Psycho IV: The Beginning (Blu-ray)


Psycho 4Starring Anthony Perkins, Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey

Directed by Mick Garris

Distributed by Scream Factory

It really is impressive how the Psycho franchise has expanded so much in the wake of Hitchcock’s original classic. To be more precise, the series’ additions really picked up steam following the release of Richard Franklin’s highly underrated Psycho II (1983). With the marquee value the title brings, and with Norman Bates being one of cinema’s most “celebrated” killers, it seemed inevitable Universal would find a way to keep producing eggs from one of horror’s golden geese. There was a failed attempt at a television series, “Bates Motel” (1987), which remains nothing more than a poorly-conceived curiosity. It wouldn’t be until 2013 that the small screen would find a way to make it work; delivering what is essentially Norma & Norman Bates living in a Twin Peaks-like town. And there, of course, is Gus Van Sant’s abysmal shot-for-shot remake. The less said about that, the better. What those attempts at expansion lacked is exactly what makes the original timeline work: Norman Bates, or more specifically, Anthony Perkins.

There are times when an actor is so inexorably connected to a part that any attempt at recasting is often met with derision, certainly by fans and usually by critics. As much as I would love to see some new life breathed into Freddy Krueger, unless Robert Englund is under the latex I just can’t see it working. You’d have to be a fool to attempt it with someone else… Perkins is Norman Bates. Even when he isn’t, the films he starred in post-Psycho would use his ties to that character and series for marketing. This is part of why I have always felt Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) is half a good film and half a decent film. The picture was directed by Mick Garris, who already had some horror sequel experience after helming Critters 2: The Main Course (1988), and it debuted on Showtime just after Halloween 1990 (why not, you know, on it or before it?). Perkins returns to his mastered role, delivering the film’s best moments, but the other half is told via flashbacks featuring a young Norman (Henry Thomas) and his mother, Norma (Olivia Hussey). And those scenes have never worked all that well for me.

In present day, Norman Bates calls in to a radio show hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder), with special guest Dr. Richmond (Warren Frost), Norman’s former psychologist, to discuss the topic of the night: matricide. Norman gives his name as “Ed” and explains that he killed his mother at a young age and has spent considerable time in a mental institution, having only recently been released. Furthermore, Norman now has a wife, Connie (Donna Mitchell), who works as a nurse at the facility where he was held. She’s also pregnant with Norman’s child, and he fears the baby will inherit his own mental deficiencies. Ambrose tries to dig up Norman’s past, forcing him to remember what it was like growing up with “Mother”, a time he reluctantly recalls during intermittent phone calls.

Flashbacks to his teenage years during the ‘40s and ‘50s explain Norman’s unique relationship with his mother, which was less mother-son and more mother/lover-son/devotee. Not that Norma ever sexually seduced Norman, but there were plenty of instances where her behavior could easily be classified as sensual or erotic. Definitely things you wouldn’t want your own mother doing. And when “little Norman” would think it was time to come out and play, Norma would make her son wear a dress and lock him in the closet. This obviously damaged Norman in serious ways but it was when she brought home her new beau, a lug named Chet (Thomas Schuster), that he snapped. The rest is Psycho history – Norman poisons Norma & Chet, he preserves his mother’s corpse and, when the urge strikes him, he dresses up as “Mother” to mete out cruel justice. Norman’s urges have been suppressed for so many years, but with Connie being pregnant and his seed potentially being “damaged”, Ambrose has to talk him out of becoming “Mother” one more time to kill his wife and end his bloodline.

Henry Thomas does a fine job of playing younger Norman. Hussey is a good actress but I just didn’t care for her in this role. For me, these scenes with the two of them slow the film’s momentum considerably. Why? It’s simple: I hate seeing backstories for horror icons. I don’t care why Michael Myers kills. I don’t care how Freddy became the Dream Master. I don’t care why Jason Voorhees is unstoppable. I don’t care what drove Norman to madness. Now, exceptions can be made and I’ll do so for “Bates Motel” (2013-2017) because the show is far better than it has any right to be and it is so far removed from the Perkins series that the disconnect allows me to view it differently. But here, with Psycho IV, we’ve still got Perkins and it’s only been four years since the last entry. Plus – and this is a big plus – writer Joseph Stefano, returning to the series for the first time since the original – chose to completely ignore the previous two entries. So he essentially had carte blanche to craft a new adventure for Norman. By now everyone has an idea of why Norman is who he is, so why pull back the curtain? This isn’t to say I dislike the scenes with Thomas and Hussey, but Perkins as Norman is the draw so let the man shine.

This would be Perkins last opportunity to play Norman. During filming he was diagnosed with HIV, with the disease claiming his life via pneumonia less than two years later. He made appearances in three more pictures before that time but this is really his swansong. The moments when Perkins is on screen are a reminder of how nobody else could so effortlessly command the role as he did. Psycho IV is an uneven film though by no means is it bad or even mediocre. How many times can Norman tread the same ground? At least the attempt was made to do things differently this time around; a valiant effort made good purely through the work of an actor slipping back into his best character.

Although the picture was lensed for cable, the 1.78:1 1080p image looks quite cinematic. Definition is relatively strong overall but it really gets a chance to show off during closeups. Image clarity fluctuates, with some wider shots looking a little fuzzy. Colors are well saturated and accurate. Film grain is moderate, at times a bit noisy, which is odd because in some shots it looks like some mild DNR has been applied. Universal is known for providing uneven transfers for their catalog and this is no exception. Still, this is also the best the film has ever looked – unquestionably, since it never premiered in theaters and thus was relegated to cable’s resolution.

Likewise, given the cable debut, the audio debuted, and remains, limited with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track carrying the noise. This is a clean and clear track, with no issues whatsoever. Some of the effects enjoy a nice balance and separation, adding a bit of depth. Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score appears for the first time in this series since the original film, nicely tying this entry back to Hitchcock’s. Subtitles are available in English.

The audio commentary, newly recorded, features director Mick Garris, along with actors Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey.

“The Making of Mother with Tony Gardner” – The legendary FX artist talks about getting the gig to craft Norma’s preserved corpse, the rigors of the FX process in Florida’s uncompromising humidity, striving for authenticity, and more.

“Behind the Scenes” – Featuring on-set footage of the film being shot; it’s a cool peek into the world of making movies.

“A Look at the Scoring of Psycho IV” – This is another vintage piece, looking at the score being composed in the studio.

A photo gallery is also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with director Mick Garris, actors Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey
  • NEW The Making of Mother – an interview with make-up effects artist Tony Gardner (27 minutes)
  • Rare Behind-the-Scenes footage from director Mick Garris
  • Photo Gallery of rare photos from Mick Garris

  • Psycho IV: The Beginning
  • Special Features
User Rating 3.5 (6 votes)


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