This 1983 sequel to Hitchcock's Psycho, the 1960 classic that started it all and inspired countless imitations, is skillfully directed by Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin (Patrick, Road Games) and once again stars Anthony Perkins in the role he's best remembered for, that of Norman Bates.
Twenty-two years after the end of the first film that left poor Norman in the custody of the police to be locked away for the murders he committed, we now find him judged to be of sound mind and body. Theoretically fit to resume his place in society once more, Bates is freed from the mental hospital he'd called home for the last two decades and he heads back to the family abode. His release is not going unnoticed, however, as Lila Loomis (Vera Miles of The Hellfighters and of course, the original Psycho), the sister of the late Mary Loomis who fell victim to Norman's knife that fateful day in the shower of Room One at the Bates Motel, is still around. She's determined to keep fighting to get Norman locked up where she believes he belongs, back in the asylum.
State funding cutbacks have dictated that Norman won't end up in a halfway home but will be thrust directly back into the world as he was before his stay. So soon enough, Norman's back at the motel and trying to make a go of it. It doesn't take long though, before he starts seeing that ominous shadow of his mother in the upstairs window of the family home… or so he thinks. He tries to put it out of his mind and soon finds himself wooing a pretty waitress at a nearby diner named Mary (a young Meg Tilly of Agnes Of God) who he meets when he takes on a job there as a dishwasher. The two hit it off nicely and she moves in with him after her boyfriend kicks her out. When Norman starts seeing hand written notes and getting the odd phone call from his dearly departed mother, however, it doesn't take long for a body count to start building once again. But who is behind the murders? Is it Norman? Is it the ghost of his mother? Is it someone else entirely?
While not on par with the original (few films really could be), Psycho II still manages to rise above the pack of dire horror movie sequels and comes out ahead as a well-made and suspenseful slasher/thriller. Much of the credit for this has to go to director Richard Franklin, who is wise enough to let Perkins overact just ever so slightly in a couple of scenes, to remind us that, yes, Norman Bates might not be playing with a full deck, even if he did respond to the psychiatric treatment he received for over two decades. He does still have some obvious mother issues and while he's got plenty of good intentions, we all know where those tend to lead, right? Meg Tilly makes for a nice supporting actress here, bringing a sense of innocence and trust to her role that makes for an ideal counterpart to Bates, himself a bit of a child at times. The interplay between the two of them keeps things interesting and a key portion of the film depends on the success of their relationship. Thankfully the two performers do well enough in this regard to make the movie a winner. Casting Vera Miles again was also a good choice as it ties directly into the original film, her character's inclusion here being a reasonable one that grounds the movie just enough.
Direction and cinematography (courtesy of Halloween's Dean Cundey) are slick and precise, showing Hitchcock's influence in terms of deliberate pacing and subtle clues to the final mystery. Franklin does a fine job of building suspense and while there isn't a scene in here to rival the intensity of the infamous shower scene from the first movie (even if it does use make some references to it), there are a few stand out moments in the movie that when judged on their own merit and not compared unrealistically to Hitchcock's film are very well done and nicely executed. Franklin makes good use of the sets and the Bates Motel and the Bates home almost become characters in their own right, playing a large part in the feel of the movie and lending plenty of eerie shadows and creaky old furniture to add to the atmosphere.
Psycho II arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.85.1 widescreen presentation with AVC encoding in 1080p high definition. Aside from a little bit of crush in a few of the darker scenes, this transfer is rock solid. Detail is generally very good, especially in the close up shots. You'll notice layers of dust on some of the artifacts laying around the Bates' house and some of the pilling on the antiquated curtains hanging in mother's room that weren't as noticeable on DVD. Skin tones look great, color reproduction is strong without ever looking artificially boosted. Black levels are generally quite good but it should be noted that at times, this is a very dark movie with a lot of it taking place in the shadows, as such, some scenes don't really pop, but that's how the movie should look. There aren't any issues with serious print damage nor is there any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction to note. Some of the matte painting backgrounds are a bit more obvious here than they were on DVD, but again, that stems back to the source material. All in all, the movie looks very good on Blu-ray.
Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mixes with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Both tracks sound very good, with the surround mix obviously spreading things out where the 2.0 mix cannot. Most of the time this applies to the score and to the effects and it's done well and quite respectfully of the original track, it never sounds forced or inappropriate. Regardless of which option you go for, both mixes feature clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. There weren't any instances of hiss or distortion and generally things sound quite good here.
The previous DVD release from Universal contained only a trailer as an extra. Shout! Factory rectifies that and does a pretty great job with the supplements on this disc starting off with an audio commentary track from screenwriter Tom Holland moderated by Rob Galluzzo, the man responsible for The Psycho Legacy documentary that came out a few years ago. This was an early project for Holland and so he talks about wanting to do the best job he could delivering a worthy sequel to such a high profile original film. He covers some of the angles that the script takes in further developing Norman's character and discusses what it was like working with Richard Franklin. It's a pretty solid commentary, Galluzzo knows his stuff and keeps Holland talking and they delve into more than just the writing process as they also cover performances, locations and just generally provide a pretty thorough overview of the history of the movie.
Complementing the commentary is the option to watch the movie with a collection of archival cast and crew interviews over top. This works basically the same way as the commentary does and while it's not as scene specific, it's interesting enough
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.