Most horror film franchises start out great and end up crashing and burning into absurd garbage. Michael Myers eventually got pulled into some cult/curse ties, Jason got sent to space and the Amityville Horror ended up consisting of a haunted lamp. Rare is the horror series that doesn’t go off the rails at some point, making it hard to really judge which one is the “best.” It almost comes down to which series started the best and which ended not as horrible as the others. With all that in mind, I offer for your consideration the best horror series: Psycho. It’s one that started fantastic and featured sequels that were all enjoyable.
The idea of creating a sequel to Psycho must have seemed crazy at the time (almost as crazy as making a shot-for-shot remake of the film). Psycho is, after all, not only one of the best horror films of all time, but one of the best films period. Making a sequel after Hitchcock’s his death and at the height of slashers sure looks like a cash-in in the surface. But that’s far from how it turned out. Prior to the film being made, original novel author Robert Bloch already wrote a sequel. A great book in it’s own right, the studio understandably didn’t want to adapt it, since it was a brutal satire on gory Hollywood movies. Instead, they made their own sequel, one which did an outstanding job of living up to the original.
Both Vera Miles and Anthony Perkins reprised their roles in Psycho II. Miles is furious that her sister’s killer is being released from prison, while he is just trying to lead a normal life. She’s good in her role, but it’s Anthony Perkins’ reprisal of Norman Bates that makes the film. He steps right into the role as if he never left, exploring a new sympathetic side to this complex character. And it is a complex look at the character, once it appears Norman’s mother may be back. Norman Bates is seen in a new light, someone who is trying to be normal while dealing with the possibility that he’s sliding back into his old ways.
Without giving away more of the story, it is the perfect fit for a sequel some twenty years on. The film acknowledges the time that has passed, and it feels like a natural continuation of where the first film left off. Despite being made at the height of slashers, the film still sticks to the interesting psychology and tension established in the first one. It’s a perfect tribute and continuation of the original, and Anthony Perkins is simply mesmerizing.
Psycho III is certainly a step down from the first sequel, and it doesn’t even really feel necessary. It’s heavier on gore than the first sequel, and does tend to feel more like a run of the mill slasher. That being said, it’s still enjoyable mostly due to Anthony Perkins. Perkins, much like Donald Pleasance in lesser Halloween films, is immensely fun to watch in the role (and it’s better than most Halloween sequels anyway). His portrayal of Norman Bates once again very well done, enough to make the film watchable on it’s own. On top of that, Perkins actually directed the film as well. With him at the helm, the film is handled with a respectful eye to the first two.
Overall, combined with the strong lead and an interesting enough story, Psycho III is enjoyable enough. It’s not memorable like the first two, and isn’t likely to leave much of a lasting impression. Still, it’s a fun movie with a familiar character that does no harm.
Psycho IV, a prequel, was the final installment. Perkins still appears in the film, and it notably brings back original screenwriter Joseph Stefano. There are some continuity issues since the other sequels are largely ignored, but this is yet another enjoyable if not very memorable film.
Overall, in the batch of four films, there isn’t a bad one among them. How many other horror series can you say that about? And the first two are more than just “not bad.” The original and it’s sequel are classics, while the final two provide a good supplement that doesn’t take away from the original at all.
Psycho II in particular is recommended, as are Robert Bloch’s unrelated book Psycho II and Psycho House.