Vintage Cable Box: “Psycho II”, 1983

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“It’s starting again.”

“Psycho II”, 1983 (Anthony Perkins), MCA/Universal

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On occasion, you would have dual premieres of movies. HBO and Cinemax, at the time, aired new releases on the same night, usually a Saturday. One such summer Saturday, HBO debuted “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and Cinemax aired “Psycho II”. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to watch, and back in those days, you couldn’t Tivo your troubles away, so we went with “Psycho II”. I had not seen the original “Psycho” but was well aware of the famous shower scene. It would be a couple of weeks later that I finally watched the original “Psycho”, and to this day, nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates. That goes for Michael Meyers, Charles Manson, and Donald Trump. I repeat: nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates!

I remember a few years ago, somebody made the point (maybe it was me) that Norman Bates never truly existed; that whatever Norman was, only appeared to be an extension of his mother, the famous Mrs. Bates. When you look at Norman, even in advanced years, played by the extraordinary Anthony Perkins, he’s nothing more than a “man-child”, consumed in fear of disappointing his mother and telegraphing an all-consuming shyness around women he deems attractive, women he is driven to be attracted to – starting in 1960’s “Psycho” with Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane.

Norman’s mother had gained a peculiar form of immortality by being so endemic an image in her son’s mind that she devoured him whole and implanted her own personality. It has taken 22 years for Norman to become his own man, and sadly, there are those who still wish to destroy him. Once released from the custody of the State, Norman tries to pick up the shattered remains of his life and run his motel. He fires sleazy manager Mr. Toomey (a hilarious Dennis Franz) and makes a new friend in Meg Tilly.

Of course, all of this is a veneer; a curious effort to drive Bates mad so that he will be taken away again. Meg Tilly is the niece of Marion Crane and she and Crane’s sister (a shrill Vera Miles) take turns phoning Norman and dressing up as his mother to make him crazy. Meanwhile, very real murders are being conducted by a mysterious third party, who is revealed at film’s conclusion. As with the original “Psycho”, you can’t help but feel for Norman as his mask of sanity slips away gradually.

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Meg Tilly (at first) sides with her mother in discrediting Norman, but as she sees the struggles he tries to cope with, she develops an affection and attraction to him, ultimately protecting him from her mother’s cruel scheming. Anthony Perkins’ promising career was destroyed by “Psycho”. He was forever type-cast, as either yet another psychotic personality, or a borderline “heavy” in most movies after “Psycho”. Like Leonard Nimoy before him, he decided to wholeheartedly embrace his legacy by directing 1986’s “Psycho III” and appearing in the promising, but ultimately illogical “Psycho IV”.

Richard Franklin does an admirable job directing this first sequel to the horror classic, and having to weather the storms of vicious film critics, who bemoaned a lack of originality in Hollywood they perceived had to rely more and more on sequels to make easy money. As we know, this was only the beginning, but “Psycho II” is a well-crafted, labyrinthian thriller with elements of mystery and suspense worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Tom Holland’s script is intelligent, sympathetic, and thought-provoking.

Next up: “Amityville II: The Possession”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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