Years after his last killing spree in PSYCHO III, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) now leads a normal life with a wife in tow. But when he calls in a radio talk show that's addressing matricide (the killing of one's mother), Norman shares WHY he killed his momma and that he's about to kill again (and I don't blame him taking into account the why behind that decision). Poor Norman, will the dude ever find inner peace?
PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING
didn't get into theaters like the 3 other films did (due to the underrated PSYCHO III
not winning the the public and the critics over), it was made for cable TV (Showtime). That's not to say that they didn't whip out the big guns (or knives) for this big bad Momma. They brought back Bernard Herrmann's classic score from the original (the only PSYCHO sequel to use it), it acted as a sequel to PSYCHO III and a prequel to PSYCHO at the same time and the cherry on top, original PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano returned to the shower to bring the series full circle by writing this one as well. Pretty ambitious if you ask me! So did they pull it off? Yes and no.
There was a lot to love about PSYCHO IV. The structure of the flick appealed to me as they went from the present to the past slyly connecting both narrative lines via words that were said or visual cues. Clever stuff! Director Mick Garris did an admirable job behind the lens. He kept it simple, upped his style during key moments while randomly visually referencing the original Hitchcock classic. He also managed to evoke some tension during some scenes. Kudos! The casting was on the ball as well. Anthony Perkins was at his most affable here. Throughout the franchise, I've always had sympathy for Norman, but here, it was jacked up to an all new level. The horrors he survived in the past, coupled with the dilemma he was faced with in the present and Perkins visceral show made sure that I was on Team Norman the whole way. This film was to be Perkins swan song in the role of Bates and I am happy that he went out on top! Then we had Young Henri Thomas who did the role justice as young Norman. He gave an internalized show for the most part and it was only near the end, when the tide turned, that he put out the Perkins like face twitches. I thought that was a smart move, it accentuated that crucial moment, the one, that turned Norman's tide to full on nutso.
On her end, Olivia Hussey was inspired casting as Norman's mother. And props to her for taking on such a twisted role! A far cry from her star making turn as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1968). Norma seduced her son indirectly and every time he'd respond to her advances, she'd punish him for it. One second she was nice and then bam, out of left field she was a bitch from hell. Talk about INSANE! It was maddening watching her abuse poor Norman, no wonder the dude confused sexual impulses with death down the road. Add to all that able production designs (pretty impressive for a film of this modest budget, specially the period stuff), a potent score by Graeme Revell, some fine work by CCH Pounder as the radio host and an ending that gave the Norman character proper closure (although that finale did come with its faults, more on that below) and you get a tight little film with its dead beat heart in the right place. A for effort, I truly mean that! Which makes it a tad of a shame that the script wasn't up to snuff.
Now I won't dwell on the continuity errors when taking into account the past films, I'm not the nitpicking type. I noticed them and let them go quicker than you could spell “taxidermy". But what did annoy me though was the one sided feel of it all. Norma was written as an evil character and that was it. I had zero sympathy for her and it was all so black and black. That took away as to WHY Norman would love her, the potential of their layered relationship and the bulk of the story's impact. The current TV show Bates Motel
is doing a much better job at giving us a well rounded and nuanced Norma. And why the hell did Stephano write the Connie character aka Norman's wife (Donna Mitchell) the way he did? It was almost like he didn't realize that he basically created the real monster of the movie.
I couldn't let go of what she did to Norman, specially when taking into account his past, his wants, his fears (that he shared with her) and that she's a trained nurse at that. So I was half and half as to the ending of the film. Norman got closure, good, but it went against what I wanted in terms of Connie's fate. The flick downplayed what she did, she f*cking tricked him and that was WRONG. She's a conniving bitch that should have gotten what she deserves (Is it obvious that I related to that subplot?). On top of that some ideas that I am sure read swell on paper didn't translate well onscreen. That happened a couple of times here specially at the end which tossed “something” out there and the result was cheesiness as opposed to gripping. Lastly, one big question still remained as the end credits rolled. How did Young Norman get away with his past crimes? How did he get away with it? Did I miss something? NOTE: Just like in PSYCHO III, they force fed the line: "Mother! Oh God, Mother! Blood! Blood!" here too. Didn't like or buy it...again.
With that stabbed, I enjoyed PSYCHO IV,it was ambitious and had lots of the right pieces in place... the only thing that was lacking was a sterner back-bone i.e. a stronger script. I leave ya with a sweet quote from Norma: "Get off of me! You are going to learn to forget all about that filthy thing of yours! Here put this on! Girl! Yes, girl! Mama's little girl!" Yeah...
We get one pair of ta-tas courtesy of the lovely Sharen Camille. Gracias guapa!
PSYCHO IV sported able directing and outstanding performances by Anthony Perkins, Henri Thomas and Olivia Hussey. It also shot higher than the norm with its ambitious storyline, acting as a prequel and a sequel at the same time with mixed results. I did respect the attempt though. It's too bad the script wasn't more layered and that we didn't get a more layered Norma. Moreover some bits came off as cheesy and the Connie character (the true villain in this film) was all kinds of wrong in the way she was handle. In closing, I found it to be an acceptable way for the PSYCHO franchise to end. Further sequels would have been overkill. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates left us with class! So even though it's my least favorite PSYCHO movie, it will always have a special place in my rock of a heart.