PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING
Director: Mick Garris
Year of release: 1990
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 96 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Taglines: "You've met Norman...Now meet Mother" and "Before the terror can end...See how it all began".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Seemingly rehabilitated and back in society, Norman calls into a late night radio talk-show where a discussion is in progress on the subject of psychology and murder. In chatting to the host Norman reveals some of his history as he tells stories from his early years spent living with his Mother, a woman prone to mood swings and possible schizophrenia. After probing from the both the host and other callers Norman reveals the torment his younger self endured while trapped in a far from ideal living situation. As the circumstances surrounding his Mother’s murder begin to come to light the host worries that Norman is once again standing on the precipice of insanity, possibly very close to killing again.
Good points: *There is good acting in the two lead roles of Norman and his Mother. As expected by this point Antony Perkins is as good as ever in the Norman role and Olivia Hussey as the unbalanced Mother puts in a suitably kooky and unhinged performance.
The radio host character is also likeable, quite a moral individual who seems genuinely interested in trying to help Norman and prevent him from falling back into his old ways. This is made more noticeable by how her colleagues seem just the opposite and are mostly interested in the ratings and just creating a juicy segment for the show.
*Very mild spoilers: An effort is made to use little touches from the original and in some cases we see how these began. For example we learn that even as a young teen Norman had his interest in taxidermy and it’s through this that he had a knowledge of the techniques needed to attempt to preserve the corpse of his Mother. In addition, maybe the roots of Norman’s transvestitism are shown in the scene where he’s locked in a closet.
Other smaller things which tie in with the Norman characteristics or habits from previous films are the fondness for bags of candy/sweets, the use of peepholes and the swamp behind the motel being utilised for body disposal for what was perhaps the first time.
*Big spoiler: I enjoyed how unlike the other films in the franchise this one had a more upbeat ending with Norman finding peace. In torching his Mother’s old room and the house as a whole he was symbolically putting the whole business behind him. Seeing that Norman has never quite been your typical monster and has always had a sympathetic aspect to him It was nice as a viewer to leave him on a positive note, happy with his wife and future child. Maybe a bit too often within the genre films end with something that indicates the evil isn’t quite dead and might one day come back so it was cool here for things to be rounded off in a much more wholesome positive way with Norman sane and content.
Bad Points: *Although as mentioned already there are measures put in place to tie the film in with the original it is somewhat lacking in continuity when it comes to the franchise as a whole. It ignores much of what the second and third film had established and is in effect a straightforward sequel to the original more than anything while ignoring the others. In wouldn’t make sense for example for Norman to be released from the asylum for a second time after the ending in number three so presumably they’re just glossing over all the material from films numbers two and three and doing their own thing. It also completely ignores the Mrs Spool character who was supposed to be responsible for the death of Norman’s father. Here however they cook up the idea of him having been stung to death by bees which seems an odd way to write his demise. This standpoint of ignoring much of what had occurred before isn’t done quite as glaringly or obviously as with something like say the 2018 Halloween but it’s along those lines. Being a fan of the franchise though and not just the original this didn’t sit well with me. Once I worked out it was going down this route it left me a bit disgruntled and I then couldn’t get into it as much or properly enjoy it.
*As good a job as Olivia Hussey did with her portrayal of Mother I found the character a bit hard to swallow. Previously I’d always (probably incorrectly) envisioned Norman’s Mother as being an elderly woman, plump with short curly grey hair etc. To see her here as an attractive middle aged woman very much went against the image that I conjured up of her in my mind. I’m being silly I know as Norman was likely to have been in his late twenties/early thirties in the original so with his Mother dead maybe ten years or so at that point it stands to reason she’s only have been in her late forties/early fifties just prior to her death at the oldest. As Norman always voiced her in his delusions with kind of an old lady voice though I always pictured her as a pensioner. To see her as a much younger woman in this film came as a jarring shock. It’s more just my silly interpretation of the character though as opposed to a problem with the film.
*The young Norman seen here comes across as very introverted and tight lipped, not really saying much and appearing quite wooden at times. With this type of personality you wouldn’t think he’d attract much female attention but he somehow does in the forms of both a young girl and an older woman. It’s a bit unrealistic to me though that not one but two females would come on to such a quiet uncharismatic guy and it doesn’t fit with the Norman personality we know from the other entries where he’s much more chatty and even charming at times. His personality could evolve over time I understand but the point about attracting the females here with his quiet demeanour still stands.
Verdict: After really enjoying the previous films in the Psycho franchise I came into this one with high expectations but I came away feeling disappointed. It couldn’t live up to what I’d hoped it would be. It’s not a bad film by any means but when held in comparison to the others I don’t think it’s on the same level. I didn’t like how it largely ignores parts two and three plus I think some of the scenes shown between a young Norman and his Mother would have been best left to the imagination in hindsight. It would have been better to have left it as a trilogy I think with an element of mystery hanging over Mother with it being left to our own interpretation to surmise what could have happened between the pair. All that said though there is some good acting here in places and I did like how it concludes.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Horny girl: Stabbed in the upper chest multiple times.
2)Older woman: Strangled with rope with body dumped in the swamp.
3)Mother: Poisoned with something being put in her drink.
4)Chet: Poisoned in the same manner as #3.
Review added on the 29th of July 2020.