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Psycho II writer looks back at upsetting the original author and tensions on set

Director Tom Holland recalls how the sequel upset the original author and how Anthony Perkins clashed with Meg Tilly

Feb. 14, 2014 - Hollywood, U.S. - PSYCHO II (1983)..ANTHONY PERKINS, RICHARD FRANKLIN (DIR)..PS2 009..  (Credit Image: c Credit Image: c face to face/Entertainment Pictures)
Anthony Perkins returned as Norman Bates in 1983's Psycho II. (Alamy/Face to Face/Entertainment Pictures)

Emerging 23 years after the iconic original, 1983's Psycho II has been mostly forgotten — until recently.

Yahoo UK spoke to its writer Tom Holland (no, not that one) about how it came to be and why it’s being re-appraised four decades later.

About seven or eight years ago, writer/director Tom Holland — the creator of Child’s Play and Fright Night — was at a dinner with various other horror luminaries including James Wan (Insidious) and Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho).

“They voted Psycho II the best horror sequel,” he remembers now. “And I was totally flabbergasted.”

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Psycho II is one of those movies that you’ve probably totally forgotten, assuming it was a complete stinker that bombed at the box office. If that’s the case, you’re wrong.

It was very successful for starters — taking $35m against a $5m budget — and while it was never going to be as seminal as Hitchcock’s classic, it brought back Norman Bates in a clever and scary way.

PSYCHO II, Anthony Perkins, 1983, © Universal/courtesy Everett Collection
Anthony Perkins in 1983's Psycho II. (Alamy/Universal/Everett Collection)

In fact, explains Holland, that was the reason he was hired in the first place: to convince original star Anthony Perkins to revisit the role that made him world-famous while simultaneously annihilating his nascent career as a romantic lead.

“He’d already turned it down,” says Holland. “He was not thrilled with Norman.” The follow-up’s helmer Richard Franklin remembers that not only had Perkins said no, he also wanted to direct it.

Robert Bloch, who’d written the book on which the first film was based, had written a sequel novel. “But he killed off Norman at the end of the first chapter. There was no way on God’s green Earth that anybody was going to make that.”

Watch the trailer for Psycho II

Christopher Walken had already been sounded out to take over the role from Perkins, but Holland knew what he had to do.

“I was an actor for ten years before I started to write,” he says. “You have to give an actor something to play that they know is dramatic pay dirt. And that’s what that script had. Even in the first one, you felt bad for Norman, because you knew his mother had turned him into that and there was something so vulnerable about Tony.

Read more: Ten amazing things you didn't know about Psycho

"You felt sorry for a mad serial murderer! [In Psycho II] Norman Bates comes out of the institution, he’s sane. He’s desperately trying to hold onto his sanity. Then everything starts to go wrong, he’s trying to stay sane. And then at the end you find out what it all was about. At the very end of the movie, Norman Bates is totally mad again.”

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) speaks with Bates Motel guest Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) outside her room in a scene from the classic 1960 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Psycho. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) speaks with Bates Motel guest Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller, Psycho. (Getty Images)

That’s pretty much the best synopsis of the movie you can give without revealing a whole load of spoilers. Suffice to say, Bates is back running his hotel, but mixing with the locals, including a young woman played by Meg Tilly (Valmont), makes him start to question his sanity. Inevitably, deaths pile up and Mother is at the centre of it all.

However, with Holland’s script getting the greenlight from Perkins, what had been thought of as a throwaway cable movie was suddenly a big deal.

“You’ll find Oak [Media Development] in the credits listed as one of the producers, which was a payoff to get rid of them,” reveals the writer. “Universal didn’t have any idea what they had. We were so far down the totem pole, the studio didn’t pay any attention to us.”

FRIGHT NIGHT, from left: Chris Sarandon, director Tom Holland on set, 1985, © Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection
Tom Holland (right) went on to direct 1985's Fright Night (Everett CollectionAlamy)

“When [Perkins said yes], Universal started to feel more confident,” he continues. “But it wasn’t until they put the press release out worldwide – ‘Anthony Perkins is coming back to play Norman Bates in Psycho II’ and the world went f***ing crazy.

"The reaction was so overwhelming that Universal had to release it as a feature film. They couldn’t get a better writer and director because Tony had already agreed to the script!”

Read more: Do belated horror sequels ever pay off?

Franklin was a disciple of Hitchcock and he assembled as many people as he could who had worked on the first one. That included actor Vera Miles reprising her role as Lila Crane and crew members like Hilton Green, who’d been the assistant director on the original and had worked with Hitchcock ever since. They even got the legendary filmmaker’s daughter’s blessing.

Holland admits they ramped up the gore a little, much to the annoyance of Robert Bloch.

Psycho II Year 1983 Director Richard Franklin Vera Miles Based upon Robert Bloch s book
Vera Miles returned as Lila Crane in 1983's Psycho II. (Alamy)

“I served on a panel with Bloch and he criticised me for being too bloody,” he says. “We didn’t have to put the knife through Vera Miles’ mouth, we didn’t have to do it that graphically, but that was what was going on at the time.”

Perhaps the only difficulty on what was a small, $5 million film shot almost entirely on the Universal backlot was a breakdown in communication between then-inexperienced actress Tilly and Anthony Perkins.

“There was a friction, I don’t even think that Meg Tilly knew about it, but Tony wasn’t happy with what he was getting from her,” says Holland. “It got pretty ugly. But I don’t think she ever knew.”

Anthony Perkins and Meg Tilly in Psycho II. (Alamy)

While we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, just like the first movie, there is a big twist at the very end. The filmmakers decided to handle it much like Hitchcock and original writer Joseph Stefano.

“We withheld the last page from everybody,” admits Holland. “We only revealed it on the day we shot.”

In the four decades since Psycho II “transformed” his career, Holland has become a horror icon himself, the man behind Chucky the doll and dozens of other films, with a hugely-popular website and several books. But the horror sequel still holds a special place in his heart.

Read more: The disturbing real-life stories behind classic horror films

“When someone at Monsterpalooza referred to Psycho as Psycho I, I knew something had happened!” he laughs.

“It was forgotten as far as I know for 30 years. And then about eight years ago I started to be aware it was growing in critical respect. Something had started and it’s coming to fruition now.”

Psycho II is available to rent or buy on digital.

Watch a trailer for the original Psycho: