‘Psycho IV: The Beginning’ (1990): Retro Review

The original Psycho (1960 – read our retro review here) is often regarded as the ultimate horror movie. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic black and white slasher ushered in the prominence of a whole new subgenre, becoming the origin cited as to why a lot of filmmakers got their start into movies. But what’s often forgotten is just how good the Psycho sequels are. An astonishing three decades after the original film hit screens, we finally got a proper introduction into the start of Norman Bates. And now, another thirty years later, we’re taking a look back at the importance of Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), which released as a TV movie on November 10, 1990.

Psycho IV: The Beginning was written by Joseph Stefano (Shadow 2010) who also wrote the screenplay for the original film. It was directed by the legendary Mick Garris (Nightmare Cinema 2018: read our review here), and you can see Garris’ horror-stained fingerprints all over the screen. The film stars Anthony Perkins (Psycho 1960), Henry Thomas (E.T. The Extra Terrestrial 1982), Olivia Hussey (It 1990), and CCH Pounder (Avatar 2009). This star-studded cast tells the story of Norman Bates, years after he’s released from prison for his previous slew of murders. He’s now a mild-mannered married man, and his wife is expecting a child. He begins to fear that he’ll kill again because he doesn’t want his future child to end up like him. Seeking answers, he phones into a radio show about matricide. Through a conversation with the radio host, Norman begins to recount all of his previous traumas that turned him into the killer he became.

This film is the prefect bridge between a sequel and a prequel. It manages to flash back to previous character-building events while also remaining in the present day long enough to tie a manicured bow on the franchise and keeping the continuity of all the previous films while still advancing Norman’s character. Psycho IV: The Beginning immerses the viewer into the experiences of this murderer, while somehow making them feel sympathetic for the torment that Norman was put through. It teaches us that monsters aren’t born; they are made. And who’s worse: the monster, or the ones who made him?

To pull off that duality of good and evil, you need a strong cast and a strong lead actor. While all the principal characters shine here, Anthony Perkins’ expressions manage to hold so much pain, fear, and tension. Henry Thomas plays the younger Norman, and his mannerisms match like a mirror. CCH Pounder plays the radio host who tries to draw out Norman’s past without setting him off. The whole setup is a simple conversation, yet it’s built on a delicate house of cards that keeps the entire movie tense. The musical score adds to the ambiance, and the editing is seamlessly sharp. We end with a battle of inner demons that has Norman returning to the hotel that destroyed him, seeking closure once and for all.

Considering the death of its creator and the passage of time between Psycho and its sequels, this whole series still manages to tell a perfect character progression. Most franchises don’t get their proper end, but Psycho IV: The Beginning gave a fitting coda to one of horror’s most respected figures.

About Jason Burke

Hey there, I'm Jason. I'm a lifelong writer and lover of all things that go bump in the night. Under my production company name, Nostalgic Nightmare Productions, I write and produce films, novels, and photoshoots. I'm also an actor, activist, poet, and stand-up comic. I believe in deep, character-driven stories that engage the audience.

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