Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: August 23rd, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Objectively speaking, Psycho IV: The Beginning is a very long way from Psycho. Objectively speaking, it would be fair to say that Universal got greedy after the success of Psycho II, a long not-so-awaited sequel that was better than it had any right to be. Objectively speaking, maybe we didnít need a prequel/sequel hybrid that moved the franchise even further away from its original masterpiece. An argument can be made that Psycho IV should perhaps be whispered in the same company of other unnecessary sequels that ďtaintĒ the franchise. But sometimes objectivity can be deceptiveósometimes, the heart wants what the heart wants. And in this case, it wants a totally bizarre final chapter in the Psycho series, one thatís as hokey as it is totally gross.
Which is to say: itís kind of fascinating as hell, even if it feels a bit compulsory. Not content to just let Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) wander off into that good night after Psycho III, Universal commissioned a made-for-television follow-up to simultaneously blow the lid off of the franchise secrets and tie it all up in a nice bow. Despite Bates Motelís insistence that Norman died, The Beginning not only finds him alive and well but also thriving: heís left the old motel by the roadside and has become a happily-married suburbanite.
Never mind the fact that he just killed four years ago, I guess (I have so many questions about so many people in Normanís life). Heís become a fan of Fran Ambrose, a late-night radio talk show host specializing in lurid true crime cases. One night, her topic of discussion is matricide, and Norman canít help but call in and reminisce about his own experiences with the subject at hand, going so far as to reveal his twisted upbringing at the hands of his mother (Olivia Hussey).
As perfunctory as The Beginning is, you feel compelled to acknowledge that Universal could have easily made a straightforward prequel that would have simply seen Henry Thomas play a younger version of Norman. With Perkins on-board for the frame story, itís immediately legitimized as an entry, and it thankfully doesnít do too much to tarnish the legacy. It might be a long way from Psycho, but itís also a long way from the likes of, say, Jaws: The Revenge.
Taking on an expectedly schizoid structure, Normanís jumbled recollections unfold haphazardly: one minute, heís describing the first time he killed a random passerby (for wanting to have sex with him), the next heís a six-year-old kid being tickled by his mom at his dadís funeral. The latter scene captures just how bewilderingly strange Psycho IV can beóat all times, thereís a nervous, off-kilter energy surrounding Normanís relationship with his mother even at this early age. Itís so weird and uncomfortable that the scene doesnít even need a fan blowing off the shroud that covers the dadís bloated, traumatizing bee-stung face (but itís a nice grace note to be sure).
Director Mick Garris and screenwriter Joseph Stefano arenít exactly coy about the oedipal implications here. Hell, theyíre hardly implications at all, not when the script has Norma commanding Norman to strip off his wet clothes and get into the bed to console her during a violent thunderstorm. As if that werenít enough, he pops an awkward boner, prompting him to leap out of the bed and skitter into his own room, where his stash of tawdry nudie magazines draws his motherís ire. To say that the subtext becomes the text here is an understatement: itís more like the subtext has been crammed into a microphone and shouted as loudly as possible. Despite Normanís refusal of his Oedipal urges, you canít miss this shit: nearly every other scene involving him and his mother has the sort of sexual tension you can only cut with a butcher knife.
It all feels so very tacky, especially when compared to Hitchcockís relatively restrained hand; sure, Psycho is lurid as hell, but thereís a grace to his savagery thatís missing here. The Beginning rubs your nose in its unseemliness, with each of its wild twists and turns being underlined and italicized by Husseyís unhinged turn as Norma. Heretofore (mostly) unseen in the series, she more than lives up to her reputation. Again, objectively speaking, you could make the argument that some things are better left to the imagination. Let me assure you that Olivia Hussey going completely unhinged with a vague, indistinct (but totally strange) accent is not one of those things. If anything, The Beginning could use more of it: certainly, the film is more interesting whenever sheís involved (read: fully committed to going HAM at every turn).
Otherwise, the flashbacks are rather gratuitous: Stefano weaves a few digressions in order to increase the body count, an appreciable sentiment whenever youíre dealing with the third sequel in what basically became a slasher movie series. It might not add much to the story, but letís be real: just how much story is even here, anyway? Mrs. Bates (and her jerky loverís) death represent an inevitable, predetermined climax to Normanís recollections, so the additional victims are decent enough embellishments, even if they rehash familiar bits of Psycho lore. Far be it from me to criticize a slasher movie for padding its body count.
Given the filmís prequel hook, itís somewhat surprising that the most interesting stuff here is actually the sequel component. While the talk show wraparound stuff is so nonsensical that it completely disappears for the third act, it at least provides one genuine instance of drama when Norman reveals that he might be forced to kill his pregnant wife in order to stop the Bates bloodline once and for all. As such, the filmís actual climax is intriguing enough, if only because thereís a possibility Norman may relapse. Plus, after thirty years of being invested in his story, thereís as sense of valediction that comes with the ending her. However extraneous Psycho IV may be, it at least feels compelled to give Norman a send-off, complete with one last visit to the infamous Bates stomping grounds: the house, the motel, the whole damn thing.
For that reason, the Psycho franchise stands nearly peerless: most slasher franchises are either interminable or die off with poor box office receipts. This one feels like it has a definitive, scripted endingówell, unless someone really wants to follow up the ďson of PsychoĒ implications here. Somehow, I doubt we have to worry about thatówe might all go a little mad sometimes, but nobodyís going to go that mad.
The last of the main Psycho series to arrive to Blu-ray, The Beginning recently bowed on the high-def format courtesy of Scream Factory, thus completing what they started a few years ago with the release of the first two sequels. Itís more or less worth the wait since the disc boasts a solid presentation and some supplements, including a commentary with Garris, Thomas, and Hussey. Headlining the rest of the supplements is ďThe Making of Mother,Ē a 27-minute interview with make-up artists Tony Gardner, who discusses the various effects work. A 6-minute interview with composer Graeme Revell, some behind-the-scenes footage, and a photo gallery round out the rest of the extras for a marked improvement over the previous release. Itís a long way from just seeing Psycho IV unceremoniously dumped on a DVD alongside the other sequels, thatís for sure. I suppose itís the last weíll hear from Scream Factory on this front unless they actually bother to tackle Bates Motel or Gus Van Santís remake. Speaking of going a little madÖ comments powered by Disqus Ratings: