This sequel opens with the original shower murder from Hitchcock’s classic. After Crane dies in the tub, the camera begins searching for the next closest protagonist to follow. It’s only the mid-way point of the movie. Where do we go? To the window, where we can see the Bates house looming above us. We’re about to get intimately familiar with Norman, who at that time we haven’t suspected is “mother”.
This 1983 sequel takes this concept of following a protagonist we might not like and goes a couple steps further. It’s 22 years later and Bates has been rehabilitated. We watch him come home again, scared to take the first steps inside. We see him start his new job at the local diner, where he has trouble using a knife to cut a head of lettuce. He meets one of the diner’s workers, played by Meg Tilly, who we see becomes his new friend. He gets a second chance at life.
And this time, we’re actually rooting for him. What makes this sequel worthy is that it plays from the knowledge we have that Bates had at one time done these horrible things to his mother and the people who checked into his motel. Now we are drawn to his recovery, a part of us thinking that he deserves a second chance.
But then, Bates starts getting creepy phone calls from someone who claims to be mother.
There’s also a new guy running his motel, played by Denis Franz pre-NYPD Blue. He’s turned it into a haven for prostitution and drug abuse since that’s where the good money comes from. So Bates has to fire him and clean up the place.
It seems lots of folks know about his past, but aren’t ready to let him live it down. Everyone working at the diner knows about it. Mr. NYPD Blue sure knows. Bates isn’t ready for that, and it’s about to eviscerate twenty years of rehabilitation.
His house, left abandoned, becomes a hot spot for teenagers to smoke dope and make out in the basement. That little detail I loved, and it comes back in play later when some teens make another attempt at it once Norman’s moved in. They do it during the day, probably because it’s summer vacation and they’re bored.
Back when I was a teenager in high school there was an abandoned mental institution we would visit. It was buried in a nondescript industrial part of town. We went at night, armed with flashlights. Red splatters on the walls that looked like blood turned out to be dry marks from paint ball gun pellets. The wide halls were littered with broken glass, probably from people that left behind their beer bottles. We would dare each other to slide down the laundry chute which was rumored to empty out into a gymnasium. Once cops started coming around, knowing there were vandals, the fun ended.
Those sure were the days. Anyway–there’s only about three people who give Norman the benefit of the doubt. The town’s sheriff (who says he was the deputy from the original but I don’t know if this is the same guy), his new friend Meg from the diner, and his psychiatrist played by Robert Laggia. He checks up on him every once in awhile, but it’s Meg that spends the most time with Norman. She becomes his roommate and starts sympathizing with his problem and even attempts to set him on the right path. At one point she provides an alibi for him when the cops come creeping around asking questions.
Throughout all of this, Norman has an enemy. It’s Lila Loomis, who is played by Vera Miles from the original. She wants nothing more than to send him back to the institution, convinced he is going to kill more people. What makes her a great addition to the story is that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to send him back – even if it means dressing up as his mother, making phone calls to the house pretending she’s her, or even going a step further and…killing people?
Even after watching it, I can’t quite say. There’s certainly enough evidence to suggest she does. Either way the most interesting aspect is that she’s not really a hero anymore. Now that we side with Norman, the tables turn.
The script was by Tom Holland, who wrote mostly horror (Child’s Play, Fright Night, etc), and it’s a very good turn on the events of the first film. I would argue this is even more suspenseful than the first, and the twists that add up in the third act make for a much more entertaining finale too. Obviously none of it’s possible without the original. There is another shower scene incorporated into the story. We go back to the swamp and dig up yet another car. So the iconic elements are still here. Nothing has been tampered with to give us any reason for concern. I don’t know what happens in parts III, IV…was there a V? But for a film that is trying to cash in on the 80’s slasher zeitgeist it’s certainly an excellent sequel. This movie shows that Norman Bates is always going to be as American as apple pie.