This second sequel in the Psycho franchise has earned a maligned reputation, but it takes a very creative premise to the Psycho formula, cleverly operating as a pseudo-remake of the original film but deconstructing and adding to the original concept.
The film begins with a jokey reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) – a fatal fall of a Mother Superior from a convent tower caused by a doubting novice nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwid).
The guilt-stricken, penniless Maureen flees across the desert, hitching a ride with a down-and-dirty young drifter called Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who is headed to Los Angeles where he fancies he will become a rock ‘n’ roll star – and who immediately tries to rape her.
Before long, both the almost-nun and the drifter have made their separate ways to the nearly-deserted Bates Motel.
Next on the scene is lady reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), who is determined “to interview Norman Bates on his insanity defence”.
Meanwhile, the sheriff and the chef at the local diner are searching for Mrs Spool, the woman in Psycho II (1983) who told Norman she was his real mother.
What follows is a twisted love story that mixes love and death in a complex way. It’s a bizarre alternate take on the events of the first film and has a unique point of view for a second sequel.
In a twist on Psycho‘s most famous scene, Norman saves Maureen from suicide, leading to a joke more blackly blasphemous than anything John Waters ever dared when Maureen envisions the cross-dressing Norman as half Christ and half Virgin Mary.
Compounding the confusion, Norman sees Maureen as a reincarnation of his early victim, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, seen here in a flashback). Maureen has Leigh’s Joan of Arc blonde haircut and even the same initials (her surname is Coyle, and the camera fixes on the “MC” on her monogrammed suitcase).
Can Norman redeem himself through this second chance, or will he repeat the original murder? His mummified mother upstairs in the house, of course, is urging him toward Option B.
Our hopes for Norman’s moral redemption are rather dulled when he slaughters three bystanders while mulling his feelings towards Maureen. There’s also still a swamp full of bodies lying around from Psycho II (1986).
The Norman/Maureen relationship is short-changed in a trick finish – which also managed to parody three Hitchcock climaxes simultaneously. There’s a further climax in which information is hurled at Norman (and the viewer) so confusingly that it might as well be in Latin.
This triggers an inexplicable turnaround on Norman’s part (maybe he understands Latin), followed by another last-gasp twist at the fade-out.
In his directorial debut, Anthony Perkins originally suggested the film be shot in black and white as a homage to the original 1960 Hitchcock film, but Universal opposed it.
Robert Alan Browne