the woman murdered in the shower 23 years earlier. Mother and daughter are in a plot to drive Norman insane (which shouldn’t be that far of a trip) and back to the institution. But then Tilly’s character changes her mind, because she truly is falling for poor Norman.

You think that would be enough twists and turns for the plot. But oh, no. The filmmakers just have to throw two or three more in for good luck, none of which have any logical reason for existing, and fit nowhere with what happened in the movie before. Forget suspension of disbelief—by the end you’re being asked to forget half of the movie you just sat through. Believe me, I’d like to, but no, it does not work.
I can’t say whether the performances were bad or not. The actors were doing exactly what the script demanded of them. Perkins gets nothing to do but play on the edge of sanity. Tilly tries to make her adoration for Norman believable, but it just doesn’t work for me. Miles, unfortunately, only gets a couple minutes of screen time.
My advice—do not see this one. Forget I ever mentioned it. Put its mere existence from your mind. Get some sort of mental block so, if you see the DVD on a shelf, your conscience won’t let you acknowledge its presence. If you really want some 80s horror cheese, run far from this and go straight to Troll 2. Even that felt ten times better than this half-hearted attempt to cash in on a true classic.

- Jen

BOOK: PSYCHO II by Robert Bloch

How do you revisit one of the most famous horror novels in history?

The answer seems to be: treat it like any other novel. This is a rare sequel that doesn’t require the reader to be at all familiar with the prior work, which is particularly unusual because it’s quite possible that the earlier work (in either movie or book form) is likely to be familiar to every person who picked up Psycho II.

The book takes place in the early 1980s with Norman still in an asylum; it’s quite clear that he’s never going to be allowed to leave. We’re given a look inside Norman’s mind, and while his thinking is clearer than it once was it’s obvious he’s still got his dark side. He’s become adept at hiding it during his incarceration, but how effective those skills are is a matter of question. His psychiatrist has been paying particular attention to Norman, who had achieved a measure of fame due to the weird and violent nature of his crimes.

A fortunate (but surprisingly realistic) confluence of events results in Norman engineering a successful escape. Free after so many years, Norman hunts down (literally) money and clothes so he can go West to… Hollywood!

Yes, Hollywood. It seems there’s a movie being made about Norman and he’s none too thrilled by it. Meanwhile his psychiatrist, seeing all of the work he’s put into Norman’s case going awry, follows him to Los Angeles in an attempt to help recapture his famous patient.

The resultant novel is one part crime novel and one part parody of the Slasher film productions of the 1980s. It’s got scenes of true horror mixed with the comedic elements - I would love to know if any of the film studio characters had direct analogues - and the book mixes them into a perfectly paced, thoughtful and surprising narrative.

Five stars out of Five.

(Okay, this isn’t your typical Movie vs. Book. We decided to do this one in honor of April 1st, as the two were directly unrelated by anything but title.
Indirectly, Bloch wrote Psycho II around the time that the studios were considering a sequel to the movie. The book was read by key people in the studios and roundly rejected for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the unsavory way in which slasher movie staff were portrayed.
Both the movie and the book can be procured cheaply. Decide for yourself who was right.)