Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) — The prequel nobody wanted

“She always knew I was gonna kill her some day.”

Justin’s rating: The cheese, mother, the cheese!

Justin’s review: I find it weirdly ironic that the film that was instrumental in kicking off the slasher genre spawned a string of sequels that chose to go a different route entirely. The three Psycho sequels are more head trips that spent undue time stripping apart the “why” and the “who” of events of the first movie. I was kind of surprised that Psycho II and III weren’t the automatic roadkill that one might assume, so I was curious if this final entry would offer something worth my time.

Made for TV shortly before Anthony Perkins passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia, Psycho IV: The Beginning was plopped like a dead bird by a cat onto the doorstep of loyal fans. Not only was it a quickly made cash-in, but it committed the horrible sin of being a prequel (of sorts). My feeling is that if the original movie of any franchise didn’t deem it necessary to explain the origin story of characters, then subsequent films certainly don’t need to do so either.

The framing device for this short flick is that Norman Bates (Perkins) hears a radio talk show about matricide and decides to call in to give the full scoop on what drives a perfectly nice boy to up and kill his mother. That sends us spiraling into flashbacks of Norman’s youth, where he’s played ominously by Henry Thomas (Elliott from E.T.).

The film attempts to show us how Norman’s messed-up childhood and his predisposition toward mental illness shaped him into a killer, but honestly, there’s very little here that expands upon the franchise’s mythology or adds to it. It’s a lot of familiar beats that ape what Alfred Hitchcock did so amazingly well a long time ago, but with a thick layer of ham and cheese. And since all Perkins had to do was show up to a single kitchen set and literally phone it in, it’s not like we have his mesmerizing acting to pull us through the bulk.

Honestly, I found myself feeling bored and annoyed, which tends to happen when filmmakers are being lazy and pushing out a vastly substandard product that’s going to coast to a modicum of success based on the name brand alone. Psycho IV might’ve been subtitled “The Beginning,” but anyone with two brain cells to rub together can clearly see how this was the end.

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