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Psycho IV: The Beginning

tn_psychoivThere are alot of awful things about PSYCHO IV. It forces Anthony Perkins to play Norman Bates almost delighting in his evil, announcing that he’s going to kill again. It was an early example of the snake-eating-its-tail, dog-licking-its-balls, bird-drawing-a-picture-of-its-egg modern Hollywood attitude that what people want to see is a detailed re-enactment of the backstory that happened before the other movie they already liked. It re-uses way too much dialogue from the original, like “Mother! Oh God Mother, blood! Blood!” and “We all go a little mad sometimes.” It has laughable transitions from flashback to wraparound, like when it dissolves from young Norman laying face first on the floor to old Norman in the same position while telling the story over the phone to a talk radio host (CCH Pounder). And for Christ’s sake it has a part where he cuts his finger in the kitchen and the blood is shown swirling down the sink drain. I mean for fuck’s sake director Mick Garris, Moriarty says you’re a nice guy but come on man. That shit cannot be defended. Norman Bates got off by reason of insanity, you will not.

mp_psychoivLet’s go back to that dialogue thing for a paragraph. Why do they always do that in sequels and prequels? Are we really supposed to be delighted that you don’t come up with new shit for the characters to say? When Norman saw the blood in the original that was a great reaction. Now we’re supposed to believe he’d already said it before, that it’s the traditional thing he says after every murder? And what about when he uses the phrase “Not inordinately”? If this wasn’t a reference to the original it would actually be a good piece of characterization, showing that as a teenager Norman had an above average intelligence that made him awkward around his peers. But no, he says it because Marion Crane also says it in the future. Great.

But as much as I don’t think it’s that good of a movie, there are some things that really work. Henry Thomas was a great choice to play a young Norman Bates, if we have to see one. He’s a great actor, doesn’t seem Hollywood at all and has the vulnerability and lankiness the character requires.

More importantly, I gotta give credit to Olivia Hussey as Norma Bates, the reason for all this. Without her Norman would’ve been an ordinary motel clerk and not the horror icon he became, so let’s acknowledge our debt to Norma. Hussey was good casting because it’s not at all what you’d expect. What I’m getting at is that Mother is much more attractive while alive. With that hair bun and ragged voice I always pictured pre-mummification Mother as a mean old hag, but Norman’s obsession makes so much more sense when you see her this way. She’s pretty, creepily sensual with her son, sometimes nice, often emotionally cruel. She’s also clearly mentally ill. One of the sadder and more disturbing scenes is when young Norman spies on his mother through the hole in the wall in cabin 1. You expect to see her having sex with some sleazeball (maybe I’ve watched too many Rob Zombie movies) but instead she’s alone, having a violent fit, smashing things.

The sex stuff is less interesting. She gets mad at him for getting a boner and makes him dress up as a girl. After her death he murders a cute girl who tries to have sex with him. More of that sex=death stuff we get in so many movies. Not that interesting.

Original PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano returns, but he has Mick “Stephen King TV movies” Garris directing, and not to be controversial or contrarian or anything but – just in my opinion only – I believe Mick Garris is not of the same caliber as Hitchcock. Just my  2 cents.

I should mention what the story’s about. An older looking Perkins (a few years before he died, and knowing he had HIV, wanting to close the circle I guess) plays Bates, a free man again, and wisely having moved to a new house away from the motel and the old stuffy things that remind him of his mother. I would say “mother(s)” except this one seems to ignore all that other mother business that came up in the last one. No, we see him being raised by Norma Bates.

Wait a minute, how the fuck did he get out already? This was made in 1990, by the movie timeline it’s 7 or 8 years after he got caught for a bunch of murders. The mental health system here really needs some work.

Anyway, Norman’s favorite radio show is doing an episode on matricide, so he calls in to give some insights. He calls himself “Ed” (Stefano’s way of saying “I’d like to give a shoutout to the Butcher of Plainfield!”) and tells his story, at which point it flashes back to the Thomas/Hussey scenes.

It all feels kind of inert, because we know the broad strokes of his backstory, just not the details. Like hey, how’s this for a twist? We’ve known since 1960 that Norman killed his mother by poisoning her tea. What we learn in this one is that it was iced tea! Makes sense, because this is California, not England. Take that, Hitchcock. And she liked it with drops of vanilla in it. How would we ever have truly understood Norman Bates if we didn’t revisit this shit? If we even considered his mother’s iced tea preference at all we would’ve guessed maybe a lemon slice or something, but never drops of vanilla. You need a prequel if you’re gonna know that.

By the way, as part of my pursuit of excellence I tried making iced tea with drops of vanilla and drank it while writing this review. Not sure if you can tell, it might give the sentences that extra edge or something. Didn’t taste that great though, I’m not sure it works.

The only mystery to keep you in suspense is who Norman plans to kill. The talk show host and her guest (Dr. Leo Richmond, the doctor from the explanatory last scene of PSYCHO, but not played by the same actor) try to do detective work to figure out who he is, but of course we already know who he is so this isn’t too compelling to watch.

Well it turns out who he plans to kill is (SPOILER) his wife, and the reason is because she’s pregnant. He doesn’t want his mother’s “bad seed” to live on in some other poor bastard, and he especially doesn’t want Mick Garris to be able to do a mini-series about Norman Bates, Jr. Once the movie reaches the climax and starts dealing with this it’s kind of hokey, but I give it a pass because at least we’re back to the idea of Norman’s rehabilitation and realizing what he is and trying to be better, at least in his own sick way. (I wonder if he has considered abortion, though? I know it’s not pleasant, but he should try to talk her into that before jumping straight to murder. I guess maybe he’s pro-life.)

In the end, Norman thinks better of it and says “I’m gonna get rid of the past once and for all” and sets the house on fire. This leads to a pretty laughable sequence of him stumbling out of the burning building haunted by the images of all the people he’s killed (this movie only). But it’s true, that was it, the end of the series, not too long before the end of Perkins’ career. He got to go back to the beginning and then wrap it all up and have kind of a hopeful ending. And that really was the end of PSYCHO… until that remake by Gus Van Sant. But that’s a subject for another day.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2009 at 12:11 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

30 Responses to “Psycho IV: The Beginning”

  1. Yeah I feel kind of bad for Garris, because he seems like a cool guy who really gets horror and tries really hard to make cool, intelligent projects for himself and horror icons, like that Masters of Horror thing. The problem is he fails. A lot. I know people who really love his Stephen King movies and feel he’s the only filmmaker to really ‘get’ King’s work. As someone who’s been a raving fan of Stephen King since I read The Green Mile in fifth grade (I had to ask my Mom what rape was) it kind of bums me out to disagree with that as much as I do.

    In fact Garris shows you exactly why the word-for-word, beat-for-beat translations of King’s books (and books in general) don’t really work. I understand why The Shining makes people tear their hair (as iconic as Nicholson’s performance is, he was miscast) but it beats the shit out of Garris’ version. His four and six hour movies are complete drags, lifeless and dull, cut off from the thing that allows Stephen King books to be such great reads, no matter how tired or pastich his plots are: his inimitable voice.

  2. […] Psycho IV: The Beginning | The Life and Art of Vern […]

  3. Damn, we got suddenly lots of spambots here.

  4. Looks like they finally figured out where the true tastemakers of the Internet hang out.

  5. On Psycho IV: I remember how my mother rented it for her when I was a kid. That was interesting, because my mother never rented a movie for herself before and it even was a movie that was rated “18”, so she didn’t allow my sister and me to come into the living room while the movie was on.
    Anyway, she still complains that “all he did in that movie was talking”.

  6. Vern – About the abortion thing, didn’t Bates say that she refused to have one? Thats my memory of that.

    Yeah its not as good as the earlier PSYCHO pictures. And “good” is rather iffy here. But shit, its interesting in what works.

    Primarily Perkins having to act the shit out in his monologue moments really. That’s the best stuff in PSYCHO IV, not the FX or origins or whatever. Its him verbally making it all work.

  7. I would like to debate the notion that Mick Garris “gets” horror. I’ve heard that a few times for different directors. What I noticed is that all these guys that supposedly “get” horror, they tend to make a lot of sucky horror movies. If you really “get” horror, shouldn’t you be making all these amazingly scary and interesting horror films?

  8. Hi Vern, I was wondering if you could get the archive links on top (alphabetical, years) to work. When I click on them, I get an error message saying it overloaded:

    “Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 33554432 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 79735 bytes) in /home1/outlawve/public_html/wp-content/plugins/azindex/az-index-content.php on line 189”

    That makes it hard to find and enjoy your older reviews.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  9. Well, I’m not sure what other guys you may be referring to, but at least with Garris, the interviews and pieces I’ve seen with him where he talks about horror, he comes across as an extremely intelligent guy who understands the deeper levels that filmmakers and writers try to get across. When he talks about Stephen King, its clear that he is a genuine fan who understands all the stuff I brought up and works really hard to convey all those aspects that fans love. But he fails. A lot. And that’s what I mean when I say I feel bad for the guy.

  10. I did not remember that this one was made by Garris. I did remember that it was lame. Well, then.

    He talks the talk, all right. But as I learned from years of reading magazine interviews with directors about their upcoming films — and then actually seeing those films — that doesn’t mean much.

    Ever notice how some of the best directors, like Lynch or the Coens, are extremely inarticulate about their work? (Though I suppose you can find just as many cases of the inverse, like Scorsese, so never mind that notion as a general theory.)

  11. Well with the Coens it seems like they’re completely bored by all the questions they have to do, like they’d rather be at home sleeping or something then having to deal with the rest of us. And as for Lynch, I think he’s perfectly willing to discuss the mechanics of his process, where he gets his ideas, how he executes them, what he’s trying to do, its just when people start asking him “What does it mean” that he gets all stand-offish. Garris is a different problem, one that I think recurs with people like Rob Zombie or Eli Roth, they can look at other works and pinpoint what makes them affective and well done, but when they try to do it themselves, something gets screwed up.

  12. The Coen Brothers are like that. An interviewer will point out some theme in their work and they’ll be like, “Huh. Yeah, I guess so.” But after the Blood Simple commentary you never know how much of that is an act with those guys.

  13. Well, Majestyk, with a hook like that… what did they do on the BLOOD SIMPLE commentary?

  14. M. Casey: The commentary track is supposed to be by a filmmaker named “Kenneth Loring” but his observations about the making of the film become more and more ridiculous as it goes on. Turns out there’s no such guy as Kenneth Loring and the whole thing was scripted by the Coen brothers themselves.

  15. Mick Garris’s Stephen King stuff pales in comparison to Frank Darabont’s, now THERE’S a filmmaker who “gets” King (also Rob Reiner, but he’s only directed two Stephen King movies)

    the Mick Garris Stephen King stuff although not terrible, does suffer from that bland “made for tv” feel

  16. http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/kenneth_loring.html

    Oddly enough, there is a park named Loring in Minneapolis. Coincidence, I’m sure.

  17. I’ve never read an interview with Garris but if he does come off as that intelligent I would be surprised. His movies are almost uniformly terrible. His King stuff is especially bloated and cheap. Faithful yes…but still garbage. Like Griff said Darabont is the only real director who seems to be on the same wave length as King(Dark Tower adaptation please). Though George Romero is a close second. Maybe he’ll prove that if he can ever get From a Buick 8 off the ground.

  18. So Vern, are you going to write something on the Gus Van sant remake? As a fan of the film, I would love to read your take on it.

  19. CCH Pounder is so great. She has such gravity, such presence, yet is so nuanced.

  20. I’ve always felt that King’s storytelling is fairly generic. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s what makes him so readable. But it’s this generic quality that explains why film adaptations of his work range so drastically in quality. Filmmakers like Kubrick, De Palma, Cronenberg and Darabont can take his stuff and run with it, while filmmakers like Mick Garris just take his writing at face value and churn out Movie of the Week material.

  21. See I disagree Gwai. The thing that I love about King’s writing is he can tell you a story about anything and make it interesting, make you give a shit. Whether he’s writing about dimension hopping cowboys, killer dogs or a marital dispute, the man can make it seem like the greatest, newest tale ever told. When you take him out of it, you are left with generic stuff. What Kubrick and Depalma and Reiner and Darabont do perfectly is find the beating heart or the black twisted soul of the stories and screw around with it.

  22. I think we’re dealing with a matter of semantics here. It’s not King’s storytelling that’s generic; it’s his subject matter. When you remove his voice and his way of drawing you into a story and making you feel like this killer ____ story is the best goddamn killer ____ story you ever read, all you’re left with is another killer ____ story.

  23. Olivia Hussey, this woman used to be one of the most beautiful women in film, became an immediate sex symbol thanks to Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet (the movie, not the play, that’s from Ol’ Bill). And she stared in that horror classic Black Christmas as well, which i never saw, only the dreadful remake. Oh yeah, what was i saying? Oh yeah, Olivia Hussey, once upon a time one of the most gorgeaus woman in movies. Truly.

  24. Mick Garris directed “The Stand” (nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Miniseries of 1994) and the remake of “The Shining” (nominated as Outstanding Miniseries of 1997) which were solid efforts. “Psycho IV” is pretty good for the fourth of a series, as well as a made-for-TV movie from 1990. At least they had the writer of the original, Joseph Stefano, and the star of “E.T.” Henry Thomas (who would also appear in Garris’ adaptation of Desperation). I kind of liked the way they gave Norman a happy ending. Despite his horrible nature, he was weirdly likable. (Rest-in-peace Anthony Perkins.)

  25. Did you really like his version of THE SHINING though? I haven’t seen it in more than a decade but at least at the time I thought it was just unbelievable that King wanted to make that to replace one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I remember a cgi possessed firehose and Jack showing up as a ghost at the end to attend Danny’s high school graduation. And I remember him yelling “Time to take your medicine!” alot. Is it better than I remember?

    Also, can we get a ROOM 237 II that’s all about fans’ obsessive theories about that mini-series? It would be short, of course.

  26. “and Jack showing up as a ghost at the end to attend Danny’s high school graduation”

    hahaha, what the hell? that doesn’t happen in the book

    I’ve never seen that miniseries and only pure curiosity could make me, the way I see it if you want a The Shining experience more faithful to the book, just read the book, it’s a good one and well worth reading, that miniseries really doesn’t have any reason to exist

  27. “that doesn’t happen in the book”

    That´s some damn fine irony there

  28. speaking of Stephen King, does anyone find it a little odd that adaptions of his work all but disappeared for a while there? the last theatrical movie was The Mist in 2007 and the last miniseries was Nightmares and Dreamscapes in 2006, since then there was that DTV movie of Dolan’s Cadillac nobody’s seen and the made for TV movie of Bag of Bones nobody watched and that’s about it

    I’m happy they’re coming back though

  29. It might have to do something with King not being the pop culture phenomenon anymore, that he was in the 80s. He still has his fans, his books are still successful and get the Woody Allen treatment* from critics, but most people moved on. I remember when I was a kid, bookstores had huge tables full of King books, but unless they are new releases, they are now just sitting there on the “K” shelf.

    *According to the critics, every new Woody movie is “His best work in years and a return to form” and apparently they say the same thing about King’s novels.

  30. “*According to the critics, every new Woody movie is “His best work in years and a return to form” and apparently they say the same thing about King’s novels.”

    heh, sometimes it’s true though, I’ve read every King book that’s come out since 2008 and I can safely say that 11/22/63 is the best one he’s written in that period of time

    also, I would say King continues to be pretty relevant, especially compared to other authors, nobody gives a fuck about Tom Clancy or John Grisham these days for example

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