The Movie Waffler Bluray Review - PSYCHO: THE STORY CONTINUES | The Movie Waffler


Boxset of the three sequels to Hitchcock's seminal slasher.

Review by Eric Hillis


Arrow Video's boxset 'Psycho: The Story Continues' gathers together the three sequels to Alfred Hitchcock's seminal 1960 slasherPsycho II, Psycho III, Psycho IV: The Beginning - with all three films restored from their original negatives.

Psycho II

Psycho II
Belated sequels and reboots may be all the rage today, but in 1983 the notion of following up one of the most iconic movies in cinema history a full two decades later seemed like a fool's errand. The popularity of slasher movies in the early '80s  would likely have made the idea of bringing back Norman Bates for another stabbing spree irresistible however. Few expected a Psycho sequel to work, but in the hands of Hitchcock obsessive Richard Franklin, who brilliantly reworked  Rear Window with his Ozploitation classic Roadgames, Psycho II proved a surprisingly effective follow-up.

Going against the grain of Reagan era Hollywood's black and white morality, Franklin's sequel casts Norman as a sympathetic victim rather than an outright villain. After spending 22 years in a psychiatric institution, Norman is declared sane and released back into the community of Fairvale, where he is set up with a job washing dishes in a local diner. Norman makes the unwise decision to resume living in the creepiest house in California, and takes over the management of the infamous motel, which had been run as a halfway house by its temporary manager (Dennis Franz at his sleaziest).

The vulnerable Norman befriends Mary (Meg Tilly), a pretty young waitress at his diner, and when she finds herself homeless he offers her free lodging in his house. Norman confesses to poisoning his mother as a child but holds back the details of his other crimes from Mary, whose presence provides him with comfort and takes his mind off the ghosts of his past. When Norman becomes the subject of a gaslighting campaign from an anonymous tormentor posing as his mother, his brittle sanity begins to crack and the bodies start to pile up once again.

Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland keep us guessing as to who is behind the fresh series of killings. Has Norman lost it or is someone trying to frame him? Each new plot twist serves to deepen the mystery, though I've never been entirely convinced by the ultimate reveal. Franklin displays his reverence for Hitchcock with some fiendishly mounted set-pieces and the gore is amped up to slasher era levels.

The heart of the film is Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates, and the whole enterprise collapses if we aren't sufficiently convinced that he's deserving of our sympathy. Having been initially reluctant to the return to his most famous role, Perkins delivers an astonishingly affecting performance, playing Norman as a tragic victim of both mental health issues and an uncaring society, while at the same time leaving us in no doubt that he's capable of violence should he snap. Perkins' performance is greatly aided by the fact that he maintained the wiry physique of his youth, which lends a boyish quality to the fortysomething Norman. The maternal relationship between Mary and Norman is genuinely touching, and a scene in which Tilly cradles Perkins as Norman recalls his one pleasant childhood memory, that of his mother's grilled cheese sandwiches, is enough to wet your eyes. It's said that Perkins and Tilly didn't get along during the shoot but you'd never know it from their onscreen chemistry.

Psycho II is the best type of sequel, one that understands the enormity of its task but never allows itself to become overwhelmed by such pressure. Franklin's daring choice to reconfigure Norman as an anti-hero is backed up by Jerry Goldsmith's score, which refuses to call back to Bernard Herrmann's iconic stabbing strings and instead complements the tragic nature of this older Norman with a melancholy piano theme.

Only a fool would claim Franklin's sequel is the equal of Hitchcock's groundbreaking film, but I guess I'm a fool, as I find Psycho II  just as entertaining as its predecessor. Well, we all go a little mad sometimes.

Psycho III

Psycho III
1986's Psycho III picks up just weeks after the conclusion of its predecessor, with Norman Bates doing his best to live the normal life of a motel owner. Once again Norman is a victim figure, manipulated by Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), a sleazy drifter who takes a job as Norman's assistant, and gaining the unwanted attention of journalist Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), who doesn't buy the official explanation of the events of the previous film.

While the relationship between Norman and Mary in Psycho II was that of a surrogate mother and son, here Norman is given a full on love interest in the form of Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a troubled former nun who left her convent after a crisis of faith resulted in a fellow nun falling to her death from a bell tower (as portrayed in a prologue that nods to Hitchcock's Vertigo). With her short blonde hair and the initials "M.C." emblazoned on her suitcase, Maureen reminds Norman of Marion Crane, the doomed fugitive played by Janet Leigh in the 1960 film. Norman is given the chance to settle down with a loving partner, but her resemblance to his most famous victim threatens Maureen's life.

This one sees Perkins make his directorial debut and features a screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue, who scored a hit with his script for Cronenberg's The Fly the same year. Both of Pogue's 1986 scripts share a similar theme of a romance between a man and woman that's doomed by the former's mad compulsions. The relationship in Psycho III is never quite fleshed out enough to be fully convincing though, and we never feel the intended weight of Maureen's tragic storyline. In Fahey's Duane we get the franchise's creepiest figure, an absolute scuzzball who begins by attempting to sexually assault Maureen and moves on to blackmailing Norman. Fahey's performance is positively satanic and unlike Norman, who simply wants to be normal, Duane is a willing sociopath.

Unlike the previous two entries, there's no mystery regarding who is perpetrating this entry's murders. The audience's awareness of Norman's guilt is playfully exploited by Perkins the director, who stages some tense sequences in which we find ourselves actively rooting for Norman to get away with it. A scene involving a corpse in an ice box is a blackly comic highlight. When actors turn their hands to directing they often deliver movies that look like they were made for TV, but Perkins proves himself something of a visual stylist. There's an expressionist touch to how he frames characters and lights their surrounds, like Duane's motel room, lit in garish reds and pinks to create a hellishly unpleasant atmosphere. Perkins also finds some clever ways to transition between scenes, and adds the odd weird touch like Duane's unsettling nude dance with a pair of lamps covering his privates. It's a shame Perkins would only go on to direct one other movie, the 1988 flop Lucky Stiff. Like Jerry Goldsmith with the previous film, composer Carter Burwell ignores Bernard Herrmann's score here and delivers a synth heavy, New Wave influenced score that has been sampled by several hip hop producers int he decades since.

Psycho III is ultimately let down by its fumbling of the potentially intriguing Maureen subplot, but there's enough here to thrill fans of the series.

Psycho IV: The Beginning

Psycho IV: The Beginning
Despite its title, 1990's made for TV Psycho IV ignores the events of the previous two sequels, bringing back the original 1960 movie's screenwriter Joseph Stefano. This one sees a rehabilitated Norman Bates living as a free man with a wife and a baby on the way. Norman's old instincts rise to the surface when he listens to a radio talk show on the subject of matricide. Calling in to the show, Norman relates his life story to the host (CCH Pounder) and a psychiatrist (Warren Frost).

After three outstanding turns in the previous films, Perkins is left to literally phone in his performance for most of Psycho IV. The bulk of the film instead sees Henry Thomas play a teenage Norman as we witness his descent into madness. This is provoked by his controlling mother Norma (Olivia Hussey), who teases the boy in an incestuous manner.

Director Mick Garris fails to make anything interesting of the various vignettes in which we see Norman off a series of victims. Thomas does his best but we can't but compare him unfavourably to the young Perkins' iconic turn in Hitchcock's film. Things aren't helped by Graeme Revell's score, which unlike those of Jerry Goldsmith and Carter Burwell in the previous sequels, insists on aping Bernard Herrmann's work. Laying that famous music over Garris's blandly staged scenes doesn't do the film any favours.

The emphasis on the borderline incestuous relationship between Norman and his mom makes Psycho IV seedy rather than suspenseful. There's an ickiness to the whole affair that makes it an unpleasant watch, but the cast-against-type Hussey is suitably deranged as the awful woman who kicked off this chain of events.
Special features:

Across the three discs we get a host of new and archive commentaries, on set featurettes, audio and video interviews and video essays by genre experts Alexandra Heller Nicholas and Guy Adams.

Psycho: The Story Continues is on bluray and 4K UHD from February 26th.