Sister Maureen (Diana Scarwid) is a nun suffering an extreme crisis of faith, wailing that there is no God and ending up on top of the belltower at her nunnery threatening to commit suicide. Some of the other nuns try to stop her and in the commotion her Mother Superior falls to her death instead of Maureen. The young woman runs away full of remorse and finds herself wandering a remote California highway where she is picked up by budding musician Duane (Jeff Fahey), but his intentions are not as honorable as she might have wished. If only there was a motel up ahead where she could spend the night...
And what do you know, there is, which would be fine if it wasn't the Bates Motel in this, the second, even less necessary sequel to the original Alfred Hitchcock classic. But Psycho II was a sizeable hit, so Universal couldn't resist offering us more and here they had the gimmick that the man who surely knew more about the character of Norman Bates than anyone else, Anthony Perkins, was not only to return as star but was to direct as well. And he didn't do too bad a job either, working up a decent enough mood and visual stylings.
It's just that the script by Charles Edward Pogue, who had worked such wonders with the remake of The Fly in the same year, struggles to make this essential with the result that the whole thing comes across as the superfluous cash-in that it undoubtedly was. Perkins is game, making with the quirks and twitches, but his Norman is surrounded by people who are siginificantly less psychologically complex than he is with the supporting cast essaying roles that are two-dimensional at best. This doesn't reflect on the main character too well at all.
A measure of how stuck for ideas they were after the first film had said all that really needed to be said is that Norman gets a girlfriend in this one, and Maureen is that girl, someone as mentally unstable as he is only she exhibits this in self-destructive behaviour. A rerun of the shower scene ends with a twist in that when Mother pulls back the curtain to attack, it's clear Maureen has beaten her to it because the nun has made a suicide attempt. It's a neat enough idea, but would never have been considered without the Hitchcock film laying out the territory in the first place.
Meanwhile there's an investigative journalist, Tracy (Roberta Maxwell), hanging around asking awkward questions and giving us the most plot exposition, particularly at the climax where she explains the entire set up in an attempt not to get killed. There are some nice touches, though almost all incidental, such as the ice cube scene or the bit where Norman almost sinks himself into the swamp with the latest body he has found, but what really scuppers this is that unlike Psycho II, the ending features no clever twist and we find out what has happened is precisely what we've been expecting. As a horror movie, it's of its time in that it is in debt to the already passé (for 1986) slasher craze, so while it was good to see Perkins in a starring role, he was really aiming more for past glories than anything innovative. What it is to be typecast.