Synopsis: In this chilling prequel to the classic Hitchcock thriller, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is drawn to a late night radio show, where the host (C.C.H. Pounder) encourages him to share his views on the topic of matricide – the murder of a mother by her own child. Reliving his childhood, Norman recounts his trails as a young boy (Henry Thomas) living with his widowed schizophrenic mother (Olivia Hussey). These haunting memories are more than just images of the past; they threaten to rekindle his killing urge in this spine-chilling thriller.
The last time that we saw Norman Bates, he was being ushered away by the police. And rightly so: ‘Psycho III’ was such a formulaic cheesefest that he deserved to be taken away (after all, Anthony Perkins, who incarnated Bates on-screen, also directed that turkey)
Thankfully, for this final instalment, which ironically also happens to be a flashback-flick that covers Bates’ life before the events in Hitchcock’s original, someone got smart and decided to put together a decent crew:
Firstly, they hired ‘Psycho’ scribe Joseph Stefano. Then they picked Mick Garris who, while having a lazy eye, is effective enough a director. And, of course, Anthony Perkins returned as Norman. Then they filled the supporting cast with a bunch of decent, relatively recognizable actors: Olivia Hussey as young Ms. Bates, Henry Thomas as young Norman and CCH Pounder as the woman who interviews the adult Norman, revealing his childhood in the process. Then there is the enjoyable, if amateurish, presence of John Landis as the radio station manager.
Stefano’s script makes an attempt to tie up all the loose ends in Bates’ mind; he tried very hard to explain, and sometimes justify, the actions that Bates would end up taking as an older youth. However, since it’s all told to us in vignettes, in short-form recollections, it’s clever enough as a wrap-up, but is not entirely successful as a thriller.
In fact, unlike its first two siblings, ‘Psycho IV’ is hardly suspenseful. The main storyline, which involves a radio station crew trying to track down Bates and prevent him from killing again, could actually have been a good device. Again, the problem is in the way that the film is chopped up (please pardon the pun!): with a constant shifting between past and present, there is hardly any momentum to be had.
As everyone knows, one of the key elements of the ‘Psycho’ series is the music. It is said that Alfred Hitchcock thought that his film couldn’t be released theatrically (he was considering it for his TV series instead) until he heard Bernard Herrmann’s famed “black and white” score. Similarly, Goldsmith’s entirely different score for ‘Psycho II’ was perfectly appropriate for that film and set the tone for Bates’ return into madness. Sadly, Graeme Revell’s score for ‘Psycho IV’, unlike his amazing compositions for the first two instalments of ‘The Crow’, is pathetically generic and weak.
In the end, we do get closure with Norman, the Bates Motel and the series. But it’s hardly memorable; ‘Psycho IV’ is good but far from being a classic. The truth is that it simply wouldn’t stand on its own – it depends on the first two films to prop it up. Still, for a fan and/or completist, it’s a satisfying enough chapter to warrant a look.