Psycho is one of my favorite movies of all time. I wouldn’t say it’s the best horror movie of all time, but you can certainly make an argument for it. At worst I’d say its top 5. It’s a landmark film that is basically perfect. Up until recently I had never seen any of the sequels. I was always scared of them. I couldn’t understand how they existed or how they would make any sense. Things changed this past December.
Via Vision Entertainment out of Australia released a region free boxset containing all 6 movies in the Psycho series. That’s right, there are 6 films. 5 are Blu-rays and 1 is a DVD. This set was my third favorite boxset release of 2015 and with good reason. Let me tell you why I ranked it so high.
Psycho – 1960 – Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Psycho follows Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary from Phoenix stealing money from her employer to help her divorced boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Marion steals $40,000 and heads off to Sam’s home in California. A rain storm delays her trip causing her to stay a night at the Bates Motel, a small little hotel off the beaten path.
The motel is owned by Norman Bates who advises Marion that he rarely gets visitors based on their location. Norman lives in the house on top of the hill with his mother.
From there…well you know the story.
Psycho is a landmark film that has had a cultural impact that few other movies can match. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch which was loosely based on the serial killer Ed Gein, no studio wanted any part of this. Paramount, who had a deal remaining with Hitchcock for one more film, wouldn’t finance it. They said it was “too repulsive” and “impossible for film.” Hitchcock would not be fazed. He raised the funds himself under his own Shamley Productions and shot the film at Universal Studios under the Revue television unit.
The famous shower scene with Leigh consists of 77 different camera angles and 50 cuts. Two cameras were used for the three minute scene which was made extra creepy by Bernard Herrmann’s all strings score.
Hitchcock did all he could to keep the film secretly guarded, even going so far to purchase as many copies of the novel as possible. He wanted to protect his reveal, which would go on to become one of the most famous and disturbing twists in cinema history.
Hitchcock’s shocking, disturbing thriller is truly a work of art. It introduced us to one of the horror icons in Norman Bates and has terrified audiences for 50 plus years with no end in sight.
Like I said, I view this as the perfect movie. I think the ending is very fitting and have always thought there was no need to continue the series from this point. Why would you? You can’t improve on this, so what do you hope to accomplish with a sequel? Well, let’s move onto Psycho II and find out!
Psycho II – 1983 – Dir. Richard Franklin
Psycho II takes place 22 years after the events in the original film took place. Anthony Perkins returns as Norman Bates and is being released from a mental institution after spending the time in confinement. The court decides to release Norman back into the world because the murders were a result of him being insane. After years of work with Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), it is determined that Norman is no longer crazy and fit to return to society.
Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), the sister of Marion Crane, is not pleased at all. In fact she’s furious and passionately protests against Norman’s release, even going so far as to start a petition which receives 743 signatures. Lila’s pleas go unanswered and I’d say rightfully so because after all she only notched 743 signatures which really isn’t that much.
Dr. Raymond takes Norman back to his home and gets him a job at the local diner. At the diner where he meets Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar), a religious older lady who pushed for Norman to get the job at the diner. She believes everyone deserves a second change, Norman included.
Norman also strikes up a friendship with a young waitress named Mary (Meg Tilly). After hearing Mary get into a fight with her boyfriend on the phone leaving her with no place to stay, Norman offers up a room at the Bates Motel for Mary to use FOC – free of charge. Marry accepts but issues arise when the two get to the hotel. Norman finally meets the new motel manager, Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), and learns the hotel has turned into a refuge for drug addicts and people looking for a cheap place to hook up for a few hours. Needless to say Norman doesn’t approve of this and fires Toomey immediately. He then invites Mary to stay in a spare room in his house.
Things seem to be going pretty well for Norman. He starts getting his hotel fixed up and back to his standards and he just seems to be normal for once. But then things start to happen. He begins getting phone calls from someone claiming to be his mother. Is someone pulling a prank on Norman? Has he lost it once again? Or has his mother really returned?
I didn’t think there was a reason for Psycho II to exist, but man oh man am I glad that it does! I remember reading once that Quentin Tarantino prefers this sequel to Hitchcock’s original. I used to think that was crazy. After watching the film I wouldn’t agree with that stance, but I certainly understand it. It is a fantastic movie and a worthy successor.
The opening of the film is a bit weird. It opens with the famous shower scene from the first movie which seems completely unnecessary. I kind of wish that got dropped on the cutting room floor. Honestly though, that’s my biggest complaint and if that’s my biggest complaint, well then that’s pretty damn good.
I don’t want to spoil it too much, though if you’re reading this you’ve probably seen it already, but I love the way the movie twists so much of what we had learned in the first film. Norman is the villain in Psycho and Lila is the hero of sorts. In this outing things are flip flopped around. Norman was already a sympathetic character, but here it’s amped up quite a bit. You really feel for the guy. He’s had it rough in his life and he’s just trying to get things together and do right. On the other hand Lila is awful and won’t leave poor Norman alone. Of course we understand why she hates Norman, but she pushes it to the extreme.
It’s strange, but I think from the audience perspective it’s really easy to pull for Norman. I think that credit is due to the acting ability of Perkins. I’ve always considered Perkins to be very, very, very good in Psycho but I think he’s a lot better in Psycho II. He is so convincing and so likable that it’s not hard to root for a killer. I’m not sure a lot of actors can pull that off. He was truly one of a kind.
The final third of the film is pretty bonkers. There is a reveal that is reminiscent of learning Laurie is Michael’s sister in Halloween II. It kind of comes out of left field, but the movie does such a good job pulling you in that it’s easy to buy everything Franklin and crew are selling in the final act. I may have hesitated to watch it for years, but after finally viewing Psycho II I can say that it’s one of the greatest sequels ever.
Psycho III – 1986 – Dir. Anthony Perkins
Psycho III picks up a month after Psycho II ends with a young nun, Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), running away from her church after her suicidal tendencies lead to the death of an older nun. Wandering through the desert with nowhere particular to go, Maureen is picked up by a drifter named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). Duke is a shady character who gives off some terrible vibes. His car is littered with trash and he’s apparently on his way to LA where he has dreams of becoming a big time rock star.
As the dark of night takes over a terrible rainstorm hits, leading to Duke parking the car on the side of the road. Maureen becomes concerned by this but Duke tells her it’s too dangerous to drive in the current weather. As the two sit in the car Duke decides to make a move and begins kissing Maureen. Maureen does not approve and begins to freak out. Duke kicks her out into the rainy desert and drives off.
Not too far away from this incident is the Bates Motel where Norman is once again behind the help desk of the motel office waiting for weary travelers to stop by. Norman’s waiting ends when Duke stops in. Duke is looking for a place to stay for the night but he also notices a “Help Wanted” sign and decides to inquire about a job. Norman lets Duke know that business has been slow but he expects it to pick up. As long as Duke is willing to work days, because Norman of course works nights, he’ll get the job. Duke readily agrees.
Back at the local diner reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is asking questions about Norman because she believes he is killing again. She’s curious about the disappearance of Mrs. Spool who has been missing for a month and she’s convinced that Norman has something to do with. When Norman walks in she gets the chance to talk to Norman herself and Norman obliges at first. For the most part Norman seems unaware of Tracy’s motives, but loses interest when Maureen walks into the diner. Maureen reminds Norman of Marion Crane and his urge to kill returns.
The last third of Psycho II went completely bonkers and Psycho III carries that all over into an entire feature film. There must be something about the third film in a series. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Death Wish III and Jurassic Park III are three other examples that immediately come to mind that I would compare to Psycho III. And what I mean when I say that is that these are all films that go complete off the wall and in crazy different directions that their predecessors started out on. I wonder why that is? I guess you just get to the point where you’re like, “hey, we’re three films in, who’s telling us no?” I’m not complaining mind you, each one of these third films I’ve mentioned I love.
The most bizarre aspect involves Duke. One of the perks he receives as an employee of the Bates Motel is that he gets a room to stay in. Within like a day of moving in his room looks as if he’s been there for years. There’s stuff scattered all over and pictures plastered over the walls. Furthering his weirdness he goes to a local bar and picks up a girl. He brings her back to the room and then one of the strangest sex scenes I’ve ever witness ensues. I’m not quite sure what goes on exactly, but Duke is completely naked and holding two lamps out in front of him. It feels like something you’d see in a David Lynch movie in that it makes zero sense but looks pretty cool.
Psycho III marked the directorial debut of Perkins and I’d say it was a pretty damn impressive one at that. Regardless of how anyone feels about the movie, you certainly have to admit it has style. The aforementioned sex scene with Duke is not the type of stylistic scene you often see with new directors. Perkins seemed very confident in what he was doing and I’d say rightfully so. Even though the film goes in these oddball directions that no one would have predicted after viewing the first film, Perkins still managed to pay tribute to the original much more than the second film did. For starters Psycho III spends a lot more time in the motel than the second film did. We get to see more of Norman’s taxidermy which is a huge part of his character. I may be wrong, but I don’t think taxidermy comes up once in II. Perkins also borrowed some shots from Hitchcock, most noticeably the scene with Maureen following down the stairs which is an exact reference to Psycho. I would have never guessed this was Perkins first time as a director.
Psycho III does have its fair share of flaws. For whatever reasons the fact that the film is only set one month after Psycho II really bugged me. I felt like it should have taken place at least a year later. Psycho II ends on such an insane note that it feels like it would have taken more than a month for Norman to get the hotel back up and running the way it is. I may be nitpicking here but I just didn’t care for this.
The other major issue I had is what it does to the Psycho storyline as a whole. The sequel already flipped the story around on us. It made us feel differently about Norman a bit and revealed things that changed the first film entirely. In this entry they recant on some of those things in what I guess was an attempt to restore the backstory of the original film. I’m all on board with a major shift, but reverting one film later? That’s kind of lame.
At the end of the day Psycho III is a very solid entry into the Psycho series and much better than it ever had any right being. Going a step further, I’d say it’s a great directorial debut. A really fun movie that I’m glad Perkins blessed us with.
Psycho IV: The Beginning – 1990 – Dir. Mick Garris
Psycho IV: The Beginning is the final film in the same timeline as the first three and the last film to star Anthony Perkins. The majority of the film is comprised of flashback sequences making it essentially a prequel.
Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) is a late night radio talk show host and she is doing an episode focusing on matricide, which is the act of killing one’s mother. The show has a few guests including Dr. Richmond (Warren Frost) who during the course of his show talks about his first patient who committed matricide. Without mentioning the patient’s name he shares with Ambrose that this particular individual suffered with mental illness so much that he actually turned himself into his mother.
Shortly after Dr. Richmond tells this story the radio show receives a call-in from someone claiming they have committed matricide along with other murders and that they plan to kill again. Ambrose and Dr. Richmond begin to talk to the caller trying to help him through his mental illness and prevent him from committing any further murders. It doesn’t take long before we realize the caller is Norman.
Norman begins telling the story of how he became the man he is. These flashback sequences feature Henry Thomas as a young Norman Bates and Olivia Hussey as Norman’s mother Norma. Norman talks in great detail about the first kill and how he eventually had to kill his mother and her lover. Everything is told in great detail. We learn that Norman is now married and his wife is expecting their first child. Norman believes he received his mental illness from his mother and is fearful that he will pass it onto his child and as a result he feels he must kill his wife before she gives birth.
Out of all movies in the Psycho series, The Beginning is the one I struggle the most with when trying to determine how exactly I feel about it. I like it, that’s for sure, but I’ve kind of been wavering on just how much. I actually watched this one twice because of that. I definitely liked it more on the second viewing, but it is a flawed movie in many ways.
This was a made-for-cable effort and it certainly feels that way. It kind of has the same look and feel of your typical Tales from the Crypt episode, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it lacks a bit of the polish that the first three films had. I wouldn’t really consider this a knock on the film, but rather an observation. Overall I actually think Mick Garris did a pretty solid job from a directing standpoint.
What gets weird is when the film really starts to dig into the relationship between young Norman and his mother. I feel like the first films hints at the two having a relationship that is of a more sexual nature, but it’s more subtle and left for the audience to figure out. In Psycho IV they never come out and say it exactly, but they’re not all that subtle either.
There’s one scene in particular with Norma in bed and she’s just freaking out screaming for Norman. Norman comes running from the motel, up to the house and into his mother’s room. Norma is crying and tells Norman to get in bed and hold her. Now because it always seems to be pouring in the Psycho films, Norman is soaked. Before he gets into the bed Norma makes him strip down to just his underwear. Norman does just that then hops into the bed and holds his mother. This is scene is already awkward enough, but then a change occurs with Norman’s body and he can no longer lie next to his mother. Norman quickly gets out of bed and runs to his room. Mother is not pleased.
In case you didn’t pick up on this, Norman got a boner while lying in bed with his mother. Not only that, he was almost nude and holding her close. This scene made me feel filthy, which I guess is the purpose, but man, it’s tough to watch. I get it, I understand Norman has these issues, but I like when they were hinted at in a more delicate fashion.
Another strange aspect is Henry Thomas playing a young Norman. Thomas is a fine actor and I think he does a good job, but Thomas is Elliot from E.T. It’s kind of weird seeing Elliot do some of the things we see him do. That’s probably not a fair critique but it’s definitely something that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
What I do like about Psycho IV is getting to see Norman’s first kills. They start off small and work their way up. I think it’s very interesting to see his first kill and then watch the progression. You do kind of get to understand Norman a bit more. We even see his early taxidermy work, which I think is important. I think the mention of his taxidermy was a big look into his psyche in the first film and I’m always glad to see it explored more.
The ending also works quite well for me. I loved the ending of I and II and wasn’t really a fan of how III closed out so I was quite happy to see IV deliver on something satisfying. It is completely ridiculous, I should point that out, but it works for me. I think it’s a good conclusion to wrap up the first 4 films in the series and send Norman out on a high note. And yeah, I know Norman is the killer and the bad guy, but we all want to see him succeed, right?
Last thing on Psycho IV – John Landis has a small role as a radio station manager/producer. That’s fun!
Bates Motel – 1987 – Dir. Richard Rothstein
Bates Motel is definitely the most bizarre film in the series. It actually came out three years before Psycho IV but it’s not part of that timeline. This made-for-TV movie aired on NBC in the late 80’s and was actually a pilot for a proposed television series. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the current Bates Motel TV show but I can definitely say it was not inspired by this incarnation at all.
The film starts off with Norman Bates in the courtroom awaiting sentencing. The judge rules that Norman is insane and sentences him to life at the state asylum. This opening is the weirdest thing because it plays like you’re watching a news broadcast with a reporter offering play-by-play of the events. Then as Norman is taken away the reporter lets us know how he’s passing all the places in town where he spent his days as a youth. It’s weird.
At Norman’s asylum we meet a new patient named Alex West (Bud Cort). Alex is in the hospital because he killed his abusive stepfather. He’s a little younger than Norman and keeps to himself. He doesn’t really have any friends other than a pet bird that was recently killed. Alex still holds onto the bird and because of that Dr. Goodman (Robert Picardo) decides to room Alex with Norman, telling Alex that he knows someone that can help him make sure that bird doesn’t start to rot. Remember, Norman is quite skilled in taxidermy!
The two are roommates for nearly 20 years, right up until the death of Norman. This is around the same time Alex is declared sane and free to go. Before leaving he finds out that he has inherited the Bates Motel, which has been closed since the terrible crimes of the first film. Alex vows to fix up the motel and get it back up and running to honor Norman’s wishes.
When Alex arrives at the motel he discovers the area around the motel is now booming. Unfortunately no one has done any upkeep on the motel and it’s falling apart. The Bates house isn’t in much better condition, but it’s suitable for living and Alex moves in. Alex isn’t alone though as he meets a runaway named Willie (Lori Petty) who has been squatting in the house. Willie takes a shine to Alex and decides she’s going to help him get the motel back in business!
With no money to his name, Alex goes by the local back to see about getting a loan. Tom Fuller (Greg Henry), the local banker, is more than happy to assist Alex because the Bates Motel is located on a very valuable piece of land. Tom does not agree with Alex’s plans to renovate the motel, however. He thinks it can be turned into something more valuable, but he eventually agrees to let Alex do as he sees fit.
Fixing the Bates Motel turns out to be more trouble than Alex had bargained for. Dead bodies and bones are found during the construction and once the building is complete someone begins creeping around the motel and the house. Has Norman’s mother returned or is someone else trying to run Alex off?
Once the motel is back open, Alex and Willie wait and wait for the first guest to arrive. Finally, just as all seems lost, they get their first guest in the form of Sally (Khrystyne Haje), a writer out on the road. Shortly after Sally checks in a swarm of high school kids show up at the hotel. But these aren’t your average high school students, but rather high school students that appear to have stepped straight out of the 50’s and 60’s. Naturally, a party ensues.
One of the students walks into Sally’s room by mistake. It ends up being a good mistake because Sally was just about to commit suicide. The student then convinces Sally to come party with the other students. Sally resists at first but finally gives in and goes to the party where she ends up dancing with a young boy named Tony played by Jason Bateman. That’s right, we get a Jason Bateman sighting! Then we find out that this student that walked in on Sally is a guardian angel that showed up at the motel to save Sally!
What?! This movie, which up to this point has played like a weird comedy starring Harold and very loosely based on Psycho, suddenly turns into an afterschool special about the importance of life? This comes way out of left field. I can honestly say I didn’t see any of this coming, except for the Jason Bateman part because he’s listed in the credits as making a special appearance.
Bates Motel is definitely not a good movie. Not in the slightest bit, however, I can’t deny that it wasn’t fascinating. I was very much entertained while watching this. I cannot understand how anyone came up with this movie or how anyone signed off on it. It’s one thing to make a strange comedy starring Bud Cort based off Psycho, but then to do that and throw in this weird third act that literally has nothing else to do with the rest of the movie? How in the world does that happen? I have no idea, but I’m glad it received the green light!
Psycho – 1998 – Dir. Gus Van Sant
The last film in the Psycho series is of course Gus Van Sant’s attempt at a shot-by-shot (or close to it anyway) remake from the late 90’s. I won’t waste any time going off the plot and story and so forth. We already know that, instead let’s talk about the idea of remaking Psycho and the results.
I’m not one of those people that are just against all remakes, that’s a dumb stance to take in my opinion. I think all films should be judged on their own merits. What they’re based on or inspired by matters not to me. Keeping that in mind I think it’s safe to say most people consider Van Sant’s Psycho a failure. I’m one of those people, but I don’t want to just rip the movie completely. I get what Van Sant was trying to do. He just struggled mightily with the execution.
When you’re doing a remake, and this is especially true if you’re remaking an iconic film, you have to do something different. The remake has to serve a purpose. What that difference is can vary. The story can change, it can be told from a different perspective, the cinematic style in which the film is made can be different, and so forth. The options are pretty endless.
For the most part Van Sant failed to do anything different. Instead he kind of had like a film student approach and treated this like an experiment. He tried to capture every shot exactly and keep the story almost identical. He even used the same script for the most part. Sure, he made a few updates to account for the film being set in a modern time period but that was about it. The one major change he made was Norman Bates masturbating while spying on Marion. What the hell is that?! What purpose does that serve? Look, I get it, Norman is a creep, but this move made him a creep.
In re-watching this movie I did notice a few things I did like, mostly the performance from Vince Vaughn. I think he did a pretty admirable job for the most part. He channeled Perkins pretty well, especially with his run. This may be weird, but I’ve always felt a big character trait of Norman Bates is the way he runs up to his house. There’s something unique and memorable about the way he moves. I think Vaughn nailed that. A small feat, maybe, but an important one. What hurts Vaughn is that he just has a natural charm that I don’t think Perkins had. Norman Bates is a sort of weak, submissive character, at least at times. Not always of course, but at times. And during those times he lacks confidence. I’m not sure Vaughn is ever able to convey that, at least not in a convincing fashion.
The only other thing that stood out to me while watching this movie again now that I’m older is the opening shots of downtown Phoenix. This movie isn’t terribly old yet, but Phoenix has changed drastically from when this was made. As a Phoenix native I find these old snapshots of the city to be interesting.
I think the Psycho remake is the perfect example of how hard it is to make a good movie. The film had a talented director and an incredibly talented case. They all had the best intentions and yet the end result was nothing short of a mess. It’s a movie that doesn’t need to exist. It serves no purpose other than just to be something that is there. And that’s too bad.
Psycho: The Complete Collection
This complete Psycho collection from Via Vision Entertainment is one of the best sets I own. Five of the six movies are Blu-rays, with the one exception being the Bates Motel which is a DVD. The five Blu-rays look fantastic. They’re everything you want in a Blu-ray. The Bates Motel transfer looks a little rough. It kind of looks like you’d expect a low end DVD to look. My guess is no work went into cleaning that up, but I don’t mind in this scenario. It’s basically a bonus and in that regard it’s ok.
In total this is an 8-disc set and every disc is region free. So no matter where you are in the world you can enjoy this masterpiece of a set. You get 5 Blu-rays, which as I mentioned above are all the movies minus Bates Motel. Then you have 3 DVD, one of which is Bates Motel and the other two containing the 2-disc documentary The Psycho Legacy. The Psycho Legacy is an incredible look into the world of Psycho including interviews with countless members of the cast and crew including Anthony Perkins, Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Henry Thomas, Mick Garris and plenty more. This really is a deep dive into all things Psycho.
The bonus content doesn’t just end with the documentary, however. Every disc, aside from discs for Psycho IV and Bates Motel, include bonus features specific to the films on the disc they represent. For example the Psycho (1960) disc contains ‘The Making of Psycho’ and a featurette on Hitchcock entitled ‘In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy.’ And that’s just scratching the surface! There are commentaries, interviews, trailers, TV spots, behind the scenes images, storyboards and a whole lot more. This truly is Psycho: The Complete Collection.
If you love Psycho I think you’d be a fool not to get this set. It’s an absolute must for any collection and there is a reason it was one of my favorite releases from 2015. Track it down and get yourself a copy today. You will not be disappointed.
Psycho: The Complete Collection is out now from Via Vision Entertainment.