In 1990, exactly 30 years after The Master's original Psycho, Universal Studios commissioned Mick Garris (Critters 2, Sleepwalkers) to direct this underrated "prequel" to the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece intended for broadcast on Showtime. Psycho IV: The Beginning -- despite bringing back the late, great Anthony Perkins for another round of loony mayhem and being the only Psycho sequel to feature Bernard Hermann's classic theme -- is decidedly not a fan favorite, and tends to polarize audiences between those who find it unique and fascinating (as I do) and those who just want another slasher sequel structured similar to Parts II and III (which are both excellent, but very different than Psycho IV).
After being told by Sheriff Hunt that he would be committed for the rest of his life at the end of Part III, Norman Bates (Perkins) has been released only a few short years later and now lives in a modern two-story home not terribly far from his old abandoned home/motel. One dark night, he calls into the radio talk show of Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder), whose topic for the evening is matricide, i.e. the killing of one's own mother. After talking with invited guest Raymond Linnette (Kurt Paul, who played Norman Bates in the 1987 made-for-TV film Bates Motel), a flippant mother killer, she invites her listeners to call in and discuss the morbid subject. Calling himself "Ed" (a reference by screenwriter Joseph Stefano to Ed Gein, the real-life psychopath Robert Bloch originally based the character of Norman Bates on), Norman goes into graphic detail over the phone about the sordid, troubled childhood he suffered as a young man (ET's Henry Thomas) at the hands of his demented widow mother Norma Bates (Olivia Hussey).
Psycho IV is essentially a collection of flashbacks of events (and murders) from his past that Norman relays to Fran and her radio audience, and after a while the talk show host begins to put two and two together and realizes that "Ed" is indeed the notorious serial killer Norman Bates ... and that he has plans to kill again. But he's not planning to kill just any sexually appetizing female -- he wants to murder his new wife, Connie (Donna Mitchell), a nurse who is pregnant with his child, as he's convinced that his child will inherit his schizophrenia and continue his murderous legacy. In the film's climax, after bringing Connie to his abandoned childhood home to kill her, Norman realizes he can't commit the heinous crime and sets fire to the rambling house, ending once and for all his connection to the place where he committed the majority of his murders. The last thing the audience hears before the end credits is the sound of a newborn infant -- Norman's child -- crying during birth, hinting that the bloodbath will one day continue ... which hasn't happened yet and probably won't in the future, but who knows?
Anthony Perkins' fourth performance as Norman Bates in Psycho IV: The Beginning is every bit as good as his three previous ones, and Henry Thomas (who was undoubtedly cast due to his uncanny resemblence to a young Perkins) is brilliant in his first adult role as Young Norman Bates. Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas) is downright frightening as the schizophrenic Norma Bates, a serious contender for the Worst Mother of the Year award and a long way from Romeo and Juliet. CCH Pounder (Bagdad Cafe) is also in top form as Fran Ambrose, who slowly comes to realize that the "Ed" she's been conversing with is actually the notorious ladykiller Norman Bates.
Psycho IV: The Beginning is not as highly regarded as its three predecessors, mainly due to its dreaded TV movie status, the fact that it has a totally different structure than Parts II and III and is not at heart a slasher film. There are some brutal knife kills and strangulations performed by Thomas as Young Norman, dressed in his mother's trademark black sequined gown, but the film is more concerned with exploring the cause of Norman's mental illness. I rate Psycho IV: The Beginning a 7 of 10 and recommend it to fans of the original who aren't necessarily looking for a slasher film a la Parts II and III.