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Psycho 2 - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

The idea to talk about this score was a result of a harsh argument with a fan of the score on Facebook. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is one of my all-time favourites, “Psycho 2”, however, I did not like from the beginning: The movie had some great ideas, but in the end, it is just too violent, especially in the showdown and the last scene, and overall just half of a good movie.

The movie

“Psycho II” (1983), directed by Richard Franklin and written by Tom Holland, brought back Anthony Perkins in his most famous role, Vera Miles as Lila Loomis, Robert Loggia as Norman’s Psychologist, and Meg Tilly as the love-interest and Vera Miles’ daughter. Set 22 years after the first film, it follows Norman Bates after he is released from the mental institution and his returns to the house and the Motel to continue a normal life. However, his troubled past continues to haunt him. Here is the trailer:

English writer Robert Bloch wrote a sequel to “Psycho” in 1982. As a great fan of the author, I read the book as a teenager, but I think he is better in short stories than in novels. Bloch’s “Psycho 2” satirized Hollywood slasher films, and – SPOILER – because Bates died in the novel -, Hollywood could not use the plot. The novel has a nice twist because Bates’ death is just told in the end after the identity of the murder is revealed. Until this scene, the reader believes that Bates is responsible for the murders.

Universal decided to make their own version that differed from Bloch's plot. Australian Richard Franklin, who was Hitchcock's student and visited him on the set of “Topaz” (1969), was hired to direct. In a nice documentary on YouTube called “Sympathy for the Devil”, screen author Tom Holland explained that his approach was that the audience should feel sorry for Norman, so exactly like in the original one. Here you can find the link:

This approach was exactly right, and if director and writer would have left the annoying shock effects behind, “Psycho 2” would be a brilliant horror movie. However, I have to admit that the ending, even though it is horrifying, makes sense and ends the circle: Norman has his motel and his mother back.

Franklin and Holland wanted the film to be a tribute to the original film, and to accomplish this, they added various in-jokes such as the scene when Mary and Norman first go into Norman's mother's room. Before they turn the lights on, Alfred Hitchcock's silhouette is visible on the wall to the far right. Look closely! Franklin also repeated various shots from the original film such as when Norman walks into the kitchen and sets his jacket down on the chair. Reflecting on his experience, Franklin recalled Perkins as being very generous and praised Miles as a "powerhouse" and "one of the most forceful" actress he had worked with. Meg Tilly, as rumours said, had a hard time on the set because she could not accept that Perkins was the star. Robert Loggia finds his death in one of the most shocking scenes which burnt deep into my memory.

The music

Wikipedia mentioned that John Williams was considered to do the score, but it was decided to go with Jerry Goldsmith. In my opinion, Goldsmith was the only choice. He was a long-time friend of Bernard Hermann and worked with him on the famous series “Twilight Zone”. On some film assignments, as you can read on filmtracks, Goldsmith would discover that the director had used some of Herrmann's music as temp tracks. Goldsmith would often joke about this: "Not Benny again!". Goldsmith showed his sense of humour when he conducted a recording of "The Murder" for the opening of “Psycho 2” and mentioned that Herrmann "must be rolling over in his grave."

I still have just the MCA records release with 30 minutes of the score (9 tracks, 8 Goldsmith originals). In 2014, Intrada released the complete score, but I am not able to get this one. To start with a personal note: I am not a big fan of the music Goldsmith wrote for “Psycho 2”. I think it is one of his weakest scores up to date. But, let’s be fair: After Herrmann’s score, every composer would fail to write a sequel.

However, Jerry Goldsmith’s approach was right. There is no way in competing with Herrmann’s brilliance in his string-only score. Therefore, Goldsmith composed a very lyrical theme to emphasize on Norman’s innocence and his psychological weakness. The main theme is a melody of pure innocence, very lyrical and very simple and not haunting at all. It is very peaceful music and, in its simplicity, pure beauty! Here is the Main title:

In one scene, Norman plays one of the most beautiful pieces Ludwig van Beethoven ever composed, the Sonata #14 “Mondscheinsonate” for piano. Was this perhaps the reason that the piano is the main instrument in the “Psycho 2” score?

The score has a lot of typical suspense music. The piano is used for the lyrical theme but also used to create suspense. Goldsmith also added synthesizers, but the usage is a little odd and unnecessary. Track 3 “Don’t take me” is a perfect example of the haunting music. The next track “Mother’s Room” is a typical suspense track, and some music reminds me of “The Secret Of NIMH” (1982).

The tracks on the album are not in the order as they are heard in the movie. I do not understand this approach because you have the music for the big showdown in the middle, and the weak track “Blood Bath” before the “End Titles”. “New Furniture”, the track after the showdown music, is one of the more lyrical tracks. It is a heart-warming piece when you see it combined with the scene in the movie. “The Cellar” is the music for a shocking murder scene.

If you compare this track with Herrmann’s “The Murder”, you know that I mean when I consider “Psycho 2” as a weak score. The “End Title” brings the movie and the score to an end. I especially like the first part of the track. When you see Norman Bates standing close to his house again with his mother in the window and hear then Jerry Goldsmith’s music, you have the feeling you saw a much better movie than you really have seen.

The best track of the score is “It’s Not Your Mother”: This 5-minutes-track is also the longest track of the score and a reason to buy the score. Goldsmith created a very nice example of haunting music in the first minutes. When the violence starts, he tries his best to underscore this bloody showdown.

This scene shows what a great actor Anthony Perkins is! How he brings Norman’s personality on the screen and let the audience nearly burst into tears because you know he is close to getting finally insane and back to asylum again, is pure cinema magic! Goldsmith’s music is best when he builds up tension. The underscoring of the violent scenes is the weakest part of the score, the synthesizers are not necessary, but how finally Goldsmith underscores the last 60 seconds of this showdown, is still admirable.

Enough critic! Compare to the crappy horror movies these days, “Psycho 2” has also its good sites even though the gore effects are mostly so over the top that they are nearly ridiculous. In the documentary, Tom Holland said that the effect when Norman tries to grab the knife from Mary Loomis and the knife runs through his hands was a necessary effect and “felt right”, but this is not convincing. Nobody would grab a knife like that!

I do not understand why critics praise “Psycho 3” so much because the music is weak and some scenes are just nonsense, especially the nude scenes and the killing on the toilet. And just the reference to “Vertigo” in the beginning, is not enough to praise “Psycho 3” as a good movie. It is a typical slasher movie, even though it has the benefits that the movie does not take itself too seriously. “Psycho 4” however, again with a screenplay by Joseph Stefano, is more fun.

The idea is so simple and so great: A once-again rehabilitated Norman Bates is now married to a psychiatrist named Connie and is expecting a child. Norman secretly fears that the child will inherit his mental illness, so he must seek closure once and for all. The movie is mostly Norman talking to a psychologist with flashbacks to tell his story when he was a child, but what really will catch you are the last seconds! This last scene is pure gold, and I should watch it again! Here is the trailer:

Jerry Goldsmith and Richard Franklin continued to work together. Her next movie is called “Link” (1986), and Goldsmith’s music to this movie is more fun!

copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2020, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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