Twenty-two years ago there was a series of murders, and the man responsible, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), was put away in a psychiatric institution for what many thought would be the rest of his life. Certainly Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), the sister of one of his victims, thought this would be the case, but it did not turn out that way and now Norman is being released, despite her loud protests. Norman returns home, driven there by his doctor (Robert Loggia), but as he is left alone he walks up the stairs and thinks he hears someone talking - not his mother, surely?
Well, you never know with Psycho II, which gleefully subverts the plotting of the original Alfred Hitchcock classic at every turn, while still, with future director Tom Holland's cunning script, paying respectful homage to its predecessor. The reaction to this film at the time was that if you really had to make a sequel, at least it wasn't as bad as it could have been and indeed, many found it surprisingly effective. It's not that they were grudgeful that director Richard Franklin and his team had done a decent job, it's more they were drawn in more than they thought they would be.
And why not? After all, it did have Perkins returning to his signature role, and for plenty of viewers offering the best performance in the film. He was known for resorting to hamminess in his later parts, and it's true he twitches a little more than is necessary but no more than the script demands of him, and as in the original he is the most sympathetic character. Vera Miles' Lila, as before, is particularly cold, especially when you find out what she's up to, and this leaves Meg Tilly as waitress Mary to carry our fears as the possible victim should Norman revert to his old ways.
This might well happen when it becomes apparent that either he really is suffering the onset of another breakdown, or someone is expressly trying to drive him mad. Or could there be another explanation, that there is another party endangering the lives of the area? Perhaps it's all three? As Psycho was the grandaddy of all those slasher films that proliferated about the time this follow up was made, you might have expected it to go for a simple killer on the loose hunting down the cast plotline, and it does give in to the expectations of gory setpieces before the end, yet for the majority of scenes Franklin is more keen on suspense.
Norman gets a job in a diner and finds that not everyone is suspicious of him, taking Mary, who is without somewhere to stay, back to the motel with him as a gesture of goodwill. However the man who has been looking after it is a total sleaze (Dennis Franz) who rents out the rooms for people to "party" in - a neat way of showing how times have changed - and the shocked Norman sacks him, though not without an argument that follows him to the diner. The man has undoubtedly angered Norman, but has it been enough to send him over the edge once more? How about someone leaving him notes claiming to be from his mother, or calling him up and doing the same? Holland is careful to include references to the first film, with a shower scene as well, and if Psycho II is really too wrapped up in itself to get under your skin as Hitchcock's film could, it is well made and keeps you guessing. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.