Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Directed by:
Mick Garris

Joseph Stefano, who had scripted the original 1960 Hitchcock classic, also wrote this unnecessary prequel, which made its debut on cable TV (Showtime) before heading to video. Anthony Perkins returns for the fourth time as Norman. He's still just as emotionally troubled as before but apparently a little more psychologically stable, seeing how he's now married to a compassionate and understanding woman (Donna Mitchell). Norman calls in one of those self help style radio shows and talks about his horrific childhood to the radio host and her doctor guest. Flashbacks feature Olivia Hussey as mother Norma and Henry Thomas (little Elliot from E.T. all grown up) as the young Norman. Norma is painted as the nasty, nutty town slut, who locks her son in the closet, teases him with sexual advances and makes him wear dresses and make-up. It all shows how Norman became Norman. Fair enough. The problem I have with these types of movies is that the earlier films did an adequate enough job delving into the Norman psyche without having to really visualize anything, and they did it without having to wallow around in the sordid details. That makes this one come across a little on the pointless side; as if they're just looking for an excuse to wring more money out of a brand name.

Not only is this an unnecessary venture, but it also makes the mistake of explaining away a character who worked so well because he was always allowed to be a little mysterious. Sure, we always had clues dropped about him, his mother and his formative years in the earlier films, but when you get too detailed and explain someone away in such conventional terms and then visualize it all, the enigmatic creepiness of the character goes right out the window. Nope, Norman just isn't scary in this film. You simply pity him. However, the first two films were strong enough that you were both frightened by and felt sympathy for the character. Not really the case here. However, this isn't a bad film, either. It's well made, well produced and well acted (by Perkins, Hussey, Thomas, CCH Pounder as the talk show host and Warren Frost as the doctor), so it's not completely worthless.

At the end, older Norman's recollections of his past make him snap (yet again) and he tries to murder his new wife. Will he? Won't he? Is he beyond help? Will Norm be locked away forever? Do you really even care anymore? So much for practice makes perfect. Perkins returned to the horror genre in the (boring) German production A DEMON IN MY VIEW and the TV movie IN THE DEEP WOODS before his death in 1992.

Score: 4.5 out of 10

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