Film Reviews

The Psycho Collection – Blu-ray Review

In a cinematic world of scary monsters and super creeps, a landscape strewn with a litany of serial killers, slashers and psychos, the OG – and granddaddy of them all – was a quiet, unassuming motel owner who loved his mother very much. Perhaps a little too much. In fact, the biggest complex he had to deal with was not his suite of cheap and cheerful roadside lodgings, but his Oedipal one.

Having first graced the silver screen more than 60 years ago, Norman Bates carved a legacy in cinema history, thanks to a perfect fusion of Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial vision along with the disarming performance by Anthony Perkins, all of which delivered a gamechanger in horror movie circles. Until then, monsters had tended to be chiefly of the supernatural variety. Now, thanks to 1960’s groundbreaking Psycho, they could look just like you, and may even live next door. The real horror could wear a pleasant, affable face, which made it feel so close to home, and all the scarier for it.

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Despite Psycho only having been intended as a one-off, the movie – and, by association, the character of Norman Bates – took a foothold in popular culture, thanks to the infamous shower scene becoming a much-parodied trope, featured in everything from Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety, to National Lampoon’s Vacation, and The Simpsons. It was perhaps inevitable that audiences would have the chance to get another stay at the Bates Motel, and after three sequels, a TV movie spin-off pilot, a rather contentious remake, and a prequel show based upon his early years, it seems Norman’s place in infamy is assured.

Arrow Video’s latest box set gathers together the four films in the Psycho series, lovingly preserving every one of them with the same care as Norman devoted to his mother. All of the sequels have been the subject of brand new restorations from the original camera negatives, ensuring that Psycho II, Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning have never looked clearer or more razor-sharp. For the original Psycho, what we get here is a direct port of the version previously released by Universal, with all of the existing special features. While it doesn’t offer anything new, this particular edition of Psycho is impressive enough in its own right to justify its inclusion in the set.

Perhaps the highlight of this release is the particularly lavish edition of Psycho II, which devotes plenty of attention to an often overlooked follow-up to the original film, and one that may even – whisper it in hushed tones, for fear of offending cineastes – be better than its progenitor. Rather than trying to just ape Hitchcock’s classic, director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland take a different path, instead giving us a part-love story, part-tragedy, as Norman – released from an institution after 22 years – finds himself trying to adjust to a life in a society which may not so readily forgive him for all of his crimes as he might have hoped, as he tries to hang onto a slender grip on sanity.

The bonus features on Psycho II are a true embarrassment of riches, with such a wealth of archival material, from vintage interviews to featurettes, giving us a contemporary look at how the sequel was pitched and marketed to the potentially dubious or sceptical audience, who may have cause to doubt how anyone could be so audacious as to try and carry on from Hitchcock, the ‘Master of Suspense’. Newer content includes an interview with Chet Williams, author of the novel Psycho: Sanitarium, on the legacy of Norman Bates’ literary creator, Robert Bloch, and a panel discussion with Tom Holland and Psycho IV director Mick Garris, in which they discuss Psycho and their own involvement in the series.

Following the success of the first sequel, Psycho III saw the director’s chair occupied by Perkins, which was a condition for him to return as Norman Bates once more. While not as noteworthy or distinguished as its predecessor, Psycho III is certainly not without merit, and Perkins manages to serve up some visually arresting moments throughout. Here, Norman finds himself crossing paths with a disgraced former nun, an unsavoury drifter, and an investigative reporter, all of whom end up playing a part in his gradual unravelling, and events soon begin take a turn for the worse as Mother Bates starts to suspect she has a rival for her son’s affections.

The collection of extras here – while not quite as extensive as on the first two movies – still delivers plenty of interest, with lots of content to enjoy, including chats with composer Carter Burwell, co-star Jeff Fahey, special make-up effects artist Michael Westmore, and body double Brinke Stevens, each of whom offer different and interesting perspectives on the making of Psycho III. Along with commentaries by film critics Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains, and screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, a video essay from Alexandra Heller Nicholas gives us a thoughtful and insightful look into the themes of the movie.

Norman’s final appearance – Psycho IV: The Beginning – was a made-for-TV production, and this set features both director Mick Garris’ preferred 1.78:1 aspect ratio version, and – in an exclusive – the original 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio. In this conclusion of the Norman Bates saga, he is now happily married and living a life away from the Motel. However, on learning that his wife is now pregnant, Norman fears that his illness will be passed to his offspring, in the same way that he believes he was tainted by his mother’s own condition. A radio talk show which discusses matricide prompts Norman to phone in under an alias, as he bares his soul.

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This gives an opportunity to go back to Norman’s boyhood, in which his younger self (Henry Thomas) is tormented by his wildly erratic mother (Olivia Hussey), as he is set on the path which will eventually lead to the original Psycho. The sight of a domesticated house husband version of Norman comes as quite a shock to the system, but Perkins is more than up to the task of making it seem credible, although he effectively ends up as a supporting player. While a little light on extras, this is more than made up for by the commentary featuring Garris, Thomas and Hussey, the trio delivering us a very convivial and engaging chat.

Arrow Video’s limited edition set is certainly worth checking out, as the perfect invitation you need to check back in to the Bates Motel. The Psycho Collection is absolutely something to go mad over. After all, we all go a little mad sometimes…

The Psycho Collection is out now on Limited Edition UHD and Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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