Psycho IV: The BeginningBlu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Mick Garris
Written by Joseph Stefano
1990, 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 23rd, 2016
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates
Olivia Hussey as Norma Bates
Henry Thomas as Young Norman
CCH Pounder as Fran Ambrose
Warren Frost as Dr. Leo Richmond
Donna Mitchell as Connie Bates
John Landis as Mike Calveccio
Talk radio personality Fran Ambrose is hosting a show with the theme of matricide, and speaking with her guest Dr. Leo Richmond. He references a case from thirty years ago about a patient that kept his dead mother “alive” by absorbing her personality, dressing in her clothes and speaking in her voice. Things get interesting however when a man identifying himself as “Ed” calls in and confesses that not only is he a convicted mother killer, but that he has murdered other women and is preparing to do so again. Fran and Dr. Richmond encourage him to stay on the line and share details of his life in hopes of preventing him from committing further crimes. As details emerge, the doctor quickly realizes that “Ed” is actually his former patient, Norman Bates. Ambrose keeps him talking until she can figure out the best course of action, but the doctor warns her that if she refuses to call the authorities and fails to soothe Bates in pursuit of ratings, the blood will be on her hands.
Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) is an interesting film that closes out the franchise, serving as both a sequel and a prequel. Psycho II (1983) and Psycho III (1986) are largely ignored, but there is a brief line of dialogue near the end where Norman mentions “the later murders from four years ago”. The main thrust of this tale is the origin story that explores the character of Norma Bates and the manipulative relationship with her teenaged son who would one day murder her. In all previous installments, Mother Bates is an old shrunken monster that harangues her adult son into committing crimes whenever she feels threatened. Never have we witnessed the youthful, beautiful woman the boy grew up loving. Witnessing her erratic and frequently manic behavior gives viewers a glimpse into not only how Norman was raised to feel about women, but also how he is terrified of relapsing into previous behavior now that he is “cured” and facing a life-changing event. Screenwriter Joe Stefano adapted Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho for the 1960 film and returns thirty years later to pen Psycho IV, with very satisfying results. Director Mick Garris (The Stand) tells this intimate story in a dynamic way that creatively explores both timelines without getting bogged down in the process. It is easy to imagine this story presented as a theatrical play with its small number of locations and characters, and Garris pulls the best performances from his highly talented cast.
Anthony Perkins (The Black Hole) slips comfortably back into the role that made him famous thirty years prior, but now audiences get to see a new side of Norman Bates. He is an older man, well aware of the warning signs that he may be slipping into old habits once again and actively reaching out for help. His screen time for the first half of the film is limited, but he takes a commanding lead in the operatic final act. This picture marks the fourth and final time Perkins would play the tormented character he became synonymous with and it is nice to see them both receive a satisfying sense of closure. Henry Thomas (Dead Birds) is given the difficult task of playing Norman as an adolescent and rises to the challenge admirably. There are certainly echoes of Perkins’ performance, but Thomas disappears into the character and makes it his own. The delightful Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas) is alternately sympathetic and terrifying as the unbalanced Norma Bates. She is so wonderful here that it is easy to forget danger lurks just beneath the surface and when released, Hussey is magnificent. Her chemistry with Thomas is both sweet and unsettling and this film benefits tremendously from their casting. CCH Pounder (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) is Fran Ambrose, who shares most of her scenes with the combative Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost, Twin Peaks) and the suspense generated is a testament to the talents of those involved, particularly since their interactions with Norman are exclusively by phone.
The Psycho films are character studies with horror elements mixed in as they explore the many layers of the repressed anti-hero Norman Bates. In the original film, he is a socially awkward young man running an isolated motel with his sick mother. Audiences are hoping he will be able to cover up her crimes without getting caught; the slowly sinking car in the swamp is a perfect example, and when his true nature is revealed it is still possible to find sympathy for the man. The sequels push this emotional connection further, with Bates frequently the victim of other people’s manipulation. The role lives and dies with Anthony Perkins, and while his career extended well outside this series it is always a welcome sight to see him turn on the motel’s Vacancy sign. Psycho (1960) remains at the top of my list of horror recommendations and while the franchise is a bit uneven, I really enjoy all four films.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is a solid transfer filled with rich colors and deep, inky blacks. There is a deliberate shift in palette as we switch locations and time periods with the past being the most vibrant.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 gets the job done with this dialogue-driven film and really comes to life whenever Bernard Hermann’s classic score kicks in.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Mick Garris is joined by Olivia Hussey and Henry Thomas for an entertaining and highly informative commentary track. The director dominates the conversation but does so in a very unassuming way, while Hussey admits to not having seen the film since its release and Thomas appears uncomfortable receiving praise for his work. Commentary highlights include the fact that both cast members received great fame as child actors, and Garris sharing stories of Tony Perkins’ protective and challenging nature. I’ll give the director points for asking Thomas about Dead Birds, but I’ll take them back for neglecting to ask Hussey about Black Christmas.
Make-up effects legend Tony Gardner discusses his work in the segment The Making of Mother (28 minutes), and is an instantly likeable guy who really seems to appreciate the work he has gotten to create. He talks about the experience of working on a legendary franchise and what it was like to meet some of his idols.
Garris provides a pair of archival video gems with a collection of behind-the-scenes footage (13 minutes) shot on the first day of principal photography, and a look at one of the scoring sessions (6 minutes) as an orchestra performs the film’s main themes. Each of these segments serves as a unique time capsule to the making of this movie and both are equally welcome additions to this release. If I have one complaint about the behind the scenes content, it is that there is not an additional hour of material included from throughout the shooting schedule. What we do get is fascinating and leaves me wanting so much more.
A photo gallery (6 minutes) plays dozens of images from the making of the film as a slide show accompanied by music from the soundtrack.