SEPTEMBER 29, 2009
And so it ends. It took me something like 17 years (I think I was about 12 when I first saw the original), but I have finally seen all four Psycho movies, now that I’ve given Psycho IV: The Beginning a complete watch. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years through Sci-Fi channel airings and such, but not even enough to tell you what the movie was about beyond Norman talking to a radio show. And now I know it’s not really about much else.
Psycho IV suffers from the same problems that nearly all prequels do, which is that it’s building toward an ending that we already know about (in this case, Norman killing his mother). And unlike say, the Star Wars prequels or When Harry Met Lloyd, Psycho is a SUSPENSE series, so we have an entry that is nearly devoid of suspense by its own design. The modern day story concerns whether or not Norman will kill his new wife, but even that doesn’t make up for it since we only spend about 47 seconds with the woman, so the scenes of him chasing her aren’t any more compelling than the opening kill of any generic slasher movie. “Who is this person, why should we care about her?” I would stop short of calling the movie pointless, but after the great II and sleazy fun diversion of III, this one just doesn’t even come close to par.
It’s also riddled with puzzling matters. For example, why has Norman been let out after only 4 years? And why is his wife (a nurse at the institution) so willing to accept that a guy coming out of his second hospital stay for multiple homicides is perfect marriage (and father) material? Some have suggested that the film is ignoring II and III, and that he is referring only to his original (only) lockup (which would put him in there for about 30 years), but at one point he mentions that he last killed four years before (Psycho III was 1986, this film is 1990). It’s almost like for every little detail they got right they got another wrong.
And to keep the film “interesting”, Norman’s flashbacks are presented out of order, which allows him to tell the over-arcing story of him and his mother, while giving us a few kill scenes in between. These scenes, of course, occur AFTER his mother’s death, but there is no visual clue or on-screen date card to place these scenes into immediate context. When I’m telling someone a story, I tend not to randomly jump ahead 3 or 4 years to tell a quick anecdote and then go back those few years to proceed with the real story, but that’s exactly what Norman does here. Hell, he even begins one such story by saying "I don't know how I ended up in a car with an older woman..." Yeah, because no one could think of any logical reason for such nonsense so they just skipped it for the sake of adding another kill. But without these largely worthless scenes, the film would only have two kills (at the very end), so Mick Garris and Joe Stefano chose spectacle over structure.
Luckily, the film is saved by another fine Perkins performance. He has to split his screen time with Henry Thomas (also quite good), but it’s not an issue. After all, he’s not front and center for the original film either, and once again, he is toeing the line between crazy and trying to stay sane. The final sequence, where he is trying to escape the burning house and the ghosts of his victims, is easily the film’s highlight, and because Perkins is so good, you are still rooting for him to get out and be OK, even when constantly reminded of the people he has killed.
If anything, the movie could have used a little less time with Perkins and more with the wife. Like I said before, we never really get to know this woman. She marries a committed murderer - is she batshit herself? Hell, why didn’t the movie just take place in the institution and have Norman tell this story to HER instead of some random radio host (one who doesn’t even factor into the film’s climax), intercut with modern day scenes where she is becoming attached to him and we are left to wonder if he will kill her or if she will help him get better? There, I just made a better movie. In my head.
Speaking of the radio show, Garris goes out of his way to show a scene where one of the wife’s co-workers turns on the radio show that Norman is on. Not long after this scene, he identifies himself and announces his plan to kill his wife (to prevent her from having a child and carrying on the Bates legacy - most noble reason for killing one’s wife ever!), yet the co-worker is never seen again. Why bother setting it up?
In the end, it’s a fairly lackluster entry without any real drive or tension to it. Perkins and the rest of the cast give it their all, and casting the eternally hot Olivia Hussey as Mrs. Bates is a stroke of genius (one understands why Norman gets so uncomfortably attached to her - this wouldn’t work if they had gotten some hag), but the story just isn’t up to snuff. Luckily for everyone, the only way to own this movie on DVD is to buy it with the other two, far superior sequels, so I will forevermore consider it a DVD extra: I'll never watch it again, but it adds a bit of value to the main feature.
What say you?