There’s a morbid fascination with killers, and why they do the horrific acts that they do, leading to the resurgence of true crime as entertainment. The genre has itself become quite a multimedia sensation, but the real-life impact of these acts might be blinded by the dollar signs. In 1990, a Psycho sequel through the lens of provocative media asked these questions and attempted to solve the quandary of if evil does run deep in the bloodline, in the ultimate Psycho IV: The Beginning.
The now released Norman (going by the name Ed), is happily dating a nurse, Connie, who doesn’t seem to know the dark secret behind Ed and life is starting to look normal. When a radio show starts probing into the ghastly case of the Bates Motel, Norman just has to call in and offer his two cents, as the producers see the dollar value for keeping Bates on the phone. Beginning to probe into Bates’s background, the film flashes back to a young Norman’s life, growing up with the circumstances that made him the man he is today. Further complicating matters is the shocking revelation that Ed is planning to kill pregnant Connie. As the station desperately tries to keep Ed on the phone, to trace the call, the audience will find out if pure evil runs in the family?
Starting with the original Psycho score, intercut with mundane activities (à la Dexter) is a great touch that sets the stage for the unveiling drama. The elephant in the room is the continuing plot revelations of Psycho II and III are disregarded again. I liked II and II for what they tried to do, but can understand some purists’ qualms about following that tangled, and mostly concluded plot. We get an overarching framing device that evokes the cult classic Talk Radio strongly, as the radio producers debate the issues of keeping Ed on the phone, especially when a supposed threat is made against Connie’s welfare.
A lot of mileage comes from the prequel elements, and for said elements, we finally get to see the earlier versions of Norman and Mrs Bates (before the embalming). Henry Thomas is quite believable as a young Perkins, especially when compared with Anthony Perkins himself returning as Norman/Ed for one final time. The actress who made you fall madly in love with Juliet, Olivia Hussey, feels like a superb choice as Bates’s mother. Of course, we get a front-row seat for the relationship between Norman and Mother, one that made Norman who he is. We also get to put a face to the mysterious Chet as he causes a rift between mother and son along with the economic devitalisation of the family business when the brand-new highway dries up potential traffic.
Whether Psycho IV is a worthy sequel to the original depends on how you like your prequels. The flashbacks are great at fleshing out the summarised backstory of Norman, and the quandary it raises about whether evil is inherent is intrinsically interesting. Perkins does provide a great send-off for his infamous character in the equally captivating contemporary segments, while it would have been fun to somehow work in II and III, It’s understandable why they are ignored. For offering a definitive end to the Psycho saga, you probably wouldn’t want to touch that dial.
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