Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

You’ve met Norman … now meet mother.

During a late night phone-in, Norman Bates shares memories of his childhood with a radio talk show host. During the conversation, he reveals that he is planning to kill his wife who is with child after abstaining from birth control. Norman doesn’t want any children for fear that they will turn out the same way as he did.

 

A far, far cry from Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary original, Psycho IV: The Beginning ends up as a lowly TV movie which acts as both a prequel and a conclusion to the series. I’m sure Hitchcock would turn in his grave if he saw how far the series had fallen – or maybe he’d be impressed that his original film was still considered sequel-worthy thirty years later. After two extremely belated cinematic sequels in the 80s (which clearly attempted to cash on the slasher boom), this third sequel sent straight-to-TV which is never a good sign. It’s a pity because Psycho IV: The Beginning is not that bad and sets its sights out a lot higher than it should do.

Rather than continue to dole out the same formula as the previous few films (is Norman killing people or isn’t he?), this one opts to turn more psychological and tries to explore some of the themes that the original Psycho suggested. Of course Mick Garris is no Hitchcock but at least the film tries to turn itself into something a little more than the TV movie sequel it is. The best parts of the film are those which involved flashbacks to Norman’s childhood and his domineering mother. With disturbing and blatantly suggested tones of incest, the scenes between the two characters are a fascinating explanation into the psyche of Norman. Whilst I’m usually against prequels feeling the need to explain everything and anything about the original, at least the material we’re presented here makes sense because there’s little shock revelation. We knew that Norman had a pretty screwed upbringing from the first film and this simply expands on everything we thought was true.

Unfortunately the film sets itself up with an improbable story – how on Earth is Bates a free man after the murders he has committed in the previous films? He’s got a wife, an unborn child and looks to have a decent, uncontrolled life. The story makes it seems like this is the norm for any former mental patients – not to mention the fact he married his former psychologist which I’m sure breaches codes of conduct for the professionals. The scenes with the older Bates feel a little more routine and run-of-the-mill and are simply there to pad out the beginning and end of the film. The film clearly runs out of ideas in the final third too and just has Norman snap and go crazy again, stalking his wife through the Bates Motel. It’s a pity it resorts to this as I’m sure there were other suitable things that could have been done to give the character some finality.┬áThis sequel doesn’t really gel with the others too much and is a little slow going at times, especially during the first half. Almost as if the film exists purely to explain Norman’s past, there’s little dramatic purpose to the proceedings. Criminally, there’s little in the way of scares too.

The strength of the film lies in its cast and Psycho IV: The Beginning is well acted across the board, in particular the three leads. At least all of the original Psycho films featured Anthony Perkins in the lead role to keep continuity (talk about being typecast though, does anyone remember Perkins doing anything else?). Perkins always managed to nail the role to a tee and was the sole constant throughout the series. Like slipping on an old pair of shoes, Perkins effortlessly assumes the mantle of one of cinema’s most notorious characters.

Henry Thomas plays the young version of Norman in the flashbacks and he’s equally as impressive. He manages to mimic and nail Perkins’ traits down to a tee so you never question whether this is the same character. Olivia Hussey co-stars in the role of Norman’s mother, the originally-named Norma. One moment she’s caring and sweet, the next a cruel sadist who liked to punish Norman. After three films of build-up and hints at what Norman had to suffer as a boy, his mother is finally revealed and she’s a nasty piece of work.

 

Psycho IV: The Beginning gets unfairly criticised in most quarters and compared to the original, yes it’s justified. But it’s not a bad sequel, doesn’t really tarnish the reputation of Hitchcock’s original and is certainly much better than its given credit for. What would you rather have seen: Norman Bates turning into some sort of Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees style slasher or try and give the character some more depth and humanity? Actually don’t answer that…..

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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