Thursday, October 27, 2016

Movies That Suck/Franchises: Psycho. Psycho (1998)

Check in, relax, take a shower... and the guy from
Swingers and Fred Clause will jerk it will while
watching you.
I remember being in the Smoky Mountains with my mom and grandmother, as well as possibly some others whom I can't remember now, in October of 1998 when we saw a TV spot for this film (Universal was obviously planning far ahead, as it didn't come out until December). I didn't know what it was and I don't remember the details of it but my mom recognized it as Psycho from certain shots like the eye looking through the peephole. At that point, I had yet to see the original but I certainly knew of it and its sequels, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, so I had some type of knowledge as to what this movie was. I saw a few more TV spots as it got closer to its release, one of which I remembered as it turned the film of a shot of Marion's hand sliding down the bathroom wall during the shower scene negative, and I even got a glimpse of a box-office report on the film when it came out on Entertainment Tonight (one of my parents just happened to have it on) but that was it until I entered middle school a couple of years later, when I began seeing the VHS for it in stores. I would look at the back and read it whenever I saw it, as I always did with the video box for any movie that intrigued me, but I still didn't think much of it until 2000 when I finally saw the original and became a big fan of it. It was around that time when I began to realize that this movie was not only a remake of the original but a virtual carbon copy, which it caught a lot of flack for (despite a fair three-star of five rating, John Stanley spent the entry he devoted to the film in his Creature Features book pointing out how utterly inane it is). Even at that young age of 13 going on 14, I knew that was a very unusual idea. I understood that the idea of a remake was to tell the same story in a different way while, at the same time, keeping enough of the elements so as not to lose the identity of the source, but redoing it shot for shot, line for line? Hmm. I'd be lying, though, if I said I wasn't a little intrigued as to how it turned out and so, when I got the chance to see the movie on USA in the fall of 2003, I took it. I have to say, it was interesting to see different actors speaking the lines that I could recite right off the bat since I'd watched the original so much but, regardless, I don't remember having any reaction to it at all by the time it was over. It was just kind of like, "Okay. I watched a movie." I saw it again a few years later, this time on cable, so I was able to get the full experience, for better or worse, and I still thought it was an interesting experiment but the novelty quickly worse off, as I started to realize how utterly pointless a film it was. Now, after having watched it again, as I hadn't since then, I can honestly say that this movie is nothing more than a soulless, experimental film school project that somehow managed to get studio backing and a very large budget ($60 million or so, according to various sources), which it didn't deserve at all, and is proof of questionable judgement on the director's part.

I don't think I've ever had as much trouble trying to watch a film for a review as I did here (hell, I had an easier time tracking down that Bates Motel movie, which very few people even know about!) Most of the movies I review on here I own on DVD or Blu-Ray, making them readily available, but this was an instance where that wasn't the case, forcing me to find a way to watch it online. I eventually did but it was like pulling teeth, as my internet would act up and become slow as molasses when I would try to stream it and every version of it I found had a weird thing going on with them, with two soundtracks playing at the same time, one of which was several minutes ahead of the other. As a result, you would often get music and sound effects where there shouldn't be any, making for a very odd viewing experience. They were sometimes so loud that I could barely here the dialogue but, fortunately,  I've seen the original so many times (I didn't even have to watch it before I reviewed it) that I knew what was being said. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the buffering on this site was pathetic, meaning that watching this 104-minute movie took much longer than it should have. All of that trouble in order to revisit a movie that I don't like in order to remind myself of just how bad it is.

While his movies may not be my thing, I can't deny that Gus Van Sant does have some talent. I can tell that from what I've seen of Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester (although, they feel a lot like the same movie to me, so I guess he does have a habit of copying). But, the reasons that he gives for remaking Psycho the way he did are baffling, to say the least. His main objective behind the film was to make it something of a big budget, film school project: to take a movie, remake it shot-for-shot, line-for-line with different actors and see if it would still have the same impact decades later. I understand that's not an uncommon practice in film schools or even in fan films (you need look no further than that recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark those kids shot throughout the 1980's for proof). But the big difference is that those people have little to no money to work with and they're doing it for themselves either out of love or simply to see what they can do with film, with no intention of releasing what they make to the masses, whereas Van Sant had a budget of around $60 million to make a movie that would be shown on thousands of screens, shooting it on the Universal backlot with fairly big actors, making it all the more pointless and a waste of money and time. Some ideas should simply remain film school experiments and curiosities. Plus, shouldn't the answer to his thesis be obvious? No, it's not going to have the same impact! The original Psycho was a product of its time, a lightning in a bottle situation where that director, that screenplay, and those actors came together to make that film the way it was; trying to recreate it with virtually the same dialogue and camera setups with different actors is not going to have the same impact, no matter how hard you try. Beyond that, Van Sant feels that a remake should be the same film, with very little changes, otherwise you can't call it a remake. He likens it to plays and the theater, where you remake the same material again and again and again, with the only difference being the actors and their individual interpretations. One, plays and movies are two completely different mediums, so that's a pointless argument, and two, as so many others have asked, if that's the case, then what's the point of doing remakes in the first place? Why would you want an almost identical Xerox with different actors when you can just watch the classic whenever you wanted? Another great example of this point is John Moore's remake of The Omen, which is virtually the same as Richard Donner's 1976 original when you get into the second and third acts. When I watched that movie in order to review it, I found myself speaking the lines of dialogue before they were even spoken and predicting what was going to happen before it did because everything was so identical, making me so far ahead of the characters that it was horribly boring to watch and made me yearn to just go watch the original, which I love, again. That's another point: if you've seen the original, you know what's going to happen, making it less effective if the actors are giving good performances (which isn't the case in either of these films) and all the more pointless.

Many people complain when a remake is vastly different from the original but, for me, it all comes down to execution and whether or not it appeals to me personally, as I think it should be for everybody since, again, I don't know why you'd want the same movie redone the exact same way. My favorite horror movie is John Carpenter's The Thing, which is as different from 1951's The Thing from Another World as you can get but, at the same time, is just as effective and well-made. The same goes for David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly: it's very different from the 1958 original, with the only similarity being the same basic story, but is no less effective and disturbing. On the flip side, I don't care for Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween at all, mainly because I don't find it as suspenseful, scary, well-acted, or nicely-crafted, but, if nothing else, I can acknowledge that Zombie did try to do his own thing with it. It just didn't appeal to my personal sensibilities. I can't even say that here. All Van Sant is doing is plagiarizing what Alfred Hitchcock, arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time, already did so successfully, pointlessly changing things here and there, which I'll get into, and it just comes across as lazy and uninspired. It's not that hard, or inventive, to recreate something when you've got a big budget and a copy of the original on hand for reference. When the film was talked about on an E! special called, 101 Biggest Celebrity Oops!, Richard Roeper made an interesting point: if you're going to remake Psycho, why not try to do a more faithful adaptation of Robert Bloch's original novel? I think that would have made for a more creatively challenging and fulfilling experience than copying and pasting. All of that said, I still can't gauge exactly how Van Sant feels about this movie. One time, he had this to say about it: "If I hold a camera, even if it's in the same place, it will magically take on the character. Our Psycho showed you can't really appropriate. Or you can, but it's not going to be the same thing." I guess that means he found the answer to his thesis with this but here, his tone feels fairly positive, whereas other times he's said things in a more negative and self-deprecating way, saying that he did it this way so no one else would (not entirely effective, then, since John Moore came pretty close with The Omen). He's also said that his cameo outside of Marion Crane's office where he's talking to a man meant to stand in for Hitchcock in his original cameo is him being scolded by him, meaning that he knew in some ways when he was making it that it was a bad idea. And speaking of Hitchcock, his daughter, Patricia, supported this film, saying that her father would have done the same thing had he remade it. As they said on the IMDB trivia page, it feels as if she forgot her father did remake one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and it was hardly shot-for-shot.

One other reason Van Sant gives for doing this film, particularly in shooting it in color, was to appeal to younger audiences who don't care for black-and-white movies and also because he felt that Psycho had lost its impact with the new generation. I've heard that to emphasize this latter point, the special features on the DVD feature interviews with young people on the street who say that they don't know what Psycho is, which I find rather hard to believe. Maybe they haven't actually seen it but the idea that they've never even heard of such a legendary film that is a massive part of American culture, is the most well-known film of arguably the most famous filmmaker ever, basically gave birth to the slasher genre, and has been parodied to death, especially in regards to the shower scene, is ludicrous to me (never mind the fact that it also had three pretty high-profile sequels in the 80's and early 90's). If they were young kids, maybe, but not teenagers, especially if they're into the horror genre. As for the black-and-white issue, I've always found the notion of people refusing to watch a movie for that reason to be very shallow. If it's that big of a deal to them, then that's their problem. That doesn't mean you have to remake every classic black-and-white film in color to appease them, a pointless exercise anyway since, as we've been saying, it's not going to be the same film you're trying to turn them onto. I know I keep harping on that but I can't believe I have to make that point clear.

You know what's ironic about Gus Van Sant's main point for doing this film? It's not the exact same film, shot-for-shot. Scene-for-scene, it is, and as far as the dialogue goes, I would say it's 95% the same, but there are still a number of differences regardless. For starters, the film makes it known right off the bat that it takes place in 1998, with other adjustments made in the story to fit like Marion Crane now stealing $400,000, her new car costing $4,000, and a motel room cost over $35, as well as little details like Lila having a Walkman, more modern cars, clothing, and buildings, etc. Van Sant's intention was to try to make it, like I talked about up above, more accessible to modern audiences, which already goes against his little experiment behind the film. If he intended to see if a movie could have the same impact if it were recreated exactly, wouldn't a part of that involve setting it in 1960 as well? And if he wanted to make it appeal to younger, modern audiences, wouldn't doing it in color be enough, per what he found about them up above? In addition, a number of the shots are set up and executed differently. Many are virtually the same, like the angles on the Bates house and the motel, the blocking of the actors in many of the scenes, and the more notable camera positions like the overhead shots of the shower scene and Arbogast's death, but there are still a number of notable differences. For example, the opening shot is done with a long, moving shot through the city, leading right through the window of the hotel room where Marion and Sam Loomis are, rather than the original's slow pan across the cityscape and the couple of cuts to the shot of the window as the camera goes in. In fact, the way it's done here was how Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted it to look but the camera equipment and the method of doing helicopter shots weren't perfected enough at the time to do it. Van Sant changed it and other parts of the movie to accommodate for advances in technology, which I find to be another way the main purpose of the film is rendered pointless. Another difference comes in the scene in the hotel room. Disregarding the fact that Marion and Sam are in bed this time, there's a random close-up of a fly that's landed on the sandwich she never ate. And for one final example, when Arbogast first arrives at the Bates Motel, the camera is on Norman Bates and pans over to Arbogast's car as he pulls up, whereas Hitchcock kept the camera still and framed both Norman and the car as it drove up together. We'll get into more as we go but for now, I think you get the idea. Some portions of scenes are even dropped altogether, like when Marion tells Caroline she's going to go home and sleep off her headache, Sam and Lila first arriving at Sheriff Al Chambers' house, and portions of the psychiatrist's conclusions at the end, among others, making the film five minutes shorter than the original, even though it has ending credits. Speaking of the psychiatrist, they put in a shot of him walking into Norman's cell and sitting down to talk to him. These may seem like nitpicks but for me, if you're going to try this type of experiment, as pointless as it is, you'd better at least stick to it or else I'm going to question why you said you were going to do it that way to begin with.

Other changes were made to accommodate different attitudes about what was acceptable in movies. Obviously, since it's in color, the shower scene is much more explicitly violent, with the floor of the tub becoming filled with bright red blood, a splatter of it left on the wall, and an added overhead shot of Marion Crane's body completely falling over the rim of the tub to emphasize that she is indeed dead. That leads me to something else: the addition of more explicit sexual content and nudity, like a shot of Viggo Mortensen's bare butt in the opening scene (it's better than seeing his manhood full-on in Eastern Promises), the sounds of other people in the hotel having sex, Lila finding a pornographic magazine in Norman's bedroom in the house, and, most cringe-inducing of all, Norman masturbating while peeping at Marion undressing in her room. That last one has always felt unnecessary and gratuitous to me. I could honestly see Alfred Hitchcock having Norman do that in his film if he could have gotten away with it back then and I'll admit that it's not far-fetched to think of the character doing that (you could argue that was even more of an impetus for the "Mother" side of his mind to take over and kill Marion) but still, I would not have wanted to see Anthony Perkins doing that and I definitely don't want to see Vince Vaughn doing it. Some things are just more disturbing if they're left to the imagination, as in the original where you can just imagine what Norman's thinking while watching her. And finally, there are additions that are just art-housey and strange just because. While Marion is getting stabbed, the film is intercut with random shots of storm clouds gathering, and when Arbogast gets it later on, you see a quick shot of a naked woman wearing a black sleep-mask and what appears to be a thong when he first gets slashed and another of what looks like a sheep standing in the middle of the road during a rainstorm as he starts to fall. I can't begin to theorize what they're meant to symbolize; in fact, when I see them, the only impression I get is that Gus Van Sant threw them in there simply to be abstract for no reason. If that's the case, you might as well have had Terence Malick do the movie.

One thing Van Sant wanted to do in regards to the actors is to "flesh out" the supporting characters, who he felt were nothing more than means to advance the plot in the original. Fair enough, but it's a bit hard to do that when you're restricting your actors to speaking more or less the exact same dialogue and acting out the same scenes, with only a few additions and mainly subtractions. Some of the characters are certainly interpreted differently by the actors but I would hardly call them more fleshed out. If they wanted to do that, they should have at least put in a scene that was deleted from the original where Sam and Lila talk about their suspicions that Marion is probably dead and what losing her would mean for them. Even more stifling is the way I've heard Van Sant supposedly directed them. So intent was he on making this as much of a copy of the original as he could, he timed the dialogue scenes there with a stopwatch and then, whenever his actors went too long or too short in reenacting them, he would cut and make them do it again. Hitchcock was often said to be someone who cared less about acting and character motivations than the mechanics of the camera and editing but this method by Van Sant sounds so unnatural and soulless that it explains why some of the performances feel like the actors are rushing through the dialogue to get to the end of the scene and it hardly makes it easy for them to flesh out their characters more. In a weird way, it validates Van Sant's point about plays being endless remakes of the same story with the only differences being the actors and their nuances because that's the vibe I get when watching this: I'm seeing the same story being acted out by different actors who are speaking virtually the same dialogue but in stilted, unnatural deliveries that make it fall short of the earlier performance.

As iconic and close to perfection as Anthony Perkins' portrayal of Norman Bates was, I don't think it's entirely impossible for another actor to step in and successfully make the role his own, as I feel is the case with any iconic role, and there were a number of notable actors up for it, like Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix, and even Henry Thomas, eight years removed from playing the teenaged Norman in Psycho IV: The Beginning, any of whom I think could have pulled it off. But, for whatever reason, Gus Van Sant decided to cast Vince Vaughn, a decision that the world is still baffled by. Vaughn is not an actor I've ever had a major problem with (I like him in The Lost Word: Jurassic Park well enough) but he's hardly one I ever look forward to seeing and I don't find him to be that versatile. Plus, even back then, he was mainly known for comedies like Swingers and it was only around this time that he began doing edgier stuff like Return to Paradise and The Cell, so casting him as Norman was a big gamble, one that, unfortunately, didn't pay off at all. His performance as Norman is just awful and, for me, is on par with Jackie Earl Haley's portrayal as Freddy Krueger in the abysmal remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The only difference is I feel that Haley was a good choice for that role but was hampered by a bad script and uninspired direction, whereas Vaughn is doing nothing but literally filling Perkins' shoes. When I see him, I don't see Norman Bates; I just see Vince Vaughn going through the motions and very badly trying to come across as a complex, disturbed character. Aside from seeing him masturbate, one of the biggest problems with Vaughn's portrayal is how uncomfortably awkward it is. Whereas Perkins came across as a really nice guy, albeit one who's very troubled and stuck in a bad situation, Vaughn acts weird and off-kilter from the beginning. His facial expressions (he often has a less than sincere half-smile), quirky movements, the rambling way in which he talks, and especially the uncomfortable, nerdy-sounding chuckle he often gives off, make him feel like someone who doesn't have much social interaction and is doing the best he can to be accommodating to this woman he's clearly nervously excited to have staying at the motel. It's so bad that it makes Marion Crane, who you can tell is a bit creeped out by him, look like an idiot for not getting the hell out of dodge right then and there. Norman is also more sinister at points than he should be, like when he smiles evilly right after sending Marion's car into the swamp or the overly threatening glare he gives Arbogast when he refuses to let his see his mother, making it hard to sympathize with him (the masturbation scene and everything else hurt him on that score long before, though). And he's not as smart as Perkins because, when he's getting rid of all traces of Marion in Cabin 1, he doesn't check any of the drawers!

Oh, girlfriend, that look doesn't do a thing for ya!

Another thing Vaughn definitely isn't is scary, with the biggest failing there being when you see him dressed up as his mother. Some may find Perkins hard to take seriously when he shows up in the basement at the end in that dress and wig but that crazed smile he gave when he locked eyes with Lila (which he recreated in Psycho III, where it was very unsettling) makes it work, whereas Vaughn... well, look at him! I don't care if he does have a big knife. How am I supposed to be scared of him when he slowly walks out of the shadows in that dress and blonde wig (why blonde?) with that silly, melodramatic expression on his face? In fact, I'd probably die from laughter before he even got a chance to slash at me. Plus, he gets kicked in the face by Lila and is easily subdued by Sam afterward. Yeah, that's a threatening killer. And his attempt recreate the supremely creepy final shot of Norman? Not even close, as you can see, and neither was the subliminal image this time around, which was Mrs. Bates' actual face rather than her skull. But where Vaughn's portrayal ultimately fails is how forced the whole thing he feels. I'm sure he tried to do something with the character but, when he's acting the way he is and speaking like he's trying to rush through a scene, as a lot of the actors do, it comes across like somebody who's phoning it in, which isn't fun to watch. So, yeah, it is like a different theatrical performance in that regard, just one where they didn't have the best leading man or the right supporting players for him to work off of.

Mrs. Bates isn't done that well here, either. The woman who voices her, Rose Marie, doesn't have a voice that's close to being as unpleasantly crone-like in sound as the voice in the original, which was created by blending the voices of three different people together, nor does she sound as cruel. When Norman is talking to her up in the bedroom and she refuses to let him take her downstairs, her attitude is just kind of flippant and sarcastic, like, "Oh, whatever," rather than the sneering, venomous tone in the original where she made it clear that he wasn't dragging her out of her own room. Also, instead of protesting here when he does take her downstairs, she just chuckles sinisterly, which doesn't fit. As for the corpse, it's a decent enough makeup effect (Rick Baker had a hand in creating it), helped out by the addition of a spider crawling across the face, but it doesn't make me recoil and go, "Oh, shit!" like the one in the original did. And again, I can't wrap my head around the idea that Mrs. Bates was a blonde. That hurts the creepiness factor for me severely.

If you've been following this blog for a while now, you'd know that I'm not a fan of Anne Heche and this movie is a big part of that. I don't mind her in certain movies, like Volcano, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and as the voice of Lois Lane in the animated Superman: Doomsday movie, but I don't think she's that great of an actor and I've always felt she was very out of her league stepping into a role that was originally played by Janet Leigh (she's also not nearly as pretty as Leigh was back in the day either but that's beside the point). After looking at the film for the first time in years, I'd say that my biggest problem with her isn't her acting itself but rather the way she portrays Marion Crane. Leigh came across as someone who was, at her core, a good person who simply wanted a better life for herself and made a really bad judgement call in trying to obtain it; Heche is much less innocent and often feels downright devious in her decision to take the money, with the shifty way she eyes it while packing and the more overt joy she gets from thinking about what they'll say when they realize what she's done. In addition, she's not as kind and tolerant as Leigh's version, looking rather exasperated with Caroline's rambling on, more irritated with the highway patrolman than scared, and has an overall more sarcastic and insincere feel to her. As a result, it's hard for me to buy her decision to go back to Phoenix and return the money as being genuine, as she really looks like she wants to get far away from the Bates Motel as soon as possible. Like I said earlier, she seems rather uncomfortable around Norman because of how strange and awkward he is, which makes it hard for me to believe that she genuinely feels for him when he's describing how unpleasant his relationship with his mother is. It feels more like she's simply biding time and trying to humor him. In the end, I really didn't care at all when she got stabbed to death in the shower. Heck, look at that expression on her face when she's dead. Even in death, she looks irritated, as if her last thoughts were, "Oh, shit! I'm going to die," rather than Leigh, who had an expression of sadness and shock, like she didn't know what hit her.

Before I saw it for the first time, I read John Stanley's pretty scathing review in Creature Features and one of the things that stuck out to me was his comment that, in her portrayal of Lila Crane, Julianne Moore came across as angry rather than Vera Miles' more worried and anxious performance. He's right, too. When she first walks into Sam Loomis' hardware store to ask him where Marion is, she has to apologize for yelling at him rather than getting emotional and crying like in the original. This was a conscious decision on Moore's part, as she wanted Lila to be more aggressive and stronger, but it hurts the portrayal for me because her line deliveries, such as when she tells Arbogast she came to see Sam on, "Not even a hunch. Just hope," or when she tells the sheriff that she thinks there's something wrong happening at the Bates Motel, feel less genuine and more like she wants to find Marion to kick her ass more than to help her get out of the trouble she's gotten into. And she's one of the actors whose line deliveries feel rushed and forced, another testament as to why this was a bad idea overall. The one thing I'll give Moore's portrayal is that here, it does feel like Lila really can take care herself when she goes into the Bates house, as seen during the climactic struggle where she kicks Norman in the face, but that also makes it hard to worry for her safety when she goes in there by herself. If anything, Norman should be afraid of her!

The prime example of how impossible it was for the actors to flesh out their characters under these circumstances is Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of Sam Loomis. Whereas John Gavin was a pretty bland and inexperienced contract player, Mortensen is a very gifted actor who's quite adept at giving memorable and nuanced performances (you need look no further than his movies with David Cronenberg as proof). However, he's not able to do much to expand the role he's given other than to appear completely naked in the opening scene and to get across that he likes listening to music while he and Lila are waiting for Arbogast. He does have more personality and emotion to him than Gavin did (I like his more emphatic delivery when he tells Lila why she can't just go up to the Bates house), as he looks genuinely floored at what he's hearing when he learns of Marion's disappearance and theft, and he's able to bring to the role that sort of easy charm he often has, but that's about all he is able to do with it. He's not even able to be the hero at the end of the film like Gavin was, as his attempt to subdue Norman from killing Lila almost results in him getting killed, with Lila having to save him by kicking Norman, preventing him from picking back up his dropped knife.

I swear, this damn movie tends to make me think of the Jurassic Park movies because, not only did Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore co-star in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but you also have William H. Macy, who'd go on to appear in Jurassic Park III, as Arbogast. In any case, Macy was the one actor who Stanley gave credit to in that aforementioned review of his and it's easy to see why, because he is quite good. The main reason for that is because Macy decided going in that he couldn't do better than Martin Balsam and made a decision not to stray too far from what he did. He manages to capture the same wit, sharpness, and easygoing attitude that Balsam projected and is one actor whose performance isn't stifled by having to match the timing of the original's scenes, thanks to his sheer talent and the fact that his is one of the meatier supporting roles. One thing about him that is rather off is how he's dressed in the same type of old-fashioned, tweed suit that Balsam was, making him feel out of place in a film that takes place in 1998. In addition, he gets one change of dialogue that got my attention as being unintentionally funny. In the original, Arbogast makes the comment, "If it doesn't gel, it isn't aspic," but Gus Van Sant felt the word "aspic" was too old-fashioned and had him say instead, "If it doesn't gel, it isn't Jell-O." I'll admit, I didn't know what was aspic was until I looked it up, so I guess it is old-fashioned nowadays, but at least it never made me snicker where I shouldn't have. I'm sorry, but no actor, no matter how talented they are, can keep me from smirking at that Jell-O line, as it's something you don't expect to hear in this context. Also, "aspic" is outdated, but "inordinately" isn't? And unfortunately, as we'll get into later, Arbogast's death scene here doesn't have the same impact as the original, through no fault of Macy's, though.

The actor I felt the most pity for was Robert Forster as the psychiatrist at the end. Forster is a good actor, which you'd know if you've ever seen Alligator, but his delivery of the explanation of Norman's psychosis, which is cut down a little bit here, is stilted and emotionless. He honestly looks like he couldn't care less about what he's telling them and his discovery of how disturbed of a person Norman is didn't affect him at all. According to a deleted bit from the Psycho Legacy documentary, Forster had to do this speech over fifty times because he kept falling short of the length of the original (which is confusing, because he doesn't say every single line, some of which were pretty important, in my opinion, like what exactly made Norman kill Marion) and so, he probably stopped caring and tried to get through it as fast as he could and it shows. In short: it's a far cry from the memorably passionate and energetic speech that Simon Oakland delivered nearly forty years earlier. Philip Baker Hall makes for a suitable enough stand-in for John McIntire as Sheriff Al Chambers, managing to capture the same type of easy authority and rational way of thinking, although his role is cut down, with his only major scene being when Sam and Lila go to see him. The same goes for Rance Howard, the father of Ron and Clint Howard, as Marion's employer, George Lowery. This film's version of Tom Cassidy (Chad Everett) is a much bigger lecher than his counterpart in the original, as there's nothing at all subtle about his hitting on Marion. For instance, when Cassidy says, "Tomorrow's the day, my sweet little girl," it's clear that he wasn't actually talking about Marion and that her getting the wrong idea maybe had an influence in making him flirt with her; here, he looks right at Marion when he says and his tone of voice makes his intentions clear, despite his insistence that he was talking about his daughter (he talks like that about his daughter?) That's to say nothing of the way he eyeballs Marion while talking to her (look at him; are those not bedroom eyes?), the smoothness of his voice, and the way he assures that he can keep his mouth shut if he needs to. And there's an added line where, after he tells Marion she needs a weekend in Las Vegas, "The playground of the world," and Marion says she's going to spend that weekend in bed, Cassidy comments, "Only playground to beat Las Vegas," which was in Joseph Stefano's original script but had to be cut because it was deemed too risqué back then. Seriously, could this guy be more obvious? I'll give him this, though: I can see it working for him better than Frank Albertson in the original.

Caroline (Rita Wilson), the other secretary working for Mr. Lowery and the character who was originally played by Pat Hitchcock, is notably much more of an airhead here. I don't know quite how to describe it but she feels very phony-baloney in the way she acts, like the kind of patronizing way she asks Marion if she has a headache and how, after Cassidy goes into Lowery's office, she melodramatically embraces one of mounds of money before telling Marion that he was flirting with her because, "I guess he must have noticed my wedding ring." The one actor who looks and feels almost exactly like his counterpart in the original is James Remar as the highway patrolman. When he's looking right at the camera with those sunglasses, it wouldn't be farfetched for you to think that what you're looking at is a colorized image from the 1960 film. He does a fair enough job acting-wise too, able to come across as unintentionally menacing as Mort Mills, although his voice is a bit too monotone for me. Finally I have to mention Charlie (James LeGros), the used car dealer who sells Marion a replacement car. This guy is really awful and has none of the fast-talking, energetic charisma John Anderson had, nor does he seem all that suspicious of Marion when she agrees to play the $4,000 in cash. It feels like a very phoned-in performance.

In case you haven't noticed it from the images you've seen so far, the film's color palette is not very pleasant to look at. The colors are vivid but the thing is they're very tacky-looking, with lots of bright whites, pinks, oranges, and greens, particularly in Marion's clothes, and it all looks pretty freaking ugly. Even the reds are really bright, with the blood in the shower scene sometimes looking pink or even orange (reminds of the problems with the blood in the original Dawn of the Dead), and there are a few environments built with ugly neon lights, particularly the Bates Motel itself, that add to this feeling of tackiness. It makes the movie feel very sleazy, much more so than the already seedy original, which, if that was the intent, then good job. But, otherwise, the use of color doesn't add anything to the film and actually detracts from the atmosphere the original had. In color, you don't get the deep shadows and levels of blackness that you do with black-and-white, making the scenes in and around the motel and the house less impactful. I mean, seriously, that shot of Norman watching the car sink into the swamp isn't nearly as ominous with that pretty, deep-blue nighttime sky behind him. And did seeing the crisscrossing bars during the opening titles in bright green add anything that the gray ones didn't? I doubt it. Even sadder than that, though, is that they used green screen in certain shots like Alfred Hitchcock did with rear-projection, such as Arbogast falling down the stairs and such, and here, they're even more noticeable because the film's in color and jarring because you expect a movie made in the 90's to be more refined in that department. Maybe this was another way Gus Van Sant tried to make it as close to the original as possible (for instance, William H. Macy wanted to fall more realistically than the way Martin Balsam did but Van Sant insisted on doing it the same way) but in the end, it makes it look amateurish more than anything else.

The production design is pretty decent overall. All of the environments look okay, like places you would see in everyday life, as was the case in the original, and I like some of the additions and modern updates, like how Sam's living space in the back of his hardware store has a beaded curtain, some deep blue lights, and a record player... that is, except for the Bates Motel and the house. I know there are motels nowadays that look like this but the way the sign looks is not at all ominous like the original sign and those big neon letters atop the motel look downright silly. And once again, there are lots of bright whites and pinks in the paint scheme, which make it look like a tacky brothel than a motel. But the biggest failing is the redesign of the house, which they built right in front of the actual house on the Universal backlot. I don't know why they didn't just use it because this thing they built doesn't have the same sinister feel that the one built for the Hitchcock movie, which is also iconic, does. As far as the interior goes, like Norman's room and his mother's bedroom, it looks alright and is more or less similar to the original interior (though not as creepy to me), save for the cellar, which is made much larger and looks more like some kind of workshop, with shelves filled with stuffed birds here and bottles of chemicals, as well as a big, glass case filled with living birds, reminiscent of an interior display you'd see at a zoo, which is Mrs. Bates' corpse is found sitting in front of. It highly suggests that this is where Norman does his taxidermy and that those birds are his readily available "materials." I'm not sure what to think of this addition. It is interesting to see and I like the expansion on Norman's hobby but, like so much in this movie, it defeats the main purpose for making this movie the way they did.

As much as I love the original Psycho and think that the shower scene is a great sequence that deserves its legendary status, I can't deny that, because it's been talked about so much and has been imitated so many times throughout the decades by numerous slasher movies, it has lost a lot of its shock value. I was fortunate enough to see the movie for the first time before I really got into the modern age of horror and the internet, so it still had impact on me, but, the thing is, if someone has seen a good majority of or even a few of the movies that inspired it before deciding to go into it, they've also more than likely heard and seen every little detail of it and so, they're not going to be hit that hard by it. A remake has it even worse because not only will you have to contend those jaded horror fans but you also have fans of the original who already know what's coming and are not going to be affected by your recreation of it, no matter how gory it is. But, all that said, it's still hard to believe how unimpressive this film's version of the shower scene is. It's pretty close in design to the original (although the buildup feels a bit longer) in that you never see the knife puncture the flesh but rather, all you get is a montage of the killer slashing and Marion reacting, and Gus Van Sant recreates all of the memorable camera angles, but it lacks the suddenness and the kinetic, frantic energy that, when it's over, leaves you wonder what just happened. The editing isn't nearly as fast, something that Van Sant tries to make up for by playing with the speed of the film, doing a slightly sped up push-in towards Marion's mouth as she screams and speeding the actual attack up to try to make it seem more chaotic, but it doesn't work and actually makes it feel like a very cheap movie. The slashing itself feels slower, like he's trying to get the feel and impact of each stab as the knife goes into her, which makes it all the more boring, and the random shots of storm clouds and a close-up of her eye dialing after the attack's over just feel overly arty for the sake of it. And lastly, shooting this in color and seeing the red blood fill the bottom of, as I said earlier, didn't add a thing to it. In fact, when you see the knife-wielding figure with his face blacked out standing there in that light pink gown (what is it with this movie and the color pink) and blonde wig, it's not even close to being as scary.

Arbogast's death is botched even worse than the shower scene. The buildup to it is still virtually the same but, like the shower scene, when the actual attack begins, it's not as fast-paced and sudden as the original, and those quick shots of that woman, which I still don't understand, are not only pretentious but lessen the impact as they keep it from being one long shot from his face getting slashed to his falling down the stairs like before (Van Sant actually had an opportunity for more of an impact than before here because he had Arbogast get slashed three times across the face; imagine how that would have looked if it were one shot of that happening to him in addition to the fall). His actual fall is a prime example of the bad green screen work in this film as it looks funky and it's really sad when a movie from 1960 looks more realistic, especially when it was deliberately stylized. And, following a quick POV shot from him of the killer walking down the stairs towards him, rather than letting out a disturbing scream of pain as he's stabbed to death at the bottom of the stairs, William H. Macy just grunts with each stab, which does not work nearly as well (Anne Heche's screams in the shower scene weren't as disturbing as Janet Leigh's, either).

The climax is probably where the film is the most drastically different from the original. Following Lila's discovery of the pornography in Norman's room and Norman and Sam's conversation becoming more heated (the timing of which is very different), Norman whacks him in the face with a golf-club rather than it being a short struggle followed by a hit to the back of the head and heads up to the house, where Lila decides to investigate the basement rather than get out when he's upstairs. That's when we see the vastly different-looking cellar and Lila's discovery of Mrs. Bates' corpse, followed by Norman showing up dressed like her and looking ridiculous. Instead of running at Lila, he slowly goes in for the kill, when he's knocked in the back of the head by Sam and the two of them have a pretty violent struggle, with Sam grabbing Norman from behind and slamming him into the shelves to try to make him drop the knife, which he does when they tumble to the floor. He tries to get it while he has Sam on the floor but Lila kicks him in the face, giving Sam the opportunity to more thoroughly subdue him.

Not surprisingly, the film completely reuses Bernard Herrmann's original score, although some of the pieces were re-orchestrated by Danny Elfman, who had done the music for Gus Van Sant's two previous films (and who also tried to warn him that this movie was a bad idea). Like Jerry Goldsmith's re-orchestration of the shower theme for the opening of Psycho II and the apparent re-orchestrations of both it and the main title theme for Psycho IV: The Beginning, the way the music is redone here makes it less effective in my opinion. A big reason why the shower scene here doesn't work that well is because the music isn't as loud and full as the original but rather, sounds hollow, with no echoing that makes the shrieking more impactful and it's slower as well. It definitely doesn't have the same power that it did in the original when it's reused for Arbogast's death. There it was sudden, loud, and had an echoing quality that made it sound nightmarish, whereas here, it sounds the same as it did in the shower scene, i.e. lackluster. The main title theme sounds better, though. It certainly sounds more akin to the original here than it did in Psycho IV, where it was slowed down, keeping the same fast rhythm and energy, although it's still not as effective because it has a more modern sound to the strings that actually sounds less clear. It's weird, nobody could ever play that main theme the way Herrmann did and somehow, it got replaced by a slower version on the official soundtracks, which I don't understand. The rest of the score sounds identical to the way it was before to me, meaning it wasn't re-orchestrated, although pieces are sometimes put in spots where there wasn't any music originally, like when Norman sends Marion's car off into the swamp and when the psychiatrist is explaining the depths of his psychosis at the end, and they're sometimes arranged around in different ways.

There are some songs on the soundtrack, although most of them I didn't pick up on when I re-watched the movie because of the weird way the film's audio was done on the website I watched it on. Apparently, Rob Zombie's Living Dead Girl can be heard playing when Marion stops at the car dealership but I didn't hear it, which irritated me because that's the only song by him I like (I only ever heard it because it's on the soundtrack for Bride of Chucky, which came out the same year). The ending credits feature an interesting piece of music called Weepy Doughnuts by Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, which is an odd electronic, guitar-based arrangement that features a couple of recreations of Herrmann's main title theme. It's very odd and rather creepy-sounding at points and, to me, is actually one of the film's best aspects, as is the way the ending credits expand on the original's final shot of Marion's car being dragged out of the swamp, with the camera slowly moving upwards as the police wrap up their investigation of the crime scene and drive off, ending on a silent shot of the swamp with the highway in the background. That's very effective, reminding me of the actual beginning of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and is something I think Alfred Hitchcock himself would've liked (too bad the rest of the movie is nothing more than a pointless copy of his film).

I'm really hoping that this is the title from this movie. It and
the original's are absolutely identical, making it hard to
determine which one you have while looking for images.
I don't know what more I can say about this film, as everybody already knows it as a prime example of uncreative, redundant filmmaking. Above all the big issues, like the lackluster performances, the bad cases of miscasting, especially with Vince Vaughn, the unneeded subliminal shots and more graphic sexual moments, the ugly-looking color palette, the uninspired production design of the Bates Motel and the house, and Bernard Herrmann's score being completely reused, with a few of the themes redone in ways that aren't as effective, the biggest issue with this movie is the thinking behind it. Gus Van Sant says that he wanted to do a big budget, film school project by remaking a movie shot-for-shot and seeing if it would still have the same impact, as well as to make it more accessible to modern audiences who claim they've never heard of Psycho and don't want to watch black-and-white movies, two ideas that already contradict themselves to me, but he changes so much of it, shooting the scenes and blocking them in different ways while deleting others wholesale, doing the same with certain lines of dialogue, putting in images that weren't there before, and wants to have his actors flesh out their characters when they're still saddled with virtually the same lines of their predecessors and further stifled by having to match the lengths of the scenes from the original, that, in the end, I don't know what exactly he was trying to accomplish. Maybe some understood his reasons better but they just flew over my head. The film has some things I do like, like William H. Macy, the expansion on the idea of Norman's pastime, the Weepy Doughnuts music, and the ending shot, but, other than that, it's a movie I not only don't like but can't respect because it's a pointless carbon copy of one of the best horror films of all time by arguably the greatest director of all time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Franchises: Psycho. Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

While I knew of Psycho II and III from a very young age thanks to our town's video rental store, it didn't have the VHS for this movie and so, up until around 1999 to 2000, I had no idea it even existed. I think the first time I heard about it was when I bought Creature Features by John Stanley around that time and looked up his reviews of the series and I learned more about it when I got the internet. The story, about Norman Bates calling in on a radio talk show, recounting his life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, sounded like an intriguing one, as was the idea that Anthony Perkins once again played the role. However, while the first two sequels would end up being among the very first DVDs I ever bought, I wouldn't see Psycho IV for a while afterward since it didn't get a DVD release until 2007 when it was put on that three-pack with the previous two (I did see the VHS at Media Play for a few years but I never got around to picking it up before that chain went out of business). I picked that pack up in the spring of 2009 and when I went into this film shortly after buying it, I was quite curious to see how it played out as well as to see Perkins' swan song as Norman. And when it was over, I came out of it thoroughly satisfied. It's not a perfect film, mind you, and I would still put the original and Psycho II above it, but that said, I think it's pretty well-made and acted, tells and intertwines both sides of its story quite successfully, and, if nothing else, is an improvement over the third film in many regards. I also like that it brings some well-deserved closure to Norman's story, especially given that Perkins died just two years after it, which is why I'm glad that they didn't do a proposed fifth film which would have undone everything.

D.J. Fran Ambrose is the host of a radio talk show that deals with controversial subjects, with the current one being about matricide: murdering one's mother. Her special guest is Dr. Leo Richmond, a specialist in the field who first became involved with it 30 years before when he examined a young man who'd murdered his mother and then turned himself into her psychologically, proceeding to kill more people as a result. After talking with another young man who'd recently killed his mother, the two of them get a call from a mysterious man who only identifies himself as "Ed" and claims to be a "senior member" of Dr. Richmond's sphere of mother killers. Little do they know that the man they're talking to is none other than Norman Bates, out of the asylum and living in a nice house near Fairvale. He reveals that he's killed many people before and now, he's going to have to do it again. He then proceeds to recount his past history, starting with the first person he killed after his mother's death in the 50's, his father's death and funeral, and, most significantly, his tortured and uncomfortably intimate relationship with his mother, who could unexpectedly swing from sweet and loving to emotionally and physically cruel the next. As the show goes on, Dr. Richmond suspects Norman's true identity as he's the psychiatrist who examined him after he murdered Marion Crane in 1960 and warns Fran and her coworkers that any threat by Norman shouldn't be taken lightly. Fran tells them to check and see if Norman has been released from another institution recently while she and Richmond keep him talking. Norman continues telling his story, but Richmond's antagonistic way of questioning him begins to threaten to make him hang up, prompting Fran to tell him not to talk anymore. Richmond then leaves in anger at the idea that Fran is going to try to talk a psychotic murderer with help from a professional, especially when someone's life is at stake. At the same time, Fran is told that the Bates Motel has been closed for years now and Norman, after letting his real name slip, tells her that he's now married to Connie, a woman who was his psychiatrist in the institution where he was taken after his most recent string of murders. She's the one he intends to murder, for she allowed herself to become pregnant, despite his desire to be the last of the "Bates line" and his fear that any child conceived by them would be mentally ill like himself. And just like the murder of his mother, this time, it will be with his own hands.

Psycho IV was one of the first directing credits for Mick Garris, who beforehand had only done one theatrical movie, Critters 2 (one of his few theatrical movies to this day, I might add), and some TV work like a movie called Fuzzbucket and some episodes of Amazing Stories and Freddy's Nightmares. Granted, Critters 2, which I do enjoy, is the only other of his directing credits I've ever seen but, given what I've heard about his other work like Sleepwalkers and what I've seen of his TV remake of The Shining, I think I can safely say that this is the best thing he's ever directed. He had some well-publicized difficulties with Anthony Perkins, whom he found to be very challenging and demanding, stopping shooting dead in its tracks to get into long discussions about a certain word or comment Garris had made. It's been suggested that Perkins wanted another shot at directing with the film but Universal wouldn't allow it after Psycho III's failure with audiences and critics (although I recently heard that Roger Ebert liked it, which I find shocking) and, as a result, he was going to have difficulties with whoever they picked instead, especially someone as young and inexperienced as Garris was at the time. I've also read that Perkins wanted Noel Black, whom he'd worked with on Pretty Poison, to direct it and had come up with an idea for the story with Psycho III screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue (a pitch that sounds like it would have been a truly outrageous black comedy) but Universal rejected that idea as well, possibly adding to Perkins' resentment and hard feelings. But, when it was all said and done, Perkins told Garris that he considered Psycho IV to be the best of the sequels, which he said made all of their difficulties worthwhile.

It's very fitting that in his final turn in the role, Anthony Perkins was able to bring Norman Bates full-circle. Here, we see that he's seemingly found the happiness and freedom that we'd always wanted for him: he's living in a nice suburban house and, what's more, is married to the woman who was his doctor in the asylum he was sent to after the last murders. However, there's still something sinister and unsettling about him, as when he first calls in to the Fran Ambrose's show, he admits that he's going to have to kill again soon. He doesn't reveal who or why until the beginning of the third act but it's obvious that Norman, despite the progress he has made, still hasn't quite put the past behind him. As he tells his story about his life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, we get our most detailed look into his complex feelings about her. He admits that she could be extremely cruel for no reason and the verbal and physical abuse she heaped on him was truly reprehensible but he also talks about the good memories he has of her and, all the while, you can see that he still has affection for her. Whenever Fran or someone else talks about how horrible a person his mother was, Norman is quick to defend her, saying that it wasn't her fault and that they can't say anything because they didn't know her the way he did. But, that said, reliving the more horrible memories of his relationship with her is very traumatizing for him, particularly when he talks about a time she locked him in her bedroom closet and left him in there. The memory of that leaves him lying on the floor, pleading with her as if it's actually happening to him again. One thing slowly becomes clear: in spite of all of this, he only thought about killing her until she brought home her new boyfriend, Chet, whom he still has a lot of hatred and resentment for, not only for the bad way he treated him but also because, as he says, "She didn't need him," or, "He didn't deserve her." This feeling of hatred and bitterness went to her when she threw him over for Chet, exemplified when, upon being asked how he killed her, Norman venomously replies, "Slowly." But, after he poisoned them both with strychnine, he says that when he saw her body in the casket, he felt a horrible feeling he describes as "soul cancer" and needed to have her back, in spite of what the poison had done to her, which led to him stealing her corpse, using his taxidermy skills to treat her body as best as he could, and eventually talking and speaking for her. And because this film reveals that his mother was still fairly young when he killed her, Norman explains that the reason she sounded like an old crone whenever he spoke in her voice was because, due to her death, she aged in his mind and he couldn't do her actual voice.

Throughout his story, the question on everyone's minds is who Norman is planning to kill and, most importantly, why he would risk losing the seemingly great life he now has? As it turns out, it's his wife, Connie, who he plans to murder, and there was a hint about that early on when she called him to tell him what's going on with his birthday cake (the main story takes place on his birthday) and his voice when he talked to her was rather empty and emotionless, in spite of some "good news" she'd given him earlier. His reason for killing her is a simple one: she let herself become pregnant, even though he made it clear before they were married that he didn't want any children for fear that they might inherit his psychosis. Now, it becomes apparent that Norman, as we've always known him to be, is actually a frightened, emotionally tortured man rather than a sinister murderer. Before he reveals his reason to Fran Ambrose, he tells her that after his most recent spate of murders several years before, he wanted to either be committed permanently or be executed in order to protect the world from, "This aging bad seed called Norman Bates." He believes in the theory that psychopathy is a genetic condition, which is why, when he tells Fran of Connie's pregnancy, he's almost brought to tears by it, saying that she didn't tell him that she'd stopped taking birth control pills because, "She didn't want me to stop making love to her. And that's what we called it: making love. But it wasn't meant to bring forth another monster." He's also afraid that he wouldn't be able to be a loving father to it, telling Fran, "I might be well now but I'm not cured. I'll never be cured," and asking Connie herself, "What if I can't love it?" When he tells her this, Fran suggests that he called in because he might unconsciously want her to stop him but Norman insists that his mind is made up, although he does tell her that talking with her has helped with the empty feeling he'd had before (maybe he just needed somebody objective to open up to). And he makes one other thing clear: this death will be by his hands alone, with no influence from his mother. With that, he hangs up on Fran, has Connie meet him at the motel and house, drags her inside the latter, and prepares to kill her with a knife he had stored in his mother's bedroom closet. However, he finds it difficult to do so, and when he finally does corner Connie in the cellar and attempts to stab her, she assures him that he's not the murderous person he once was, that she'll be the antithesis of Mrs. Bates to their baby, and that it will love him. This prompts Norman to drop the knife, get his wife out of the house, and get rid of the past once and for all by burning the house down, during which he purges his inner demons by powering through the tumultuous flashbacks he has. When it's all said and done, Norman can finally be assured that he's free and he heads off with his wife to truly begin the rest of his life. This is why I'm glad they never did a proposed fifth movie revolving around the child; it's satisfying to see Norman finally get closure and peace of mind.

As much as I do like Psycho IV, it's kind of hard for me to watch because of the scenes between the young Norman and his mother. You have that moment where, during his father's funeral, Mrs. Bates unexpectedly tickles little Norman's (Ryan Finnigan) side, causing him to giggle out loud and then she slaps him, admonishing him, "Don't you have any respect for the dead?!" And then, that's counterbalanced by a much happier scene between the two of them in the woods near the house where they go out to have a picnic and they have fun, even when it starts raining. Scenes like this, especially the part where they're twirling around while holding each other's hands, as the adult Norman remarks, "I know that in the cosmic scheme of things, little boys are small. But some days... little boys can be giants," makes the harsher, more abusive moments between them even more disturbing. This leads us to Henry Thomas' performance as the teenage Norman who, upon re-watching the film, doesn't have a lot of dialogue but does a superlative job regardless. He plays Norman in two different parts of his life: when his mother was alive and the first couple of years after he killed her. In the former, we see Norman as a dutiful son who more or less worships his mother and does love her, despite the horrible things she often does to him. However, it's made clear that, because she's the only female in his life, he's been developing rather... unorthodox feelings towards her as he's entered puberty. Those scenes are especially uncomfortable to watch, like when his mother forces him to get in bed with her and hold her when she's scared by a thunderstorm, after she's forced him to take off his wet clothes, leaving him in only his underwear. As he's sitting there with her, he realizes, as the adult Norman says, he's gotten a little too big for his britches and quickly ducks out of her room and into his own. Even worse is a moment where she makes him wipe orange-flower water on her because it's hot and, after she appears to be aroused by it, she rolls around on the floor with him, tickling him, and he ends up on top of her. That image itself is just wrong but it's made even worse when he gets aroused, which sets her off in a bad way. Watching him take her verbal and physical abuse, like when she makes him throw out some pornography she founds in his room while he's still in his underwear, saying that the rain might wash the dirt off him, and when she puts a dress on him and shoves him into the closet after she felt his erection, calling him a little girl and saying all his penis is good for is making "wee-wee," is very hard to watch, but Norman simply takes it until she brings home her boyfriend, Chet. Her ignoring him in favor of Chet, the both of them treating him like crap, and their endless marathons of sex push him over the edge to where he ultimately poisons them.

In the flashbacks that take place in the years following his mother's death, Henry Thomas is basically playing a younger and more reserved version of Anthony Perkins' portrayal in the original. We see Norman when he gets his first sexual kicks from a teenage girl who tries to get him in the sack, his timid nature and fear of what'll happen if his mother "catches" them in the house, and the first time her persona takes him over completely, making him stab the girl to death while wearing his mother's clothes and wig. It's suggested that he felt he might have been able to do it in the parlor behind the motel office, which he tried to get her to go into, and didn't want her to go up to the house because he was afraid that it would be easier for him to succumb to Mother up there, which is what does happen. Later in the film, you see a flashback of him in a car with an older woman and the two of them are making out very passionately. This gives us a rare glimpse of Norman being sexually aggressive; in fact, she says that he's got a tongue like an elephant's memory. For me, that scene and comment says that Norman truly wants to have normal, healthy relationships with women and doesn't want to hurt anybody but, because of the Mother persona, he's unable to do so. Sure enough, when Norman's making out with this woman, he makes an excuse to get out of the car by saying that he has to give his mother her meds, feeling his other persona beginning to go wild with jealousy. You can hear "them" arguing with each other up at the house and, after it stops, you see it's because Mother overruled Norman again and decided to get rid of the woman through him. This is the one instance in this film where you hear her voice (Alice Hirson) come out of Thomas' mouth and, as it was with Perkins before, it's more than a little unnerving.

This is the only time we ever get to see what Norma Bates was like when she was alive and, my God, did they hit the nail on the head when they got Olivia Hussey to play her! There's no other way to describe her performance than as the mother from hell. It's clear that she has a lot of mental illnesses, such as possibly schizophrenia and a type of personality disorder, and, as Norman himself tells Fran Ambrose and Dr. Richmond, what's scary about it is how
unpredictable she is. One minute, she's warm and loving and then the next, she's being incredibly
cruel for no reason (Hussey said she based her performance on a friend of hers who was similarly mentally ill). For instance, when she discovers that pornography in Norman's room, she smacks him with it, calling him a dirty little pig, and sends him out in the rain in his underwear to throw them in the garbage, continuing to call him a pig, even saying, "Dirty as your whole whore-mongering sex!" at one point... and then, after he throws them away, he turns around to see her standing there with a raincoat for him, her demeanor now softer and sweeter, saying, "Some day I'm going to wish I'd been firmer with you." As you might expect, anything she finds unclean or overly sexual really gets under Norma's skin. She's so sexually repressed (Norman says that she was very frigid towards his father), in fact, that she doesn't seem to realize that her more intimate interactions with her son are causing him to become aroused, which he can't help since she's the only woman in his entire life and which she horribly punishes him for. Like I said, that scene where she symbolically castrates him for getting a hard-on while he was lying on top of her by putting a dress on him, smearing lipstick on his face, calling him a little girl, and locking him in the closet, giving him a pitcher to pee in, as she says, "You're gonna stay locked in there until you learn not to say 'no' to your mother when she tells you you're a girl," is so hard to watch. However, the most appalling thing she does to Norman is when she becomes angry at the news that a new freeway is going to be built far away from the motel, which will cause them to lose business, and she takes it out on him. When he asks why she's hitting him with the newspaper when she comes storming out of the house while he's minding his own business, smacking dust out of a carpet, she yells, "Who else can I hit?!" and, after she rants about the road, proceeds to unleash some type of pent up resentment she's always felt towards him: "What the hell good are you if you can't show a little sympathy?", You just know how to cause trouble. Because of you, my bladder's damaged. I can't hold water. That's why I'm always running to the toilet! Did you know that?!", and, worst of all, "I was fine until I gave birth to you. You caused a lot of damage. I should have gotten rid of you the day I found out I was gonna have you. Not one thing you've ever said or done has made all I've gone through with you worthwhile! Not one blessed thing! I should have killed you in my womb. You sure as hell tried to kill me getting out of it!"

This apparent resentment can be seen under the surface in other scenes, like when she talks about how she's dying of the extreme heat and that, "You'll wish you'd been better to me," she asks him if her skin disgusts him when he's hesitant to use his fingers to rub water on her, and she says, "This is one morning you're not going to ruin for me." Her relationship with Chet Rudolph is infuriating for a couple of reasons. One is the way the two of them treat Norman, with Norma almost seeming to take pleasure in rubbing Chet in his face when she makes it clear that he's going to work at the motel and live in her house (the way she looks at Norman when Chet comes down into the kitchen and kisses her neck is one that's meant to irritate him), as well as when Chet belittles him, with the two of them laughing at him after Chet knocks Norman down during the boxing lesson. Her acting that way is possibly something else that could stem from her aforementioned resentment towards Norman. Even worse than that, though, is the sheer hypocrisy of it all: she gets on to Norman for his interests in sex, women, and the like, but it's okay for her to go out to a bar, meet Chet, take him home, and let him drill her constantly. Taking that into account, it's not hard to understand why this was what finally pushed Norman over the edge. And speaking of which, instead of being shocked, horrified, or hurt when he realizes her has poisoned the two of them, Norma's instant reaction is rage and she's obviously out for Norman's blood, in spit of her weakening condition. I think that action speaks volumes.

Speaking of Chet Rudolph (Thomas Schuster), he's just an asshole: a sex-hungry, sleazy former bartender who probably only got with Norma because she's hot as well as to get the better-paying job of running the motel. Norma says that they're planning to get married, which tells me how little Chet really knows about her. If he saw how crazy she is, there's no way in hell he'd be marrying her, no matter how sexy she is to him. One thing's for sure, though: he has no respect for Norman whatsoever. He's just an out-and-out bully towards him from the start, coming in wearing his father's robe, calling him "Normy," and when Norman demands he take it off, Chet has this little remark: "No underwear. You see, Norman, you only want to be naked around a lady when you're having sex with her. Any other time, it just ain't respectable." And that's to say nothing of their boxing lesson, where Chet taunts Norman, saying, "Your not a girl, are ya? Your mother swore to me you were a boy, and she even said you were well hung," and deliberately hitting him hard, eventually punching him right in the face, knocking him to the ground with a bleeding nose. His last crack about Norman delivering them room service makes his and Norma's slow, painful deaths all the more satisfying, as is the struggle between him and Norman during it where the latter finally manages to physically gain the upper hand on him.

At first glance, you may think that Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) continues talking with Norman as long as she does only so her show's ratings will go through the roof, especially after she learns who he actually is, but I think that's only half-true. I'm sure at first, she knows that this mysterious man who's referring to himself as "Ed" and is plotting to kill again soon will draw in a lot of listeners, but as the show goes on and Norman tells more and more of his story, you can see Fran's demeanor becoming more serious about it. When Dr. Richmond tells her that he believes Ed is actually Norman Bates, Fran asks her coworkers to get confirmation of Norman's whereabouts while she keeps him talking in an attempt to find out who he intends to kill. She also realizes that Richmond's blunt, antagonistic way of talking to him will more than likely cause him to hang up and she gradually pushes him out of the picture, suggesting during a break that she talk to Norman alone, although she does offer to let Richmond stay. However, when he accuses them of worrying more about ratings than saving someone's life, she insists that's not the case (despite what one of her coworkers says) and he ultimately storms out, leaving her to deal with the situation alone. As the conversation between her and Norman continues, you can see her empathizing with him as she tries to talk him out of committing his intended murder, telling him not to throw away the good life he's now made for himself when he does inevitably get caught. When he reveals that he plans to kill his wife because she allowed herself to become pregnant despite his protests, Fran, again, does sympathize with his feeling of having been betrayed by her and understands why he's scared of what she might give birth to but she continues trying to talk him out of killing her. As her show draws to its ending at 10:00, Fran tries to resolve the situation, even offering to continue talking with Norman even after the time is up, but he ultimately hangs up on her and she's not seen again for the rest of the movie.

Thirty years after he examined Norman after his first capture, we learn that the psychiatrist at the end of the original was Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost) and that he's since become something of an expert on matricide, having recently written a book on the subject. Throughout most of the show, he comes across as rather pompous and with a high opinion of himself, often sitting across from Fran with a smug sort of expression on his face. When Norman first calls in, Richmond is clearly suspicious from the get-go, especially since he'd just described Norman's case to Fran, and as he continues telling his story, it's obvious that Richmond is figuring out who it is from what he's hearing, the questions he's asking back, and also from the unmistakable contempt Norman has for him. After he tells Fran and her coworkers that he's certain it's Norman Bates and that any threat by him should be taken seriously, Richmond is adamant that they need his help in figuring out who he's planning on murdering. But, his direct, blunt ways of questioning prove to be more detrimental than helpful, as the others realize that he might cause Norman to hang up. It's also downright antagonistic, particularly when he asks him, "This abuse your mother heaped on you, you didn't mind it so long as it was just the two of you, isn't that what you're trying to say? As bad as it was, it was okay, perhaps even enjoyable, until she brought home a boyfriend? Could it be there was a little jealousy there, Ed?" While his implications aren't exactly wrong, Norman doesn't take them lightly, telling Fran, "If the doctor's trying to turn this into some kind of an incest tragedy, tell him to forget it, Fran." When Richmond's continued questioning really starts to get under Norman's skin, Fran goes to break and the two of them get into a heated argument about it. It gets especially heated when Fran tells Richmond to stay out of it from now on, saying that she'll find out who Norman plans to kill. When he asks how, Mike, the station manager, says that she'll just ask him outright, which doesn't sit well with him. He tells them that they can't question someone like Norman who professional assistance and says that it's either his way or there's... and he's dismissed, storming out of the station, accusing them of caring more about ratings than someone's life.

While she doesn't have much screentime until the third act, Norman's wife, Connie (Donna Mitchell), is the most significant character in the film, one, because she's allowed him the stable life he's always wanted, and two, because her deception has made Norman feel like his hand is being forced and that he has no choice but to do whatever he can to save the world from another psychopath, setting the story in motion. Her tricking him may have been a pretty rotten thing to do, no matter her reasons, but one thing is clear: she loves Norman, wants to have a family with him, and believes with every fiber of her being that he's capable of loving a child and that theirs won't turn out to be another killer. This deception almost gets her killed when Norman has her join him at his old house, where he tries to stab her, putting her faith to the ultimate test, but when he corners her in the fruit cellar and hesitates, as he did before, Connie knows it's because he's not the monster he once was. She tells Norman to look at himself in the blade of the knife and says, "That's not who you are anymore. You're not that person now, Norman. You're not a killer, Norman." She adds something else that's very true: "Our baby won't be a monster. Don't I count? I've never destroyed a child's sanity. I've never taken anyone's life. I love you. Our baby will love you. Give us a chance!" As Norman begins to come around, she tells him, "No more blood, Norman. Please, no more blood." This finally makes him drop the knife, embrace his wife, and ultimately free himself by burning down the house along with all the bad memories. The last shot of the two of them is Norman happily proclaiming himself to be free and they go off to live their lives and have their child (another reason why I'm glad this turned out to be the last one as far as the original series of films is concerned).

Several more characters worth mentioning are Raymond Linette (Kurt Paul), a convicted mother-killer who appears on the show at the beginning of the film to talk about his crime along with his maternal grandfather, George Emeric (Louis Crume). These two are notable for the fact that Linette is played by Anthony Perkins' stunt double in the previous sequels, who also played Norman himself in the Bates Motel TV movie (they probably wanted to give him something to do since Henry Thomas is the one who does all the killing here), and because Mr. Emeric saw to it that Raymond got paroled and is raising him in his own house, letting him sleep in his daughter's own bedroom, despite the fact that he murdered her. His reason? "She was a world class bitch who didn't deserve a boy like Raymond." Nice family. And finally, you have John Landis as Mike, the station manager (oddly enough, this was the same year where he appeared in Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion). He's really only noticeable for the fact that it's John Landis, as well as for the fact that Norman's call-ins mean big ratings for the show. One part I find darkly ironic is when Dr. Richmond says that they care more about ratings than someone's life and when Fran, "Ratings have nothing to do with this," Mike chimes in, "They do to me." So, not much has changed, huh, Landis? (I know that was horrible but that's what I thought the first time I watched the movie.)

Out of all the sequels, this is the one that feels
the closest to the original Psycho to me, which is understandable since they brought back Joseph Stefano to pen the script. He, in turn, decided to virtually ignore the two previous films, which he didn't like, and looked back to the original for inspiration. As a result, I think the movie has much more in common with it than Psycho II and III which, as much as I really like the former and feel that the latter does have its merits, felt more of the 80's time period and the slasher craze, particularly the latter. While the main story of this film is set in 1990, there's very little that really pins it to that time aside from the
phones, the more modern radio equipment in Fran's studio, and the like. Also, a good chunk of the film takes place in the two decades leading up to the original's timeframe, which is where it feels the closest to it. In those sections, I feel that the movie is just a few notches higher than the original's seedy feel, with the same notion of casual sexual activity and rather deviant behavior happening during this era that's often remembered as rather prim and proper; granted, here we actually see it, whereas it was mainly implied in the original, but the feeling is still the same, even when Chet and Norma are really going at it. Another connection between the two is the relative lack of graphic violence. This is definitely the least gory of the sequels, with the only really bloody part being the first murder we see young Norman commit, while the other killings are bloodless strangulations and poisonings. It's the same way in the original, with the shower scene being quite gruesome for the time and the only other murder being not nearly as graphic. And finally, instead of having Sheriff Hunt, Ralph Statler, or any of the surviving characters from the previous two films make a return appearance, the one returning character in the main story other than Norman, Dr. Richmond, is from the original. What's more, most of the story centers around characters who've been dead for a while but we've always known about (Norma Bates, her lover, and Norman's other implied victims before his murder of Marion Crane), Norman's attempt to bring his mother back to life that was detailed at the end of the original, and the locations of the house and motel leading up to the events of the first film.

My favorite callback is the way Stefano shows us that Cabin 1 in the motel had a lot of history to it long before Marion Crane spent her last, fatal night there. According to Norman, the hole in the back wall of the parlor was made by his father, no doubt to spy on women who stayed there (he's more than likely the source of Norman's own voyeuristic tendencies), and it's through that hole where Norman, after coming home from school early one day, sees his mother absolutely losing her mind and going on a destructive rampage for no reason. This is likely when Norman first understood how sick his mother was. More significantly, Cabin 1 is where he watches his mother have sex with Chet for the first time after she brings him home from the bar he used to work at. Speaking of the parlor, we learn that's the place where he tried to get intimate with Emily before he got distracted and she took the opportunity to sneak up to his house.

While most of the callbacks to the original are very inspired, there are times where, like Psycho III, where the movie is reminiscent of it a bit too much. Unlike that film, though, it's not as blatant and is mainly confined to lines of dialogue from the original that are recycled. The one that really stuck out to me is when Dr. Richmond repeats his line of matricide being the most unbearable crime of all, especially for the son who commits it, and later on, Norman says almost the exact same line. Another repeat from the original is when young Norman yells, "Mother! Oh, God, Mother! Blood! Blood!", after his first murder (which, after being heard in Psycho III as well, is really getting old), as well as when Norman mentions, "My trusty umbrella," when he meets up with Connie at the motel. It's an odd thing to do, too, because I think it had stopped raining by that point, meaning that Stefano only wrote for him to have it so he could repeat the line. The one that I find the strangest is when both young and adult Norman use the phrase, "Not inordinately," with the former saying it twice during the first scene with. What's strange about that line is, while it was said in the original, it was Marion Crane who said it, not Norman. Odd mistake considering that it's from the same writer as the original, although I cut him some slack since it had been 30 years. Like I said, not as egregious as the previous movie but still borderline to me.

Stefano's decision to almost completely ignore the events of the past two films, particularly the subplot with Ms. Spool, does make for a confusing continuity. There are hints that it's still acknowledging that the previous films did happen, as Norman mentions that he was recommitted after a more recent spate of murders, but the timeline doesn't add up, as he says the last murders took place four years ago. There were four years between the productions of Psycho III and IV but, in context, Psycho III takes place only a month after the events of II, which is set in 1982; therefore, Norman should have said that the last murders happened eight years ago. But, given Stefano's open dislike for the previous movies, I hardly think he paid that much attention to their details in the timeline when he wrote this script. Plus, isn't it a little hard to swallow that Norman would be released again after the people he killed upon being let out the first time, regardless of the pull his psychiatrist-turned-wife might have? As for Ms. Spool's part in the story, her having murdered Norman's father out of a jealous rage is completely ignored here and Norman instead tells Fran Ambrose and Dr. Richmond that he was stung to death by bees. You could argue that his already warped state of mind, combined with what he went through in the last two movies, Norman doesn't quite know what to believe anymore and is just going with what he wants to see as the truth, but still, the continuity here does have some apparent, confusing holes in it.

Like its predecessors, Psycho IV is very well-shot by Mick Garris and his cinematographer, Rodney Charters. Even though it was made for cable, it has the slick look of a nicely-budgeted studio movie, with some top notch set design and a very rich lighting and color palette. The scenes in Norman's kitchen are lit well and have a nice, orange color in the close-ups on his face, especially near the end when he becomes distraught as he tells Fran that his wife allowed herself to become pregnant, but my favorite shots take place in the flashbacks to the timeframe after he killed his mother. The first scene where you see Henry Thomas looks gorgeous, with the rich colors of the motel lights, bathing the scene in orange, pink, and blue, and the colors from the constantly bursting fireworks, which make Emily's murder look surprisingly beautiful. The same goes for Norman's later murder of the older woman, Gloria, which has deep red colors cast over it, most prominently, again, in the close-ups of his face. Something else that connects this movie firmly to the original is how, as in that film, all of the locations are normal, average-looking, everyday places, save for the Bates house, which, conversely, served as the main setting of the previous films. All of the sets look really good, like Norman's suburban house, the cold, gray-colored interiors of Fran's radio station and the asylum where Connie works, and, most interestingly of all, we get to see the Bates Motel and the house both when they were in their prime and as old, abandoned husks of buildings ready to be torn down. It's odd seeing the house with a fresh coat of paint on it (I never expected it to be yellow) and for the interiors to be full of life and then, at the end, seeing it rundown and abandoned, filled with cobwebs, dust, and cracks in the wood (the dark lighting in that sequence is very well-done too). And, like Cabin 1 and the motel parlor, I like that Stefano gives other parts of the house some history. Not only is Norma's bedroom where Norman poisoned her and Chet but it's also where he committed his first murder after he developed his split-personality, with the same closet that his mother locked him being where he kept the wig and butcher knife. I also like the idea that the fruit cellar where Norman kept his mother's corpse is also the place where she finally succumbed to the strychnine after he dragged her down there.

Garris also creates some noteworthy camera shots and movements and deals with the film's composition in an interesting way too. The opening credits are peppered with quick, random close-ups of various things like a knife being pulled out of a holder and being used to cut a tomato in half, Fran Ambrose lighting a cigarette, the equipment in the studio being turned on for the show, a clock in the studio ticking towards show-time, blood going down a sink drain that's very reminiscent of a shot in the shower scene (incidentally, this is the only sequel to not feature footage from it), a suture being sewn through white, dead flesh, and a birthday cake being decorated with the

signature, "Happy Birthday, Norman." After the opening credits end, the first thing we see is another close-up, this time of Raymond Linette's mouth as he described how he murdered his mother, and there are more significant ones throughout the film, most notably when a memory causes Norman to become so tense with anger that he cracks an apple clean in half with his hands. Some interesting camera movements include the introductory shot of Norman in his kitchen, where the camera slowly moves toward him as he has back to it and turns around right when it gets up to the back of his head, giving us a close-up of his face, and a shot where the camera goes around and around the characters as Dr. Richmond argues with the people at the radio station about ratings meaning more than lives. Most fascinating, though, is how Garris, like Anthony Perkins himself did in his direction of Psycho III, lets us get into Norman's mind so we can experience the flashbacks and his personal demons the way he does. There are times where the adult Norman is present in the flashbacks, like when he's standing behind his father's coffin during the funeral scene or appears to be standing in his mother's bedroom, watching her and Chet have wild sex, and when he remembers the good memory of the picnic he and his mother had in the woods near the house, the light in the kitchen changes and we see him looking out the window at the scene as it begins. It gets across that he's not just remembering them but rather reliving them, as is made clear when the flashback of young Norman being locked in the closet dissolves on a close-up of him looking through the crack of the door to him in the present laying on the floor, with Henry Thomas' pleading voice fading into Perkins' as he's saying the same thing. And finally, during the finale as he sets fire to the house, we get to literally see Norman purging himself of his inner demons as he sees visions of the people he murdered, including Chet and his mother, coming back to haunt him and he manages to get around them in various ways. The last one is the most significant, where he sees his mother's skeleton in a rocking chair in the fruit cellar and it bursts into flames before disappearing. And the film ends on a shot of that now empty rocking chair, as Norma's old crone voice can be heard yelling at Norman to let her out when the cellar doors slam shut, signifying that he's finally locked her away for good.

Like I said, the murders in Psycho IV are very akin to those in the original in that they're not very bloody and that the bloodiest one is the first one, where young Norman knifes Emily (Sharen Camille) to death in his mother's bedroom. Garris intended for it to be very similar to the shower scene, with a long buildup to it as Emily sneaks into Norman's house, he follows her after realizing what she's done, they end up in his bedroom where she gets naked and crawls into his bed, he fondles her a bit, and then, he goes to "check on" his mother. At this point, the other side of his personality wants her gone and demands that he kill her, which is when he takes one of her dresses out of the wardrobe (the exact same one used in Psycho III), walks into the closet as Emily sneaks into the room, feeling that he's alone in there, and mistakes Norma's corpse lying in bed as him feigning sleeping. As she tries to get a reaction out of the figure in the bed, Norman emerges from the closet in the dress and wig, brandishing the knife, and sneaks up behind her, getting to her right when the light from the fireworks outside reveal that the figure is a corpse. That's when she turns around to see Norman and screams as he attacks, stabbing her furiously, as the fireworks explode in the sky outside. Like the shower scene, it's done in very quick cuts, with reaction shots of her screaming, him stabbing, close-ups of the blood-covered knife, and the fireworks. Garris' one bit of deep meaning for the film comes here, as he says that this is a form of sexual release for Norman, with the blood standing in for the appropriate fluid that he can't produce. Interestingly, the fireworks and the lighting they create in the room make the scene feel like a dark take on the love scene between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief. And after it's all done, you see Emily's dead body with the knife sticking out of her, as young Norman yells, "Mother! Oh, God, Mother! Blood! Blood!" (Does he say that every time he kills someone?)

Aside from that fairly blood spectacle, there are also some other, minor makeup effects that manage to be wince-inducing themselves, like the aforementioned random shot of a complete white, dead section of flesh being sewn up. It might be onscreen for a fraction of a second but it's startling nevertheless and you see enough of it to make you go, "Ew," especially me since pale, lifeless skin like that of a corpse always makes my skin crawl. That's a lead-up to the shot of Norma's mummified corpse in the aforementioned scene, which is creepy in how emaciated and, worst of all, fresh it looks since it had been only a few years since Norman killed her at that point. Another one that gets me is when Norman, after he hangs following that flashback of his first post-Mother murder, ends up cutting his thumb open and has to put it in the running water of the sink, which is where that shot of the drips of blood running down the sink during the opening credits came from. You also see a shot of Norman's father's face during the funeral scene, although I don't remember the makeup effect meant to represent his being stung to death by bees being that disturbing, but there is another shot of Norman sewing up his mother's midsection after stealing her corpse and, while it's not graphic at all, the idea is creepy enough.

The second murder, that of Gloria (Bobbi Evors), the older woman who Norman is seen making out with in her car by the motel, is the most bloodless of them all. After a passionate bit of tongue-wrestling, Norman excuses himself to give his mother some medication, promising to take Gloria someplace private when he gets back. As she waits for him, Gloria gives herself a touchup and hears the sounds of Norman arguing with his mother but doesn't think anything about it... until he slips into the backseat of the car, throws a thin rope around her neck, pulls her head back, and, in his Mother voice, yells, "Drive, whore!" He has her drive to the swamp behind the motel and, after apparently killing her, drags her body out of the car and prepares to put her in the trunk, when she takes a breath and struggles to get away. Norman is forced to overpower her and strangle her again until she seems to expire. After checking for a pulse and appearing to find one, Norman puts Gloria's body in the trunk, closes it, and pushes it off into the water. But, as he watches it sink, pounding can be heard from inside the trunk as it becomes clear Gloria still isn't dead and she can be heard screaming as the car submerges completely, with Norman watching nervously. I'm not sure if that was meant to be real or something Norman imagined since he seemed confident she was dead before he put her in and appeared to thoroughly strangle her beforehand. Maybe he sucks at checking for a pulse? Either way, the idea of her still being alive and slowly drowning inside the trunk is more unsettling than any graphic murder could have been.

Like Emily's death, the buildup to Norman's poisoning Norma and Chet is very long and drawn out, managing to be quite suspenseful as Norman, hearing the two of them banging upstairs in Norma's bedroom, takes some strychnine out of one of the kitchen cabinets and pours a lot of it into the tea he's fixing for them along with a bit of vanilla, takes it up to them, and waits patiently by the door for them to drink it. Chet chugs quite a bit of it down right away before heading into the bathroom but Norma takes her sweet time, dancing with her glass to the sound of the music on the radio, brushing its cool outside against her face, and even pouring a bit of it on her neck a couple of times, as Norman watches tensely from the doorway. Finally, she drinks it, and not a moment too soon, as the poison hits Chet in the bathroom, who staggers out covered in sweat and vomiting, falling to his knees and telling Norma what's happened right before she begins to feel the pain as well. She then sees Norman in the doorway and tells him that he's dead, with Chet attacking him and pushing them out into the hallway, at the top of the stairs. Norman manages to knock Chet off of him, sending him tumbling down the stairs, which is when Norma tries to attack but, in her weakening state, she's not able to do much. When they get to the bottom of the stairs, Norman grabs her around the back of her head, putting his hand over her mouth, and holds her down to the floor until she throws up and appears to expire. Chet gets back up and tries to get at Norman again but immediately collapses back onto the floor. Thinking he's done it, he drags Norma's body down into the fruit cellar, when she suddenly takes a breath. He pulls her up onto a chair and she opens her eyes to see him standing in front of her as she slowly and painfully dies from the strychnine, with Norman wiping the little bits of vomit from around her mouth. She almost falls out of the chair due to the convulsions but he lifts her back into it and watches as she finally dies. Chet then suddenly jumps Norman from behind, tackling him to the floor and trying to strangle him, but his body gives out as he tries to do so and he collapses on top of Norman, dead. He moves Chet's body off of him and stands up, as the scene ends with him looking at his dead mother as he takes a piece of candy corn out of his pocket and pops it in his mouth.

The climax begins when Connie arrives at the motel to meet up with Norman, who appears acting very sinisterly and drags her forcefully by her arm up the stairs, into the house. After a little talk about whether or not Norman would be capable of loving a child, he drags her upstairs, into his mother's old bedroom. He lets go of her and tells her to stay, but when she tries to walk out, he grabs her and shoves her against the wall, commenting, "You don't trust me. All that faith, and no potatoes." (Is that some old-time saying I've never heard before?) He goes into the closet
and takes out the butcher knife he kept under the floor, horrifying Connie when she sees him brandishing it, as she realizes he means to kill her. He walks up to her with it, preparing to slice her throat, but struggles with himself and hesitates, giving Connie time to run out the door and down the stairs. He chases after her and a
little game of cat and mouse follows, as he looks out the door to see that she didn't go out (I don't know why she didn't) and searches the house for her. Connie is shown to have been hiding in a nearby hallway and she attempts to slip out the door that Norman left open, only for the wind to blow it shut, alerting him. She runs down into the fruit cellar and tries to slip out the storm doors leading outside, when Norman opens them up and corners Connie. Again, it looks like he's about to kill her but she manages to make him realize that he's not the killer he used to be and that their baby won't be one either because of how he's changed and who she is. He drops the knife and has a heartwarming embrace with his wife.

You wouldn't expect a Psycho movie to have a finale where someone's trying to escape a burning building, which feels more fitting for a big action movie, but that's exactly how Norman's story ends. Norman sends Connie down to the car and proceeds to get rid of the past by pouring gasoline in every corner of the house and setting it on fire. Fittingly, he ignites his mother's bedroom first and then does the same to his own bedroom, but Norman's old memories come back to haunt him as he goes through the house. To make matters worse, some burning beams fall from the ceiling downstairs and block the front door. Norman sees this as he heads down the stairs and is distracted by visions of Gloria and his mother walking up the stairs towards, the latter causing him to fall through the railing, hurting his leg. While Connie screams for Norman outside and frantically runs about the property, screaming for help, he tumbles down into the fruit cellar, where he's greeted by a vision of his mother's mummified corpse in a rocking chair, which falls on top of him. He tosses it aside and it bursts into flames before vanishing, giving him the chance to escape through the storm doors, where Connie runs to him and helps him get away from the house, which is now completely engulfed in flames. The movie ends with Norman and Connie standing on the steps leading up to the house's charred remains, with Norman proclaiming himself to be free after the two of them look back at it and they go off to live theirs lives.

Here's the most concrete connection between Psycho IV and the original: at least 50% of the music is Bernard Herrmann's original score, making this the only sequel to feature any of it, aside from Psycho II's opening recap of the shower scene. Herrmann's themes are used well and are placed in appropriate spots throughout the film, such as the main title theme for the opening and closing credits, the shower scene's screeching violins for two of the murders, the unsettling theme from the scene where Norman watches Marion Crane through the peephole for when he sees his mother bring Chet home and they go into Cabin 1, and so on. However, while it's nice to hear this classic music again, it sounds like it's been re-orchestrated, possibly by the composer of the film's new score, Graeme Revell. That's not uncommon, as Jerry Goldsmith had to do the same for Herrmann's music in the aforementioned recap of the shower scene in the first sequel, but I also think that this version of the music has ended up on the official soundtrack releases of the original movie's score. I bought that on CD when I was 15 and was surprised to hear that the main theme was much slower than the lightning-fast version that plays over the opening credits, as well as that the screeching violins during the shower scene were slowed down and the strings for the aftermath went by much quicker, which is the way they sound here. In any case, Revell's new music for the film attempts to stay in the same mold as Herrmann's, sounding bigger and grander than typical modern music, and it does work for the most part. None of the individual themes stuck out to me that much (which is sometimes the case with Revell's work) but they fit their scenes well, like the very quick, urgent piece that plays when Norma and Chet attack Norman upon realizing he poisoned them, the suspenseful music when Norman chases Connie through the house, heartwarming music for the good moments between little Norman and his mother, when he decides to put his faith in Connie and their child, and the moment between them after the house has burned, and an exciting theme when he's trying to escape the burning house.

Psycho IV: The Beginning may never reach classic status but I think it's most definitely an above-average sequel with a lot of good ingredients: great performances, especially from Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey, and Henry Thomas, inspired direction from Mick Garris, great cinematography, a fascinating and often disturbing look at Norman's life with his mother and the events leading up to his murdering her, a welcome closeness between the film and the original in many ways, well-done and very subtle makeup effects, a good mix of Bernard Herrmann's legendary themes with some suitable new music, and, best of all, a nicely-crafted script that leads to a finale which brings Norman full-circle and makes for a satisfactory end to his story. There are some hiccups, like too many recycle lines of dialogue from the original, a confusing continuity with the previous sequels, and the new music by Graeme Revell not being that memorable, but, overall, it's one that I definitely would recommend as an improvement over the interesting but much more flawed Psycho III and a great swan song for Anthony Perkins in his most famous role.