"Psycho II" starts where the last left off. It's twenty-two years later. Norman has been released from prison on account of being cured from his madness. He goes back home to the Bates Motel, which is now run-down and not-so-pretty. It's not been taken care of by the state, nor by any helpful neighbors. Norman doesn't have any neighbors, and even if he did, I don't think they'd want to have anything to do with him.
Norman starts his life again. He opens up the motel and seems to be cured of his demons. But then a young girl (Meg Tilly) comes along and stays at the motel, and the demons start to flee from the depths of Norman into his mind once again. He struggles to fight them. There's a reprise of the shower scene, only this time, the surprise is not in the death but in the absense of it. On the level of filmmaking, "Psycho II" isn't all that good. But I give it credit for reversing the shocks of the original. Everything we expect Norman to do does not happen. "Psycho" still isn't just a slasher flick.
Anthony Perkins is able to conceal many demons within his character Norman Bates. His face is a good measure of this. It twictches and looks revolted at a great many sights. We can just imagine the images flooding into his brain as he looks at the woman staying at his motel and remembers what happened last time. Of course, in the original "Psycho" we had no idea that Norman was the murderer. Now we do--we know what has happened in his past. His character almost looks sad throughout the movie. He's a new man, but the old woman is still in there somewhere, and he's constantly fighting her, and we can see it in his eyes and on his face. He gives a good idea of what it would be like to realize what you did years ago and have to fight to keep from becoming that person again.
"Psycho II" ends with a surprising twist that is completely ruined, if I remember correctly, in the third film, where it is denounced as false. But this one is fun to believe, and adds its own gasp to the series--it completely changes the facts of the original. I found it humorous that the end of "Psycho II" contains similarities to Jack Nicholson's childhood. Jack grew up thinking that his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother, if I do recall correctly. Norman Bates had a troubled childhood, as seen in "Psycho IV: The Beginning." Obviously Nicholson had an odd childhood. Perhaps that was Nicholson's inspiration to become the madman killer in "The Shining"? Pehaps that is why Jack Nicholson is known for having such a raging temper? Things like that can screw you up.
I consider the original "Psycho" to be the greatest horror film of all time. This sequel is hardly a worthy continuation in most respects. But if you want to be creeped out, Norman Bates will still do the job for you better than any Freddy Krueger out there, primarily because he is scary on a human level. Part of what made the original work was the insinuation of something evil and not actually showing it--when things are left up to one's imagination, they will manifest their fears. They will not be told what their fears are (like in the new horror films when blood splurts everywhere and we see the killer's face--it's much scarier when the images are left up to our mind). "Psycho II" is more of a slasher film than the first film, but the subtle, sinister lurking of something evil is still evident in this film. And Norman Bates is still just as creepy as he was twenty-two years ago. The only difference is that now we know what's wrong with him. And what he did. And what he probably will do. But Perkins is able to connect on a human level and make his character empathetic. An empathetic killer? Couldn't be.
It was Alfred Hitchcock who said, "Television has brought murder back into the home--where it belongs." It's a clever quote. Perhaps my favorite quote from Hitch. But if you ask me, he had it wrong--it's entirely the other way around.
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