Psycho II

Lest We Forget

The beginning of the Psycho sequel wants to make sure we remember why the first one had such a bang of an impact. It starts right away with the infamous shower murder scene. Even though we can see the shadowy figure of Mother slowly coming up to the shower curtain, it still makes me jump when the screeching music and the stabbing start. I think that during this scene, it doesn’t matter if it’s Norman or Mother in that dress and wig. It’s Death. And it’s coming right for Marion. We don’t need to see the face that’s hidden by shadows. Over five decades later, it’s still scary as fuck.

Fast forward 22 years, and Norman’s at a court hearing determining if he can be released from the mental institution that’s been his home ever since. The proceedings get interrupted when a now-aged Lila, Marion’s sister, comes forward with a petition to keep Norman locked up. Although a lot of people have signed it, it doesn’t do any good. I don’t know if it’s because of early 1980s fashion, but Lila looks like she’s wearing a very bad grey wig here. But what she says about the justice system protecting criminals is still relevant today in real life, accounting for why we have victims’ rights advocacy.

But the courtroom speech isn’t enough for Lila as she confronts Norman in the hallway. Norman doesn’t seem that upset or concerned; he almost seems puzzled that she’s still so upset after all these years. Maybe some psychopathy there, but I think it’s more likely he’s thinking, “I’ve reformed myself; I’m better, I’m not a killer anymore. Can’t we just all forgive and forget?”

I really like the first scene of the Bates Motel we see as Norman gets home. Some details I wouldn’t have noticed before Bates Motel: the car Norman’s doctor’s driving looks like a similar old-school Mercedes model to the one Norma has. The motel in this movie is also not L-shaped as it is in Bates Motel, just rectangle-shaped with the office at the far left end. For whatever reason, I like the L-shape better.

The house and motel look pretty decrepit, no thanks to the manager who’s been running things in Norman’s long absence–and evidently not doing that great of a job.

Norman goes into the dusty, deserted house with sheets covering the furniture. He’s really alone now, right? No more darkness or voices in his head? Not so fast. He picks up the corded landline phone that’s just been reconnected. The phone plays an important role in this Psycho installment, as we’ll see. He finds an old note from Mother under the phone:

“Norman, I’ll be home late. Fix your own dinner. Love, M”

That note must’ve been there for years and years if Norma had in fact wrote it while she was still alive. Or else he wrote it while the “Mother” part of him had taken over his personality. Whichever, it’s a big trigger and brings on the flashback of when/how Mother died. The filmmakers still go with the poisoning angle here, though I still find it hard to believe. If the Norman from Bates Motel had poisoned Norma, he’d be swigging down more of the poison right after her, after all:

“If you kill yourself, I’ll be one step behind.” I like to think it would work the other way around too. I just don’t see how Norman could black out and poison anyone’s tea, which takes a lot more planning and forethought than simply stabbing them.

Anyway, he hears Mother’s voice loud and clear, berating him for poisoning her. Cut to the diner where Norman has a new job as a cook’s helper. Here’s where he meets Mary Loomis, the waitress with a “heart of gold but a head of wood.” Sweet how he covers for her right away so she won’t get in trouble over a broken pie plate.

Since Mary’s now-ex-boyfriend has kicked her out of their apartment, Norman offers to let her stay at the motel for free. Seems he likes this girl. Notice how he refrains from giving her the key to Room #1. We also meet the obnoxious Mr. Toomy, the stand-in manager. He and Norman butt heads right away as Norman finds drug paraphernalia in one of the rooms. Turns out Toomy’s been running the motel as a no-tell motel party place, which is not going to fly at all now that Norman’s home. Kind of an echo back to when Norma wanted to stop the pot trimmers from smoking weed in the motel.

Norman tries to fire Toomy, and Toomy’s not going to go that easily. He’s going to be a problem, especially with the parting insults he throws at Norman. Back at the house, Mary starts having second thoughts about breaking up with her boyfriend Scott and calls him. Norman goes through the kitchen for something to eat, and he sees some reminders: tea and a knife.

The scene where they have sandwiches and milk for dinner is both rather funny and rather disturbing. It brings back imagery right from the first movie. Right down to cutting through the sandwich with the big kitchen knife. Mary suddenly gets uncomfortable and says it’s better if she goes to stay with a friend in town, even though she doesn’t want to hurt Norman’s feelings.

Here’s another really big, gaping inconsistency I never noticed or remembered about Psycho II. Norman claims he poisoned his mother when he was 12!! WHAT?! What the fuck? But that means…wait, he killed his dad when he was 17, and Norma was still very much alive then. If he’d killed her when he was 12, the whole Bates Motel story never would’ve happened. This is starting to get a very paralell-universe feel to it, at least to me.

“A lot of my troubles had to do with this house.”

So Norman wants the company because he’s afraid to be alone in the Bates house. Also, Mother’s old room is at the top of the stairs, instead of down the hall as in Bates Motel. Mary tries to get Norman to face his past and what’s haunting him about that room. She reminds me vaguely of Cody Brennan in this scene.

Mary goes to bed in Mother’s old room and sits up reading a book called “In the Belly of the Beast” Very clever touch. To be on the safe side, she’s also blocked the door with the rocking chair. The night passes without incident, and the next day she arranges to move in with a friend in town. Norman seems disappointed he can’t convince her to change her mind.

The two of them don’t get any peace the next day at work, as a drunk Mr. Toomy comes in the diner and starts harassing them both. Very stupid move when Norman’s got a big knife in his hand, chopping lettuce.

But Norman keeps his cool, and Toomy thankfully leaves. Mary changes her mind about moving in with her friend and heads back to the Bates house with Norman that evening.

“I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed right after I take a shower.”

Here we go with another reliving of Psycho I, right down to the shower scene updated for 20 years later. I think this movie is starting to be a bit heavy-handed with reliving the original, trying to cram as much of those moments in as possible. It’s starting to make the plot drag a little at this point. I hope it picks up.

Mary gets out of the shower and goes downstairs to see Norman playing the piano. I’m sure he learned that from Mother at some point a long time ago. That brief piece doesn’t last long as they hear Toomy yelling outside that he’s moving out. Good riddence. And the first of the creepy phone calls start, pretending to be Mother.

They at least don’t have to worry about Toomy anymore as Mother comes back, or who we think is Norman-as-Mother, and stabs Toomy to death in the motel office. The first murder in Psycho II happens 40 minutes in, and as a departure it does happen to a creep who kind of deserved it.

The next scene sees Norman repainting the motel bright yellow once again. No sign of him recalling having to clean up the bloody mess from Toomy’s murder. He tells Dr. Raymond about what’s been going on, as Mary gets ready for work and finds Norman’s peephole in the bathroom wall.

We learn that Mary’s supposed last name is “Samuals”, the same last name as the alias Marion Crane used when she checked in all those years ago. Norman (and we the audience) get a good look at Mother parting the curtains in her bedroom back at the house. This is no ghost or shadow, and Norman’s shock is an understatement.

Someone is evidently messing with Norman, making him doubt his own sanity all over again. From his reaction, I somehow don’t think he’s having hallucinations, at least not this time. He also has the bad luck to get locked in the attic while two teenagers are breaking into the basement to have sex. They’re not alone for long though.

Norman’s meanwhile dozed off in the attic when Mary finds him and lets him out. He runs through the house trying to find evidence of the Mother impersonator, but nothing’s in place as he saw it before. The sheriff and deputy show up about the recent murder in the fruit celler, which Norman had no idea of until now. He lets them look around, but there’s no body and nothing else out of place. Mary mentions she was the one who cleaned up the basement. Okay…

Mary’s giving more clues now that something’s off with her, that she may have other reasons for staying in the Bates house. We then see the return of Lila Loomis, who turns out to be Mary’s own mother. They’re working together the whole time to make Norman unhinged again so he’ll get committed again. Mary’s had a change of heart about Norman, now believing he’s innocent and trying so hard to do the right thing and to keep his sanity. Lila won’t be swayed at all, yelling at her daughter that Norman will kill her too. She even goes as far as to flood the bathroom with bloody water.

Norman and Mary argue over whether he killed anyone, with him mentioning how he used to black out. As Mary cleans up the mess, she sees a third person through the peephole in the next room, while Norman’s downstairs making tea. Mary gets a gun out of her purse and searches for the third person, who then startles her through that same bathroom wall. Thinking it’s her mother still there and playing head games with both of them now, Mary phones Lila at her hotel, but Lila isn’t there.

Thinking Mother’s alive and in the basement, Norman insists they wait until morning to go down there. He startles Mary awake by standing over her with a knife. She stays pretty damn calm, considering this is a moment where Norman turns truly scary.

“I think I’m becoming…confused again.”

He does drop the killer act quickly and ends up crying in Mary’s arms, saying how he just wants to remember the good things about his mother, but it’s so difficult now. Sad and kind of a pitiful scene. The next day Norman gets the truth about Mary and Lila Loomis from Dr. Raymond. Mary meanwhile confronts her mother about what she’s been doing to try to drive Norman insane. The two of them get into a fight as Mary wants nothing more to do with this scheme.

Norman’s doctor makes him confront the truth that Mother’s dead by having her corpse dug up yet again. A pretty creepy-looking corpse too, more so than in the first movie. Norman then tries to keep a grip on reality as he confronts Mary about how she and her mother have been tormenting him. That quickly unravels as Norman gets a phone call from someone claiming to be his “real mother.”

Psycho II

Both Norman and Mary are dealing with a lot of issues regarding mothers who just can’t let go of them and who keep pulling them back into things things they don’t want to do. No wonder they can bond over something like this, provided no more murders happen.

And my god, Lila is freaking stubborn! She just won’t give up, even if it means losing her relationship with her daughter, committing multiple B & E’s, and dressing up in a costume she stashes under the floor stones in the fruit celler. What sane person does any of that? She does pay the price, in the most graphic and gruesome Psycho murder yet–butcher knife shoved down the throat! That’s got to be a horrible way to go.

Dr. Raymond’s been doing some investigating of his own, but only after the body of Lila has been cleaned up. He does find that Norman’s become detached from reality in a new and disturbingly different way, believing his “real mother” is alive and out there somewhere. The image of him playing the piano calmly is disturbing and sad as Mary runs around trying to get him to escape with her. The police have found Toomy’s car in the swamp, with the requisite corpse in the trunk.

Even with Norman’s calm mantras that “Mother did it to protect me,” and “Where would we go?” Mary just wraps her arms around Norman and rather affectionately tells him he’s just mad as a hatter–both sad and kind of funny at the same time.

Norman just won’t let the “real mother” idea go, even as Dr. Raymond calls him from the hotel where Lila’s calls were traced from. Poor Norman continues to talk into a dead phone line, refusing to kill Mary even as Mary stands right there. She wisely runs off, down to the basement to change into the “Mother” costume herself. Even by standing right in front of Norman, she still can’t get him to put the damn phone down. The way she sobs his name over and over reminds me a lot of Norma too.

She accidentally kills Dr. Raymond as he sneaks up behind her, then Norman comes after her. At this point, it’s Mary who’s doing all the knife-slashing, including a very wince-inducing cut to Norman’s hands. We also get a freaky shot at Lila’s corpse partially buried in the basement woodpile.

“She murdered her own mother over Norman?”

This part of Psycho II has a fairly good–and unexpected–twist: it’s not Norman who’s gone totally mad; it’s Mary. Now she’s the one headed to the mental institution.

We think this is the end. But not quite.

Norman returns home alone, going about his business shoveling coal in the cellar and having one of the toasted cheese sandwiches he used to enjoy so much as a kid.

Here comes another older woman with silver hair and wearing a dark dress, walking up the steps to the Bates house. What the hell?! Lila’s dead, Mary’s locked up, Norman’s sitting at the kitchen table, so who is this?! Fantastic shot of the dark thunderheads rolling in as she heads towards the house.

A knock at the back door, and Norman turns out to know her: Ms. Spoole. But how, exactly? I don’t remember her from any other part of this movie.

“The name ‘Spoole’ doesn’t mean anything to you? It was Norma Bates’ maiden name.”

Milestone: this is the first time we hear Mother’s actual name spoken in the Psycho franchise: Norma. Also a bombshell dropped: Norma had a sister as well as her rapist of a brother, Caleb. Sadly, Emma Spoole doesn’t get to stick around that long. Even though she (probably crazily) claims to be Norman’s real mother, she can’t be allowed to stay alive as far as Norman’s twisted perception goes. She needs to be dead and back in the fruit cellar, which is exactly what happens.

This ending revelation disappointed me; it was given to us and then snatched away quickly. For a minute, Norman had his mother back–his real biological one–which Norma wasn’t to begin with. That is, if Emma Spoole’s story was even true. Ms. Spoole had some mental illness for a while and spent time in an institution; maybe she was still operating under her own set of delusions. We’ll never get to find out, frustratingly so. It’s too much for Norman to handle, so he ends up killing her.

I really wish Emma Spoole and this part of the story had come in around the middle instead of the end of the movie. I think it would’ve made Psycho II a lot better–especially since other, earlier parts of the plot dragged at times. In either case, Norman had a mother who “wasn’t quite right.” In the end, Emma Spoole’s body goes back into her rocking chair, and Norman’s got his mother talking to him in his head again.

I just can’t help but wonder as the credits roll: What could’ve been, might’ve been, and still might be with the story thread of Norma’s sister? Only time will tell if any part of it ever surfaces in the world of Bates Motel.

“Only your mother truly loves you.”