You’d have to be a bit crazy to even think about writing a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic. Psycho. And Tom Holland was certainly aware of the great challenges he faced when he took on the impossible mission of writing a film that dared to call itself Psycho II.
“Everyone told me we would do it killed for doing it,” the writer-director – who has nothing to do with the current Spider-Man – tells Yahoo Entertainment with a wry laugh. “They said it would be career-ending!” That there would be such animosity towards us if we had the audacity to make a sequel to what is considered the greatest horror film of all time.
Even original Psycho Star Anthony Perkins recognized the madness of the idea. “He said, ‘There’s no way I’m touching that,'” Holland recalls now. “Psycho had turned his entire career upside down and he had a very ambivalent relationship with Norman Bates. He was a young leading man and this film put him in the position of having to play all these crazy people. He didn’t want to do it again.
But a funny thing happened on the way to certain career suicide: Holland wrote one of the rare sequels that came decades later not tarnishing the reputation of the first film. Published 40 years ago, on June 3, 1983, Psycho II brought Norman Bates back into the pop culture consciousness and inspired two further sequels (both starring Perkins, who died in 1992), a controversial remake by Gus van Sant and a popular TV prequel. Bates Motel. It also paved the way for Holland’s successful move behind the camera as a director of ’80s horror hits like Night of terror and the very first Child’s play.
“It was a success that exceeded my wildest dreams,” marvels Holland, now 80. “And in some ways that experience has never been repeated.”
Raised in Ossining, New York – home to Sing Sing Prison and the late great Peter Falk – Holland spent his formative years in the city’s public library, where he devoured the canon of literary classics to learn as much as he could learn about storytelling. These years of independent study gave him the confidence to move to Los Angeles to pursue a film career as an actor and screenwriter… and also the foolhardiness to believe he could come up with the right story for a film Psycho Continued when the offer came his way.
“Everything I did Psycho II was based on the original Psycho” he says about his approach. “This was done out of respect for Mr. Hitchcock and because it was my best defense against the critics!” I added nothing to the given facts on which I worked.” (Hitchcock died in 1980, three years earlier Psycho II premiered in the cinema.)
Psycho II acknowledges the long shadow of its predecessor from the outset, beginning with a rendition of the seminal shower scene in which Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is stabbed to death by Norman Bates, wearing his long-dead mother’s clothes. From there, Holland jumps forward two decades until Norman is released from prison, despite strong objections from Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles – the only other star of the previous film to reprise her role.
When Norman returns to his mother’s house and the adjacent Bates Motel, he tries to live a normal life and even welcomes a house guest – a young waitress named Mary (Meg Tilly). But a series of handwritten notes and a series of murders seem to indicate that “Mother” has returned to her old ways. However, halfway through the film, it turns out that Norman is innocent of these crimes. Furthermore, Mary is actually Lila’s daughter and reluctantly takes part in her mother’s plan to hold Norman accountable for his past crimes.
When the credits roll, both mother and daughter are dead, but their plan works. When the curtain falls, Norman is well and truly mad, as his final act shows: he kills old Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar), who reveals herself as his birth mother – and the real murderer – with a shovel to the back of her head .
“He ends up completely crazy,” confirms Holland. “He hasn’t killed anyone in the entire movie, and then in the very last scene he kills his mother – his real Mother. It’s a great character arc because he starts off completely healthy or at least stable and you almost feel sorry for him.”
Holland says that Norman’s transition from madness to sanity and back again led Perkins to put aside his reservations and return to his most famous role. (Holland says the actor also wanted to direct Psycho II, but Universal had already hired Richard Franklin, who had known Hitchcock personally. Perkins eventually directed 1986’s Psycho III.) “God knows I wrote it for him,” the author says with a laugh. “What I did with this story was bait for the actor. And it breathed new life into his career.”
According to Holland, Miles was also hesitant to return to the Bates Motel given her own tormented past with the notoriously mercurial Hitchcock. Two years ago PsychoThe director had planned for her to star opposite Jimmy Stewart dizziness, but Miles’ pregnancy prompted Kim Novak to take on the role instead. “There was real tension in their relationship after that because Hitchcock wanted to make her a star,” explains Holland. “When she got pregnant he couldn’t do it and was upset. Hitchcock was a brilliant director, but I got the impression he was a mixed bag.” [as a person]to.”
As expected, Miles repeatedly declined the offer to reprise the role of Lila when Universal made its first overtures. Considering that Marion’s sister is primarily the villain of the sequel – and also apparently married her dead sister’s lover, Sam Loomis (John Gaven), between films – one might have expected that even reading Holland’s script wouldn’t have changed her mind. But the author says his script had the opposite effect.
“After reading the script, she couldn’t wait to shoot it,” he recalls. “She thought the idea of releasing home residents was a very sensitive issue, and she felt that Lila had a lot of reasons to disagree with it in the film. She was absolutely lovely and I constantly asked her questions about her relationship with Hitchcock.” (Miles, now 94, retired from acting in 1995.)
While the success of Psycho II He enabled Holland to launch his own career as a director. Looking back, however, he insists he wouldn’t have swapped places with Franklin, whom he credits with finding a way to emulate Hitchcock without slavishly imitating the director. Franklin died in 2007, but his voice lives on in the memoirs he wrote in his later years. Holland has published excerpts from this memoir in the new making-of book. Oh mother! What have you done?Now available at most major booksellers and on its official website, Tom Holland’s Time of Terror.
Holland and Franklin’s shared vision for Psycho II is most evident in their version of a Psycho Shower scene. Midway through the film, Mary rinses herself off in the bathroom shower in the Bates’ dilapidated mansion while an unseen voyeur watches through a peephole in the wall. It’s an echo of Norman stares at Marion in Hitchcock’s film, but with an added visual flourish.
“Richard always wanted to direct a shot of a peephole in a wall, so I inserted that shot into this scene so he could show an eye popping up as the camera got closer to the wall,” he recalls . “Given the fame of the original shower scene, this scene made sense.”
Meanwhile, Franklin’s memoir credits Holland with inventing the film’s final short, sharp shock: Norman kills Emma, having just learned the truth about his origins. “I needed a big reveal at the end, and that was Mrs. Spool,” he says now. “I originally wrote that Norman poisoned her with a cup of tea, but Richard and I both felt that wasn’t strong enough. You really had to have icing on the sundae. So I came up with the shovel scene.” When the preview audience saw that, they almost fell off their chairs.
“It’s such a dark ending when you think about it,” Holland continues. “He just committed matricide! But there’s something extremely satisfying about it because it ends the same way.” Psycho did. I worked harder on this script than any other because everyone told me I was crazy for doing it. But in the end it was absolutely magical and made my career explode. I’m still a fan of the film. We wouldn’t talk about it Psycho II Now if we weren’t all crazy fans on some level.
As the man said: We all go a little crazy sometimes.
Psycho II is currently streaming on Peacock; Oh mother! What Have You Done?: The Making of Psycho II is available now from most major booksellers, including Barnes and Noble.