After three cinematic visits to the Bates Motel, Universal decided to end the series with a made-for-TV-movie. In it, they try to shine some light on the mysterious past of Norman Bates and tells us, who he became the murderous psychopath.
A radio-programm about matricide gets a surprise guest caller in Norman Bates, who wants to give some overdue insights in his history, while also threatening another, final, murder. Can Norman be stopped before his final kill? And can he eventually find peace?
Well, it is a TV-movie. So its dramaturgy is much simpler than a motion picture’s while being too theatrical. The radio show serves as a narrative frame story for Norman Bates past, which is not told chronologically. This was made to make the matricide of Norma Bates the film’s first climax.
Olivia Hussey is brilliant as Norma Bates. She’s able to change her attitude and emotion from one minute to the next without breaking character. She’s a raving lunatic one time, and a loving and caring mother next. She’s also so full of herself that she never sees her son as a living person. Henry Thomas, E.T.’s best friend, plays the young Norman Bates, and tries his best to come up to Anthony Perkins, but he has to struggle with a terrible script (“Mother! Oh God, Blood! Blood!!“), so that his scenes become quite ridiculous. Anthony Perkins once again IS Norman Bates, and in this movie he may be the most himself. We get to see his true nature, not the one that is controlled by his mother. Though his acting is clearly over the top (which origins from the fact that it is a TV-movie)
The weakest part has to be Normans’s wife, Connie, not only the character, but also the entire concept of her. A nurse working in the exact same asylum he has been institutionalised to, who then falls in love with her patient. That’s just told once but never really made clear. She also ony appears for a couple of minutes, so we never get to know her or see her relationship with Norman. As far as I can tell, she could be any woman.
It’s worth noting that the movie deliberately leaves out the Mrs Spool twist from part 2 and 3, and you theoretically could watch it without seeing the two sequels. Then again, why would you want to watch this movie?
Due to the fact that the present-time-setting of the movie doesn’t have any Bates-house in the first two acts, it comes to a welcome surprise that it is the setting for the final showdown. As common for TV-movies, the showdown includes most of the characters from the first two acts. Which is funny because those characters, which are haunting Norman for his guilt, did never seem to bother him in the previous films. It also turns the movie into a cheap soft-horror-film with ghosts of his victims, which are hindering him from letting go.
There is also some inconsistency with the way the flashbacks are handled. In one of the earliest flashbacks, at the funeral of Norman’s father, Mrs Bates is dubbed over by Norman. This is a nice nod to the fact that Norman mimicked his other’s voice in all the other films. But in every other flashback, Hussey talks in her own voice. It’s kinda irritating.
Verdict – “Don’t you have respect for the dead?!”
The movie’s biggest problem is his cheapness. Hussey is the best actress in the movie and does a great job, beating Henry Thomas’ childish naivity and also Anthony Perkins’ nervous playfulness. The other actors are quite bad, with the one exception of C C H Pounder, but even she only serves as a frame story device. There are some neat ideas for the franchise, and the final ending to the Norman Bates-legacy isn’t too bad either. But the over-the-top-TV-dramaturgy destroys any ambition the movie may have had. Both flashback-kills are only there to have any kind of “Psycho“-like murder-theme going on.
Even though it semi-neglects the other two sequels, yo should watch it if you have seen “Psycho II” and “Psycho III“. It serves as an ending to the franchise.