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November 8, 2010

Movie Review: The Psycho Legacy

Who would have thought that writer Robert Bloch's fascination with frail Wisconsin based serial-killer cannibal, and perennial "mama's boy," Ed Gein would become the phenomenon known as Psycho. First came the novel from Bloch and not long after, the feature Psycho from legendary thriller maven, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock's film, while staying close to the book had his own special signature that would put the film into an elite category that few films(other than maybe Jaws) have come close to touching. With a remake and three subsequent sequels from protégé, Richard Franklin, Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins and Mick Garris, the Psycho Phenomenon has maintained a steady lock on the horror genre as one of the true franchises. Right now on the heels of a superb documentary on one of the "other" franchises, Nightmare on Elm Street from earlier this year, The Psycho series is now the focal point. This time, it's first-time director, Robert Victor Galluzzo of Icons Of Fright Productions, Shout! Factory DVD with the release of The Psycho Legacy. Could that be two excellent documentaries in one year? Lets see.


Galluzzo started production on The Psycho Legacy in 2007. Since then he has been able to compile numerous interviews with cast members, crew and even current genre directors, such as Stuart Gordon(Re-Animator) and Adam Green(Hatchet, Hatchet II), who weigh in with their own thoughts on the Psycho series. Of course you can't start a documentary on Psycho without beginning with information on Hitchcock - that we thankfully are exposed to in the opening half-hour of The Psycho Legacy. After being courted aggressively to direct Dr. No, Hitchcock passed, instead taking the helm as director of script based on Robert Bloch's popular novel Psycho, penned by screenwriter, Joseph Stefano. As big an admirer of 007 that I am, It's a blessing to the film world that Al went forth with Psycho instead. Hitchcock was a maverick film director who did not play by the rules. It was a beautiful match. Psycho may have been a solid schlocky cult film if someone else did it and not the classic it became with Hitchcock's hand. Not many directors would have gone out of their way to tell the audience not to give away the ending. Hitchcock loved his product that much, that he was mindful of this practice. Yes, he loved to the scare the audience, but he seemed to care about their movie-going experience just as much. As with many popular films, rip-offs are bound to follow - Homicidal and Straight-jacket, just to name a few were churned out after Psycho's release.

The Psycho Legacy also covers the sequels and their contributors. Alfred Hitchcock devotee and Psycho II director, the late Richard Franklin, are next to be covered. Along with writer Tom Holland (Child's Play), Franklin had some big shoes to fill, but with the brilliant Anthony Perkins returning as Norman Bates, part of the job was done. Perkin's was so frequently a romantic lead, the Psycho films (at least pre-Norman Bates) seemed an odd placement for his talents. It turned out just fine though, as the charismatic actor not only turned out a historical performance in Psycho, but agreed to play Norman Bates, yet again. Though Perkins was slightly bothered by being type-casted as Norman, it didn't show at all in his return. One thing that unfortunately did get on Perkins' nerves, was very green Meg Tilly. Tilly had some issues keeping up with the veteran. With that said, she wasn't intimidated.

Psycho II was a box-office hit at the time - so Psycho III, now from director and actor, Anthony Perkins was inevitable. Much of the Perkins' collaborators on Psycho III seem to have high regard for him as a director. Jeff Fahey, who's almost unrecognizable as a George "Buck “Flower impersonator(full beard and everything) gives Perkins a lot of credit for making Psycho III a stress-free shoot. Even going so far as to not exposing Fahey's junk in a nude scene.

Psycho IV is next up in the documentary's final portion. Joseph Stefano returns as screenwriter for Mick Garris', Psycho IV starring Henry Thomas(E.T). Stefano didn't want to do another sequel, instead he went back to Norman's roots with a prequel. Henry Thomas plays Norman this time around. Thomas also contributes to one of the many interviews, like Fahey, clad with a gigantic Grizzly Adams beard. Mick Garris' gives his thoughts on the casting choice of Henry Thomas, saying that he was nearly a doppelganger for a young "lanky" Norman Bates. Garris was amazed at the furious energy that Thomas brought.

If you didn't get your fill on the Psycho films during the 90 minute long documentary the extras on both disc one and two are going to keep you busy for a few hours. None are of the throw away variety. The extra features included in Shout! Factory’s release of Psycho Legacy consist of: Extended and deleted scenes, a gallery of serial-killer inspired art, a reunion segment, a panel with Anthony Perkins, An interview with Psycho II cinematographer, Psycho on the web and why not a tour of Bate’s Motel to end things. The deleted scenes were as insightful as the documentary itself. They obviously were just yanked for pacing but as a Psycho fan I enjoyed them very much. Some of the extended bits with Fahey and the specifics of how some of the murder scenes in Psycho II are presented in the truncated bits – all of which add to what is already a treat for Psycho fans.

The look of the documentary is very sharp. All the interviews generally have a pleasing back-drop. Some of the convention footage and older interview footage for the deceased Psycho alum are a bit rough, but that’s to be expected. Much of it is very rare – I for one hadn’t seen any the Q&A footage with Anthony Perkins. The overall look is top-notch.

Robert Victor Galluzzo, the folks at Icons of Fright Productions and Shout! Factory have done a fine job on The Psycho Legacy. I’m sure if Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins saw the this documentary they’d be very proud of the love and care put into this DVD.

Gooood Evening!

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