I always go back to Psycho II. The movie appeared in the June 1984 HBO Guide. This first sequel paved the way for several more movies (including the 1987 TV pilot, Bates Motel starring Bud Cort and Lori Petty, as well as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake starring Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn. In 2013, a second Bates Motel television series premiered on A&E. The series ran for five years.
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.”
He is 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. 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, labyrinthine thriller with elements of mystery and suspense worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Tom Holland’s script is intelligent, sympathetic, and thought-provoking.
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. In June of 1984, HBO and Cinemax broadcast an incredible, eclectic assortment of movies. Vintage Cable Box returns to highlight each of those movies, as well as offering new appraisals and providing context into what was cable television in the mid ’80s. It was a different cultural landscape at the time, and these movies offered an education that went far and above film school. Vintage Cable Box explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. Enjoy!
Special thanks to Dave Hooser for scanning the HBO/Cinemax guide and sharing these pictures.