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Psycho IV: The Beginning (Blu-ray Review)

Psycho IVBefore the terror can end, see how it all began… Psycho IV: The Beginning comes to Blu-ray for the first time on August 23, 2016 from Scream Factory. Anthony Perkins, Henry Thomas (E.T. The Extra-terrestrial, Ouija 2) and Olivia Hussey (The original Black Christmas) star in this chilling prequel to the classic Hitchcock thriller. The release features new extras including audio commentary with director Mick Garris and Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey, and an interview with make-up effects artist Tony Gardner.  The film also stars CCH Pounder (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knightwith a cameo from director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London). 

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Film 

A seemingly rehabilitated Norman Bates is drawn to a late-night radio show where the host, encourages him to share his views on the topic of matricide. Reliving his childhood, Norman recounts his trials as a young boy living with his widowed schizophrenic mother. These haunting memories are more than just disturbing visions of the past; they threaten to rekindle his killing urge in this spine-tingling thriller.

After Psycho III got a less than good reception, the focus moved to television.  In 1987 there was a failed television pilot called, yes, Bates Motel starring Lori Petty.  After that, 3 years went by and Perkins was back, Mick Garris was in the director chair and we were going to see the series capped off by traveling back to the beginning of the whole story.  This time, the film would be shot for and make its premiere on Showtime.  It would follow Norman’s youth (As played by Henry Thomas) with his tormented upbringing with his mother.

Bookended by Norman Bates calling in and confessing his past to a talk radio show, the film is pretty much a prequel.  And with this prequel we get to peer into the events that caused the madness of Norman Bates.  His first kill, his mother’s harsh, wicked and weird treatment of him.  The shitty boyfriend his mother had, Norman’s first dress-up.  Yada yada yada.  Some of this feels neat, some unnecessary, some too dumb that you don’t want to think it was part of what happened.  And ultimately, the bookend portion with Anthony Perkins takes a story turn for complete fan fiction-esque embarrassment.  However, why I give the film an average rating instead of a crummy one, is because I have watched this one multiple times, revisiting it as a piece of this series and its still always entertaining enough.

The highlight of the film is Olivia Hussey.  Yes, the girl my generation knew mainly for taking her top off in the Romeo and Juliet movie we had to watch in school.  However, for me, she was the star of one of my favorite films Black Christmas.  Here she’s a bit older (Still a looker), and giving a dynamite performance as Norman’s mother.  Hussey owns this and is just incredibly twister, bipolar and utterly crazy.  She’s also completely mean.  Her performance is worth watching the movie alone.

Psycho IV is the weakest of the original canon/Anthony Perkins Psycho films.  The movie has some neat things, one more dance with Perkins and a strong performance by Olivia Hussey.  But, ultimately, all this background stuff is almost that of fan fiction.  Stuff that ultimately better left unseen.  Like a longer scenes added to a director’s/extended cut of a perfectly fine theatrical edition, its neat to peak and take a look, but it adds nothing and ultimately kind of even hampers it.  There’s fun here, there’s intrigue, but also some miscues and some embarrassing things as well as the film sorta falls off a cliff at the end.  They gambled with Norman Bates two times past the Hitchcock masterpiece and lucked out, but this was just one too many.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  Psycho IV hits Blu-ray with a rock solid transfer.  It may have been a television movie, but it was definitely shot on film pretty much as would be for theatrical.  It features some real good detail on wood grain, clothing texture and color saturation.  Its taken a while to get this one to Blu-ray, but I think fans of the series will be happy with how it looks.

Depth:  Solid depth work here.  There are some nice foreground to background executed shots in this transfer feature good spacing and clarity.

Black Levels:  Blacks are pretty deep.  No crushing, but plenty of detail hidden in darkness and darker colored hair, clothing, surfaces.

Color Reproduction:  The coloring here is very natural.  Colors are pretty bold and full looking but not over the top and super vivid.  They take on a very realistic look.  The only thing that really pops a lot is a robe worn by Hussey during a late scene in the movie.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and consistent for the duration of the film.  Facial details are great in the close-ups and most of the time in medium shots, showcasing 5 o’clock shadows, acne, wrinkles, moles, pores and sweat beads.

Noise/Artifacts:  Surprisingly in very good shape here.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This stereo track is nice, loud and clear.  It features a good, balanced mix.  The score is nicely woven here into the mix and sounds intricate.  Effects and movements side to side are layered and well executed.  A real sharp job here that impacts and more than gets the job done.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Lots of dialogue in this movie and its loud, crisp and clear.

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Extras 

Psycho IV: The Beginning features additional promotional photos on the inside of the cover.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Mick Garris and Actors Olivia Hussey and Henry Thomas

The Making of Mother With Tony Gardner (HD, 27:41) – An interview with make-up effects artist Tony Gardner.  He goes through his “obsessive” details of making their dead bodies and gruesome effects to make them look as real as possible.  He also talks about their design and execution of mother.

Behind The Scenes (HD, 13:15) – Mick Garris own personal video of behind the scenes on the film.  Revolves around shooting the scenes at the radio station.

A Look At The Scoring Psycho IV (HD, 6:12) – Behind the scenes footage of the performing and recording of the score.

Photo Gallery (HD, 6:06) 

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Summary 

While I’m not the biggest fan of Psycho IV, mainly due to it being a film full of things better left unseen/told, its still a part of the family.  I have revisited it here and there and do enjoy certain things about it along with Olivia Hussey’s performance.  I’m ecstatic actually that its on Blu-ray now because that means my collection is complete.  Let’s face it, nobody is putting the 1980s Bates Motel pilot on Blu-ray (***nah***nah***can’t hear you***no remake exists in my brain***nah***nah).  It could have been a bonus feature here though.  This one both looks and sounds very good, completed by a nice array of new and vintage extras.  A must have for the horror fan and Psycho lover.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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