Australian director Richard Franklin leads Anthony Perkins down the "Psycho" path in an amusing, suspenseful sequel to the 1960 classic. But "Psycho II" doesn't quite come off without a Hitch.
Franklin, a Hitchcock scholar, largely succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of the first film without quite copying it. The Bates mansion looms above the Bates Motel; the buzzing neon vacancy sign blinks a welcome to unwary travelers. Besides the setting, Franklin repeats some of the original shots to trigger >d,eja vu; his stalking camera sneaks up on the characters for an over-the-shoulder point of view. The Jerry Goldsmith score shrieks appropriately. And cinematographer Dean Cundey ( "Halloween" trilogy) uses high-contrast color in hopes of capturing the shadowy feel of the original's black-and-white.
Yet "Psycho II" is not Hitchcock, not a masterpiece, not a film for purists. Rather, it's equal parts parody and thriller, with an ironic script by Tom Holland. His screenplay persuaded both Perkins and Vera Miles to recreate their roles as Norman Bates and Lila Loomis. Perkins plays with his tongue in his cheek, adroitly stumbling over the word "cu-cu-cutlery" and easily earning a laugh with such lines as, "I don't kill people anymore. Remember?"
Meg Tilly and Robert Loggia are new to the story as Mary, Norman's housemate, and Dr. Raymond, his deluded psychiatrist. Tilly, who played the tomboy in "Tex," is a cinematic charmer, a cross between Shirley Temple and Greta Garbo. She befriends Norman who's been released from the mental institution 22 years after Janet Leigh's bloodbath (scenes from the shower segment open the sequel). Mary makes a gutsy heroine, prone to dare dark stairwells and rooms full of dust and draped furniture, but with the smarts to pack a pistol.
Lila Loomis is more judicious. She tries to stop the judge from releasing Norman, now a cured homicidal maniac, but the judge won't have it. "Courts protect the criminals, not their victims," she screams as she is dragged from the courtroom and the mild- mannered Norman, now rather charming in a lobotomized sort of way, is led away by his doctor.
The plot, with its twists and blind alleys, culminates in, if not a happy ending, a suprising and very funny one. There are a total of six murders, most employing state- of-the-art stabbing techniques, but the bloodletting is held to a minimum as compared to, say, "Hunger" or "Halloween II."
Just as Hitchcock made it a practice to appear in his films in some incarnation, his well-known profile is silhouetted early here on the late Mrs. Bates' wardrobe door. But like the profile, "Psycho II" is only a shadow of the master, a technical scare without the original's life-long grip on the subconscious. It fades as soon as the house lights go up. PSYCHO II -- At area theaters.