Psycho IV


Chased by ghosts, can Norman finally find redemption in the very end?

I’m going to forewarn you right here: if you’re a big fan of the movie ET The Extraterrestrial, Psycho IV is likely going to sully the sweet image you have of Elliott, the little boy main character in that movie. A teen Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, also plays teenage Norman in Psycho IV. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest ET fan; even as a kid I found it rather sappy. It came out the year after I was born, and I was about eight or nine when I first saw it. I’d already seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind by then, and I still think it’s a superior film from that era and with that kind of sci-fi story. Along the same thread, I also saw Communion about two or three years later, which is kind of messed up if you know what that movie includes. But by about age 10 or 11, I was free to watch anything I wanted. My mother’s whole attitude was, “She’s gonna see it all, hear it all, and learn about it all anyway.” So bottom line: this casting of Henry Thomas in Psycho IV never bothered me much.

Anyway, enough of that long-winded side tangent. On to Psycho IV: The Beginning. I love the tag line of this last sequel: “You’ve met Norman, now meet Mother.” Oh boy. This is going to be a drama-filled, likely taboo, probably jaw-dropping installment if there ever was one.

One thing I like right away: a return to the beloved Bernard Hermann music score at the movie’s opening! After Psycho III, I’ve heard more than enough retro ’80s eerie synthesizers for a while–that score can’t compare to Hermann’s!

Also some other casting in Psycho IV looks promising. Probably anyone who had to study Romeo and Juliet in high school at some point during the past four decades will remember Olivia Hussey. She played one of the two title roles in the Franco Zeffereli film version of that play. Other than playing Norma here in Psycho IV, I can’t remember off the top of my head anything else I’ve ever seen her in. If you readers can think of any of her other roles, let me know.

Psycho IV starts off with the Fran Ambrose (played by C.C.H. Pounder) talk radio show, covering the topic of matricide and the men who commit it. Their guest is a killer named Raymond and his maternal grandfather, who sided with Raymond on the issue of his daughter deserving to die. Norman’s former psychiatrist is also part of the show, and he starts recalling the madness of Norman partially becoming Mother after killing her.

Raymond the killer has to leave early because of his parole curfew, and then Fran gets a caller using the pseudonym “Ed.” But that voice is instantly recognizeable: it’s Norman! And he’s living in a new, modern-looking suburban house, probably nowhere near the old house and motel. He even has pet birds–live ones he’s no longer poisoning and stuffing. He’s also got a wife who’s bringing him home a birthday cake. I thought he was supposed to be locked up forever, but he got paroled pretty fast. What happened in the years since Psycho III?

“How old were you when you killed your mother, Ed?”

Norman then flashes back decades, to when Norma was alive and he was a teenager. A blonde teenage girl who wanted to sleep with him was his first victim. She makes the big mistake sneaking off into the Bates house (and heading for Norman’s bedroom) while he fixes a toilet in one of the motel rooms. This scene is a tense one, possibly one of the tensest ones of the whole movie ! We haven’t yet met Norma, but it’s a safe bet that Norman’s going to be in a shit-ton of trouble if she catches him with a girl in the house!

Instead of getting both of them out of the house, Norman takes her to his room, where she (of course) starts getting undressed. Norman starts touching her, but he can’t relax or get into it because any little noise makes him paranoid about getting caught.

“Get that whore out of my house!”

Norma appears to be already dead in her bed as Norman gets dressed in her clothes and wig. He gets rid of the girl just as Mother told him to.

“She was dead, but in my mind she grew old.”

Back in the present day, Norman hangs up when the doctor and radio host try to get more information out of him. He gets a call from a hospital nurse who turns out to be his wife. Maybe Norman finally has moved on from the grip of madness that’s been choking him for his whole life.

“You make her sound positively Victorian.”

Norman calls the radio station back and starts talking about how he never knew what to expect from Norma while he was growing up. She could turn from sweet to mean on a dime. Hmm, sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?

Well, not exactly. In my opinion, Norma in Bates Motel is infinitely more likable and relatable than the Norma in Psycho IV. The latter is nasty, mean, spiteful, unpredictable, verbally/psychologically abusive, and even (in a way) sexually abusive towards Norman. Teenage Norman is the much more sympathetic character in this movie.

According to Norman, his dad was stung to death by bees. Quite a departure from the way 17-year-old Norman killed Sam Bates. The stories of exactly how and when both his mother and father died keep changing, and I wonder what kind of influence (if any) this might have on the Bates Motel future.

The first time we see Norma alive in this movie is at her late husband’s funeral. She tickles 6-year-old Norman, getting him to laugh and then slapping him when he does. Asshole move, if you ask me.

Norman in the present day then recalls some good things about Norma. Her beautiful long hair was the first thing that comes to his mind. He then reveals how he killed her boyfriend along with her at the same time. After all, Norma had designated Norman the “man of the house” by the time he was 15. And she depended on him. For a lot of things.

And we get to the first truly messed-up exchange between Norman and his mother in Psycho IV: Norma demands that Norman get out of his wet clothes from being out in the rain and get in bed with her. Yeah, something a little more than “Victorian” going on there! Norman gets an erection and also gets scared to death that she’ll notice and punish him. He runs into his own room and covers himself up with the blankets, all while Norma follows him and wants to know why he keeps running away from her. Um, yeah, why indeed?

“Sometimes I think you loathe me.”

The scene turns even worse as Norma discovers a (very mild) girly magazine in Norman’s room and forces him to go outside in the rain in his underwear and throw it out. The doctor brings up the idea of “incest tragedy” although Norman dismisses it. He recalls how he spied on Norma ripping apart one of the motel rooms, though “God knows what she would’ve done if she’d caught me.”

During the very hot summer before her demise, Norma makes Norman rub orange flower water over her legs, “I’ll buy you all the flower water in the world.” Then she humiliates him with the dress and lipstick before she locks him in her closet. The offence? Norman getting an erection again, this time while rolling around on the floor with her. What the fuck did she expect, seriously? But yes that “Victorian” side of her comes out, in a mean-ass way if there ever was one.

One minor thing: Olivia Hussey’s British accent starts slipping through in this infamous scene. Her line calling Norman “Norma” is also unintentionally funny to me. After all, she did name him after herself.

The radio station denizens get the idea that “Ed” is really Norman Bates, and they also start thinking he might do something bad again. Yet they seem fairly slow to do anything about it.

The next scene has some definite seeds for “First You Dream, Then You Die.” But thankfully the Bates Motel writers make Norma much more sympathetic in this scene of the pilot episode. In the comparable scene of Psycho IV, Norman’s beating dust out of throw rugs when Norma comes up and starts beating him with a rolled-up newspaper. She’s read about the planned bypass and justifiably throws a fit. But rather than letting the city council have it, this incarnation just takes it out on Norman. Another asshole move. But that’s mild compared to how she rants that she should’ve aborted him.

“Her cruelty could come straight from the heart.”

Dredging up these old memories is giving Norman the urge to kill again. He ends up curled up on the floor after recalling symbolic castration. His former doctor tries to get Fran Ambrose to have the call traced, but the station isn’t equipped for that. We then get to finally learn what the last straw was that drove Norman to kill his mother and her boyfriend.

“It all started when she brought that man home.”

Another very creepy and Oedipal scene: Norman watching through the peephole as Norma and Chet have sex in cabin one. No holds barred about him getting a full-on view of her reflected in a mirror on the wall.

Chet turns out to be tool, mocking and taunting Norman while trying to get him to take a swing at him with the boxing gloves. How fucked-up is it that Norma told her boyfriend that Norman’s rather well hung? But that doesn’t seem to bother Chet at all. Can’t exactly blame Norman for hating them both as they stand over him and laugh at him.

Norma sure doesn’t waste any time in moving a guy she just spent one night with into the house. I don’t really see anything “Victorian” about that. That’s one thing that makes her easy to dislike: she has extremely different standards of behavior for herself than she does for Norman.

The second murder Norman commits as a teenager is both drawn-out and extra disturbing. He strangles a woman he’d been on a date with and then pushes her car in the swamp. With her still alive and locked in the trunk. It should come as a surprise to no one that he was attracted to a woman closer to Norma’s age, more so than to his first murder victim.

In my opinion, the introduction of Chet into the picture is when Psycho IV starts to derail. Norman plots well ahead of time to kill both of them by strychnine poisoning, which is less believable and (in a way) less poetically tragic than his blacking out and killing Norma without realizing it until it’s too late. The rude and obnoxious boyfriend paired with Norma’s hot-then-cold, seduce-then-abuse craziness would make any kid’s life a living hell.

One often-pointed-out factual error: Norman didn’t give those two nearly enough strychnine to kill them. 10mg is a lethal dose, and he could’ve put only a maximum of 4mg in the iced tea, judging from how much was in the bottle. It would’ve made them sick but certainly wouldn’t have killed them. Strychnine is also on of the most bitter-tasting substances on earth, so it’s not realistic for anyone to have more than one taste of that iced tea before spitting it out.

Regardless of the unrealistic way he killed them, Norma and Chet both die within a few minutes, though during the struggle it seems to take a lot longer. One unforgettable moment is when Norma finally expires after Norman gets her into the rocking chair.

“I had to have her back, even if it was without her crowning glory.”

Feeling guilty in his own twisted way, Norman uses his taxidermy skills to make his mother look like she’d come back to life. Flash forward to Norman’s next planned victim: his pregnant wife because Norman doesn’t want another “bad seed” brought into the world. He insisted the Bates line ends with him, but it happened anyway.

I really like Fran Ambrose for her dedicated, passionate pleas to stop Norman from killing Connie. He ends up taking his wife back to the abandoned Bates house, and that’s where the cycle finally ends. He can’t go through with killing her, as he sees a reflection of his own face in the metal of the knife.

“Look at yourself. You’re not that person now Norman.”

Norman’s wife Connie is his real redemption here; she gets through to him. I want to believe he truly loves her. They both want to make it work with the baby. Norman burns away the past. Literally. He torches the Bates house and makes for the door, but not before the spirits of his former victims confront him–those of his mother, Chet and his first two victims. Marion Crane’s ghost is noticeably absent.

Norman ends up in the basement, where he confronts the hallucination of Mother’s corpse one last time, before he sees it catch on fire and vanish. A great image of Mother being gone for good. Norman kicks the outside basement door open and gets out before the house completely burns around him. He and Connie leave for their own happy ending–at least that’s what I want to hope, as Mother’s ghost is left behind alone in the basement.

It’s got some flaws and imperfections, but I enjoy Psycho IV as a finale to the original Psycho franchise. It’s got some scenes that very well could’ve served as inspiration for comparable Bates Motel scenes, and picking those out now makes this final Psycho film even more of a fun–if disturbing–ride.