Musings About Music In Film

Psycho II

By Karol Krok psycho2

There are certain films that should never receive sequels. And popular horrors certainly, more often than not, belong in that category. Once the audience knows the premise the element of surprise is gone, diminishing the potential scares. And yet countless of franchises are created, with each subsequent entry basically repeating the same pattern. There’s also another way - trying to revisit the concept, but playing with it from a slightly different perspective, changing the tone and questioning what has been established previously. That’s certainly a route taken by Richard Franklin upon revisiting the infamous concept of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where the story focused on Norman Bates and the discoveries behind his actual lineage. Of course the film doesn’t live up to the original, but, at the same time, it's far from terrible.

Jerry Goldsmith was no stranger to horror at the time of working on Psycho II. He has tackled the subject from almost every perspective - from the atonal terrors of The Mephisto Waltz to the wondrous dangers of Poltergeist to the ritualistic chanting of The Omen. And while the composer’s skills and resume don’t pose a problem, the fact that it follows one of the most famous film music pieces in history certainly does. Facing that challenge, there were two possible routes, none of them ideal. Either slavishly emulating the sound Bernard Herrmann has established for the concept, or abandon it altogether. The filmmakers decided to go with the latter.

The main feature of Goldsmith's music is the surprisingly touching theme for Norman Bates and his “family”. Introduced in an a very emotional guise in ‘Psycho II - Main Title’, the melody wasn’t the most striking thing around, but it successfully forms the backbone of the story and gives its character some necessary depth. The thinking behind utilising such an idea was simple - the film goes through a lot of hassle to establish the main character as sympathetic, very much a victim of his two mothers. Another recurring mysterious piano motif has been established to portray Norman’s mother, and that very simple device develops into a wicked theme in ‘The Cellar’ where synthesizers take over. In the subsequent tracks it becomes even more menacing, suggesting a dark and twisted ending, while the medieval Dies Irae plainchant makes a surprising appearance towards the end of ‘It’s Not Your Mother’.

To his credit, Jerry tries his best to inject it with as much creativity as possible - using the sound of sharpened knives as instruments (‘Basement Killing’) and, quite typically for him in that period, an array of synthesizers. The sounds are of course interesting, but they're so far apart from what Herrmann wrote, one has to wonder whether they should have stayed closer to the original. The occasional low woodwinds and strings recall the old master, but these references remain quite faint and vague. The only real reference is the reprise of the famous shower scene at the very beginning (‘The Murder’).

As much of the 57-minute score is comprised of suspense tracks, there isn’t much of an attraction for a casual fan of Jerry Goldsmith. The score has been previously released at a 30-minute programme, which in all fairness contained all the necessary highlights. However, the updated sound and informative liner notes of the latest Intrada release certainly deserve praise. The disc is also filled with a few bonus tracks, comprising mostly of alternates and two piano excerpts from Beethoven.

Goldsmith has created better works elsewhere, especially during that fruitful period. Both film and music Psycho II are largely forgotten these days. Neither are a match for their original counterparts. No matter the detail and careful planning that Goldsmith attempted, it is the infamous black and white scoring of Bernard Herrmann that defines the concept to this day. However, the sequel remains a solid effort from the experienced master.

Psycho II is out now from Intrada Records