The season finale of A&E’s “Bates Motel” airs tonight, so I figured I’d take a look back at the film that spawned it, Psycho, and the modest film franchise that followed.
Most of these movies were holding up fairly well in my memory except for Psycho 2 and Psycho 3, so I re-watched those over the weekend and was actually fairly surprised by how much I enjoyed them. When you think about it, the Psycho universe certainly has more solid installments than something like the Howling franchise, which is kind of neat. It’s just a bummer that the mythology of Norman Bates and the Bates Motel doesn’t really lend itself to much scrutiny (the minimal use of this stuff is part of what makes the original film so brilliant).
Head below for my ranking of The 5 ‘Psycho’ Films From Worst To Best!!!
5 – PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING
Mick Garris’ Psycho IV strains credulity right off the bat by having Norman Bates once again freed by the justice system. I’m pretty sure that if you kill a few people, plea insanity, get “cured” and released – then kill a bunch more people and go back to jail/the asylum – that’s it. You’re done. But here, not only has Norman gotten a third chance, he’s got a wife and with a bun in the oven and he calls into a radio talk show to mull over the possibility of killing his son.
All that aside, the film feels cheap and small (it is a 90’s TV movie) and the early “prequel” material with Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey isn’t particularly interesting. I mean, freaky stuff happens and the scene in which Hussey is poisoned is fairly brutal – but it’s an early example of the general rule that “the more you explain, the less interesting it is.”
4 – PSYCHO (1998)
I admire this film simply because I still don’t understand why it exists. I’m beginning to think that’s the point, that Gus Van Sant’s “shot for shot” Psycho remake is more art installation than movie. The fact that it got made is the art.
Vince Vaughn is fine as Norman Bates (Anne Heche doesn’t fare as well) while the little tiny additions (like the fapping sound to clarify that Vaughn’s iteration is indeed whacking off) again drive home more questions than answers. Why? 15 years later and we’re still wondering. To me, that makes this film worthwhile. It’s useless and I’m okay with that.
3 – PSYCHO 2
It had been at least 2 decades since I had seen either Psycho 2 or Psycho 3 so I revisited them both specifically for this article and was surprised at how much I liked them. They’re both ridiculous, but they possess a certain charm. Psycho 2 lags just behind the 3rd installment in terms of quality because its slower pace becomes tedious and the scheme to make Norman go insane again is just flat out dumb (as is the twist to Norman’s mother’s “real” identity).
Interestingly enough, this this is an early Tom Holland script (he would later go on to write and direct Fright Night and Child’s Play) but director Richard Franklin takes a curiously meandering approach to such pulpy material. It’s as if he doesn’t want to offend Hitchcock’s ghost by having too much fun. Ultimately Meg Tilly’s sweet, vulnerable performance edges this one forward but Psycho 2 presents an interesting conundrum that plagues the other sequels – the mythology of Norman Bates just isn’t that interesting.
Of course it works in Psycho because that film utilizes this information as the basis for a series of stunning reveals. “Oh sh*t his Mom’s dead! Oh sh*t he’s dressed as a woman! Oh sh*t he stuffed her!” But the actual day-to-day of his psychology is actually pretty tedious.
2 – PSYCHO 3
While Psycho 3 doesn’t benefit from a female lead as magnetic as Meg Tilly, it fixes the former film’s pacing problems, ups the violence and is in general more gleefully entertaining. Kudos to Anthony Perkins for getting behind the camera and manifesting what is in all probability the best you could reasonably expect from an unnecessary sequel.
I also really like how Psycho 3 is such a direct follow-up to the second film. It only takes place month or so later and many of the town’s characters are brought back onboard, so it really feels like these two films are a larger movie that’s been cut in half (even though they were filmed several years apart). It’s also helpful that Jeff Fahey plays the one person in the Psycho universe who you want to see die the most.
1 – PSYCHO
Of course this is the best. I can’t really add anything that much smarter people haven’t already said, except to say that this is a perfect example of a move that really shouldn’t have a sequel. As much fun as I had with the 2nd and 3rd installments, you’re only doing yourself a disservice when you try to elaborate on something that wasn’t meant to be elaborated on. And obviously it trumps all of the other films in the franchise on every other conceivable level.