Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

*. While not great movies, Psycho II and Psycho III were at least competently made, not without interest, and in general did nothing to shame the Psycho legacy. They were better than the usual slasher fare at the time and weren’t obvious cash grabs. Faint praise? Maybe. But still praise.
*. Psycho IV: The Beginning keeps this flickering flame alive. It’s not a movie I’d recommend to anyone, but it’s reasonably well done, and offers up something a little different not just from the usual slasher fare I mentioned, but from the previous two sequels as well.
*. That break within the franchise was intentional. It’s signalled in the opening credits  by the return of Bernard Herrmann’s score, which wasn’t used in Psycho II or III. Then you see Joseph Stefano’s name come up as the writer. He hadn’t been involved in the previous two films and chose to ignore them and all the stuff about Norman’s “real” mother. So basically this is a direct sequel to Psycho. I mean, at the end of Psycho III Norman is sent packing to the asylum and told he’s never getting out again, but here he’s adjusting quite nicely to a life of freedom. He even has a wife and a baby on the way. That affair with the ex-nun must have just been a dream.
*. The script emphasizes the horror of Norman being abused by his mother over more traditional movieland scares. That may be why Stephen King, who loves this kind of domestic terror, rated this his favourite Psycho sequel. Stefano really throws a witches’ brew of bad-mother psychology at us. It’s like he took to heart the criticism of the psychiatric evaluation at the end of Psycho and decided to double down on it. And since the bar had been raised so high for this kind of stuff after Sybil (1976) he had to go all out.

*. Of course Stefano can’t help but borrow some lines from thirty years earlier. “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” “Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!” But there are also some real curveballs thrown into the mix. For example, when making out with an older woman, she comes up for air and tells Norman “You got a tongue like an elephant’s memory.” I think this just means that his tongue is long (as elephants never forget). But it took me a moment to figure it out. Then at the end Norman, upset that Connie doesn’t trust him, chides her by saying “All that faith and no potatoes.” This totally went over my head.
*. Did you ever wonder what happened to Henry Thomas after E.T.? Well, he’s kept working. A lot. But this may be the second-best known thing he’s done.

*. And he isn’t bad. But does he resemble Anthony Perkins much? Not physically, and I don’t think he really gets any of the budding mannerisms either. He also seems a bit big to be getting slapped around by his mom so completely. I think for that part of the story to be convincing the abuse would have had to begin much earlier.
*. So all this time Norma Bates was Olivia Hussey. I always thought she was Betsy Palmer. This Norma certainly doesn’t seem repressed so much as sexually bipolar.
*. An interesting move to make Mother a sexy young thing. Hussey even puts on a bit of Blanche DuBois. You almost expect to see her soaking in a hot tub. And with Chet she’s finally found her Stanley.
*. Director Mick Garris is a noted horror aficionado, which made him a good choice to helm this one. It’s more an appendix to Psycho than a movie that tries to scare you on its own. The murder scenes are all perfunctory. Think Herrmann’s strings and a bloody upraised knife. Because the whole story is told in flashback there’s no suspense. You know Norman is going to poison his mother and her toy-boy, a scene that when it finally arrives is dragged out interminably. But the story still holds a special fascination, as though it’s telling us something important.

*. The frame of the story strikes me as a gimmick, and not a very convincing one. Norman phones in to a radio talk show about sons who kill their mothers, hosted by CCH Pounder. Then, on air, he tells the history of what drove him to matricide. A superfluous psychiatrist in the studio walks out in a huff. Despite being bad radio, program chief John Landis encourages Pounder to keep Norman on air, telling his story. This becomes important because Norman reveals he wants to kill his wife because she is pregnant and, having seen The Bad Seed, he doesn’t want there to be any Son of Psycho sequels. All of this leads, with mounting improbability, to a climax in the now ramshackle Bates mansion.
*. Though very different from the previous sequels I don’t think Psycho IV is any better or much worse. But it’s ultimately more a curiosity than a horror movie, and too outlandish in content and structure to provide much in the way of compelling drama.

3 thoughts on “Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I should get some notes up on that one! I think this was one of Perkins’ last movies and he doesn’t look well at all. Next up, however, there’s still more Psycho.


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