However, that doesn’t mean one can’t make a satisfying picture that continues to tell the tale. While they’re sacrilege to some, the Psycho sequels get a bad rap, yet they’re actually pretty good, considering the awfully intimidating shadow in which they exist. The first two, 1983’s Psycho II and 1986’s Psycho III, have made their Blu-ray debuts on Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line.
Directed by Road Games‘ Richard Franklin, Psycho II could be argued as needless, but makes the best out of its no-win situation. Anthony Perkins revisits his most famous character of Norman Bates, now declared sane and fit to roam free, much to the chagrin of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), survivor of the original film and sister of the unfortunate shower-taker played by Janet Leigh.
The justice system should’ve listened to Lila, because as soon as he returns to his old stomping grounds of the Bates Motel, his “Mother” begins to call him and leave threatening notes, forcing Norman to retreat to his old, stabby ways. Sporting the kind of hair seen on Fisher-Price toys, Meg Tilly (The Big Chill) befriends Norman for reasons explained in a rather ridiculous twist.
Better is Psycho III, which Perkins got to direct. Of course, Norman’s still up to his same ol’ same ol’ — namely, killing women who get him erect, not to mention an extraordinarily greasy Jeff Fahey (TV’s Under the Dome). Despite his inclinations to slice and dice innocent members of the female species, we still side with Norman, thanks to Perkins’ sympathetic performance.
The main plot centers around Norman’s relationship with a nun on the run (Mommie Dearest refugee Diana Scarwid) who’s taken up residence in one of the motel’s rooms after fleeing her convent. She’s just suicidal enough to think getting horizontal with Norman is a good idea.
Both Blu-rays present the Universal films at their sharpest and most colorful. Extras are slimmer than Scream Factory’s usual, perhaps because Perkins isn’t around to participate, but they do include new commentaries by their respective screenwriters. Of note on Psycho III are brief interviews with victims Katt Shea and Brinke Stevens.
One year after Psycho III, an attempt was made to bring the franchise to prime-time TV. As set up in the 1987 pilot, Bates Motel would have showcased new weekly visitors to the venue, now under new ownership (Bud Cort, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) following Norman’s death in a mental institution. The telefilm was terrible and too comedic; today, it’s more notable for co-starring Jason Bateman. Needless to say, it never made it to series.
But earlier this year, A&E got it right by launching Bates Motel — same title, different direction. Like 1990’s made-for-Showtime Psycho IV: The Beginning, the show takes a prequel approach to explain how Norman Bates became, y’know, “Norman Bates.” And it’s a fun, fantastic watch.
The premise has awkward high school student Norman (Freddie Highmore, The Spiderwick Chronicles) moving to the sleepy town of White Pine Bay with his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring), following the mysterious death of his father. Norma impulsively buys the motel property, not realizing just how freaky-deaky the town is. Twin Peaks obviously was as much as inspiration as Psycho.
With only 10 episodes, the first season doesn’t hit a lag as it explores subplots of sex slaves, pot dealers and student-body love triangles. Bates Motel could’ve been junk, but it’s such a highly pleasurable take on a well-worn concept that it revitalizes the franchise. While the whole show is well-cast, Farmiga is downright awesome in her Emmy-nommed role as the unhinged, unpredictable Norma — like mother, like son, it hints. —Rod Lott
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