You might be here a while for these two today, but they both are huge in my history and sort of a package deal, if you get me. And just a disclaimer—I think Hitchcock’s Psycho is an amazing, brilliantly done piece of cinema, and the first scary movie I ever saw (at 6). I don’t necessarily consider it a horror piece, though, so I’m choosing not to include it in this series even though I thoroughly enjoy it. These two articles were originally published (separately) as Yes, Norman, You Are Becoming Confused Again and My Favorite Bates on Television Lady. And for the record, Norman has appeared in a few of my nightmares over the years, always with that same damned grin.
Psycho 2, 1983, directed by Richard Franklin. After twenty-two years, Norman Bates is coming home to restart his life as a normal citizen. He gets a job at a diner; he makes friends with a young little number named Mary; things seem to go well at first. But little by little, items from Norman’s past start showing up and soon Norman’s infamous mama issues return—with a vengeance. If you make the commitment to watch this, think of it as something completely different from the original, like a crazy Cousin Eddie, maybe, and appreciate the comedy, because there’s quite a lot of it. The script is not good, it’s kind of atrocious, actually, but if you can forgive it these things, sit back and giggle a little, you’ll probably have an okay time.
The Good: The characters are pretty well done; Lila Loomis (Lila Crane) from the original makes a return, played by the same actress, Vera Miles. She’s quite bitchy. Mary (Meg Tilly), Doctor Raymond (Robert Loggia), and whoever that sheriff was were all stellar. And let’s not forget about the house and motel from the original; they’re almost characters themselves, right? Then we have (at the time, mostly unknown) DENNIS FRANZ as replacement motel manager Warren Toomey—gets his own paragraph, that’s how much I liked him. Just a gross and trashy guy, but well done. After Norman fires him for allowing drug use at the motel he comes to the diner and starts talking smack (“Last time I eat here!”) and then shows up at the Bates place to pick up his things, shouting and kicking up dirt (“Hey, Psycho, I want you to know I’m movin’ out!”)? A nice, sleazy, comic relief. Things don’t end very well for him, however.
Good use of transitional items from Norman’s past: His hand hovers over cabin one when Mary comes to the hotel; he opens the silverware drawer and a large butcher knife is laid right over the top; the special tea brew that he used on the old lady is still in the cupboard in a decorative tin, and so on. These things are as obvious as a smack on the head with a shovel (ala Emma Spool a bit later) but I think they all work. Inserting black-and-white flashbacks together with the items would definitely have been pushing it, this is how they related random objects to the plot in The Ring and it sucked, big time—they didn’t do that here, thank God. The film really seems true to the original Norman Bates —-Anthony Perkins’s Norman is still twitchy, stammering, and just sort of dingy most of the time, but I think it works as a mental patient’s normal reaction to entering society after being in the clink for so long.
The story takes some interesting liberties, also. Norman plays the piano! The scolding notes left about, signed, Mother! The glance he gives the butcher knife at the diner when Toomey berates him! “I’m starting to become confused again, aren’t I, Mary?” (to Tilly, as he wields the butcher knife)—nice little random items. Of course one thing hasn’t changed through all this history, and that’s the fruit cellar; that baby is still in full effect . . .
The Bad: Again, the script is pretty terrible. Most of the dorky lines fall on Meg Tilly (“just because two people sleep under the same roof doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve made love, “) and she’s a little bit community theater with a lot of her bits. Miles’s Lila Loomis is really abrasive and reactionary, always stomping off and flying off the handle, but her deliveries and reactions are kind of a big part of what makes this film funny. “What the hell is her problem?” “I DON’T KNOW!” The ending is decidedly ridiculous. But you see it coming, and it paves the way for the next segment, which we’ll get to in just a bit.
The Scary: There are three scenes from this film that literally chill my bones: (honorable mention goes to faux-Mrs. Bates hovering in window).
1. The kid that gets offed in the fruit cellar. Two kids sneak into the house (to get high and do it) and someone dressed as Mother Bates surprises them. The sound of her clogs on the basement floor, the snappy way she looks over at them when she hears a noise (not to mention that disgusting, evil potato the girl picks up before they get busy) and of course the repeated plunges into the kid’s back with the knife as seen outside the window—ugh. Why the hell would you sneak into someone’s scary old house when there is a motel basically inches away, I mean, you’d had to have heard the legend of that damned fruit cellar, right? Yuck.
2. The Bloody Towel in the Toilet. This is memorable mostly because it just comes out of no where; Norman goes upstairs to wash his hands and all of a sudden, thick, dark blood comes bubbling out of the toilet and sink. When Mary comes up to find him this way, she tiptoes over to the toilet, plucks the towel out and then flings it into the sink, making a hilarious splat and then snarls, “Je-SUS!” This was another scene that Charlie rewound probably eighty times each time we watched it. So creepy but funny, too. Yuck.
3. The Near Conclusion, Where Norman Smiles into the Phone. After he starts to go a bit looney again, Norman starts actually talking to a caller he believes to be his mother. Usually he answers the phone, hears who it is, SWITCHES HANDS, and starts telling her how happy he is to talk to her. The creepy smiling happens toward the end, and more than once, I believe. Maybe it’s meant to be a tribute to the original conclusion, Norman’s creepy smile in the police room, but it gives me goose bumps. Yuck.
Psycho 3, 1986. Directed by Anthony Perkins.
The film opens with a Virgin Mary statue and a blond nun-in-training shouting, “There is no God!” Her name is Maureen Coyle and she accidentally causes the death of another nun who tries to stop her from jumping off the bell tower. The sisters send her packing, and who does she meet out in the middle of the California Desert? Jeff Fahey (“My name’s Dwayne Duke, friends just call me Duke.”) in a beat up old clunker. He gives her a ride, he tries to get in her pants, and she nearly jumps out of his moving vehicle to get away from him. Too bad.
Norman’s story begins with him at home, poisoning birds outside the house. He’s quite a dedicated and talented taxidermist, as you’ll remember from the first film; he’s apparently so into his work he doesn’t mind using the same utensil to both spoon sawdust into the birds and smear peanut butter on his Ritz crackers. Nice. On his work table lies a newspaper clipping with Emma Spool’s picture, she’s missing, you see. Just as Norman starts to hallucinate that it’s an old, dead arm he’s sewing up instead of the bird, the bag that he used to transport it starts to shake and scoot across the table on its own. When he finds a live bird inside it that apparently survived the poison, he calmly walks over to it, catches it in his hand, and sets it free outside. Are we to believe that he’s harmless, “as harmless as one of these birds?” Ha.
Duke pulls up in the clunker and ends up taking a job from Norman. At the diner where Norman, Emma Spool, and Mary Loomis all worked together, the Sheriff and the owner meet Tracy Venable, a writer doing a piece on the insanity plea who happens to be very interested in interviewing Norman. Just as Norman shows up to take in some lunch (chicken fried steak and a glass of milk), Maureen steps down out of rig outside. Norman is immediately disturbed by her resemblance to Marion Crane, from the first film, and thrown for an even bigger loop when he sees her suitcase initials, M.C. There come black and white flashbacks from the first film—Maureen drops her suitcase and falls ala Marion with her cheek actually touching the floor. This is extremely cheesy—any true fan of Norman Bates will make these associations without being prompted, but there’s a funny record-skipping chipmunk song going on during all of this, so it’s cheesy and funny. Norman flees the interview and runs home. When he relays this information to “Mother,” (yes, Mother is back and very vocal) she says, “You killed her. The slut deserved it. She’s dead. And the dead don’t come back.” (!!!) Keep track of that. . .
Maureen shows up at the motel; Duke apologizes for his forwardness and checks her in, Cabin One. Norman sees this, gets giddy, and stammers. Duke takes off for a night on the town; Norman stays for the night shift and sneaks into the motel parlor to spy on Maureen through the infamous hole in the wall. Uh-oh. Returning with wig, dress, shoes, and knife in place, he busts into the bathroom to find that she’s halfway completed the job Mother demanded of Norman–she cut her wrists with a razor; music is chanty and scary.
Meanwhile, Duke tries his hand at romancing Miss Venable but she only wants to use him to spy on Norman. Soon enough he hooks up with an unnamed young lady and brings her back to his room at the motel. There are several things that are hilarious about this whole situation and what unfolds.
1. Girl can’t get the ice bin open and Norman (back from visiting Maureen in the hospital) helps her. She invites him to join the party down in Duke’s cabin. This chick, Duke, and Norman in a three-way? Yikes.
2. In the short amount of time Duke has been at the motel, he has managed to decorate the walls with outlandish sex collages from porn magazines, which the unnamed girl seems to much appreciate. Seriously!
3. After their tryst has ended, things don’t go well. The girl mentions that Duke made their encounter seem cheap. He tells her, “It is, but it beats a vibrator.” She replies, “At least a vibrator gets me off!” and gives him the finger. Duke overreacts and throws her outside, naked. She meets her end in a phone booth. Whoops.
Later, Norman escorts Maureen back to recover in Cabin One, F.O.C., of course. It’s homecoming and the Bates Motel is a regular beehive of activity. Once Maureen gets settled, Norman tells her she’d look swell in the pink dress later and then hurries out of the room, giddy and blushing. They go on a date and get nice and liquored up. When they return, the homecoming party is still going strong but Norman tells Duke he can leave. Duke has been staring up at the house though, in a lightning storm, and something in the bedroom window has caught his eye. “Whatever you say, Boss,” he says, sly as a fox. Norman and Maureen share an awkward makeout moment, and before anything bigger can happen, Maureen apparently passes out and then wakes up alone. Norman has fought off any sexual urges that might bring harm to Maureen, but then takes it out on an innocent girl from the Homecoming party, on the toilet! My favorite part of this whole encounter is the obviously male foot in Mother’s black shoe and stocking, stepping over the threshold.
Miss Venable returns after doing her own sleuth work on Norman, Emma Spool, and family history, and decides to take Maureen out of harm’s way. Maureen first alibis Norman when the sheriff shows up looking for toilet girl, but then leaves with Miss Venable, breaking Norman’s heart. Norman is a little distracted through all this however, because Mother has gone missing. When he goes back up to the house to look for her, he finds a note that says, “Norman: I’m in cabin twelve (Duke’s cabin). Come see me. Mother.”
A friend once told me once that one of her favorite moments in film was in American Psycho, when Bateman exaggeratedly brings his arm up to take a drag from his cigar, just moments after whacking up Paul Allen with the axe. She didn’t have to explain why she liked it, to me anyway, I thought it was cool, too. Certain scenes, certain moments just, I don’t know, resonate. One of my favorites is in this film, when Norman—knowing full well that Mother could not have just walked herself down to Duke’s cabin on her own—walks past each of the cabins, one by one, all the way to twelve. The music is right on, it’s minor and kind of suspicious, the camera first dollies backwards off to his right, and then comes up behind him the closer he gets. The look on his face is half smile, half la-la land; the lighting is hazy and just odd. I love it every time.
So he gets to the room and finds Mother in front of the television watching Woody Woodpecker of all things. Duke is sweaty and huffy with blackmail on his mind. And in case you, the viewer, perhaps missed the previous sequel or hadn’t been paying proper attention, Duke presents Mother’s face in all its glory so as to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that she is indeed dead, and has been all this time. I love all the scenes in Duke’s room because they’re so random and ridiculous, not the least being Duke kissing that thing on the cheek! Norman easily overtakes Duck and shouts, “No one must know about Mother or what she has done!” After a bit of a surprise rumble in the makeshift coffin-automobile, Norman once again triumphs. So long, Duke.
Now. What happens next is really the only part of the film that I find scary. Oh, but before we get to that, Maureen shows up, professes her undying love, and Norman accidently kills her by dropping her down the stairs. After that, Miss Venable shows up, first at the motel and then the house. Everything is dark, and she’s going into dark rooms with the camera right up behind; the effect is that you feel like you’re right there with her. Once she gets to the house and finds Maureen laid out in a shrine of candles, we finally get confirmation of Norman in Mother’s clothing; it’s both funny and gross because he’s leering at her, just standing right behind her silently with an ear-to-ear psycho grin! “Why can’t you leave my poor son, my Norman alone?” (in Mother’s voice). They chase around the house and up the stairs, another favorite moment is Norman-Mother straightening a framed picture that Miss Venable upset on the stairway wall as he stalks after her, not missing a beat. Miss Venable flees into Mother’s bedroom and sees Emma Spool, sewed and stuffed; Norman struggles with her a bit but eventually decides to throw in the towel. Sawdust spills everywhere at the hand of Norman’s knife; Mother is no more.
The sheriff comes to take Norman away, the film ends with Norman in the back of the squad car, stroking the corpse’s hand that he managed to hide in his jacket, grinning, always grinning. (shudder).
Now clearly, these two films are not going to be on anyone’s top ten list (other than mine, here), but I’ll go out on a limb and say that they’re horror entertainment at its finest. Tony Perkins? Thanks for the memories. But stay out of my dreams.