The Psycho Legacy DVD review
Written by Robert Gold
DVD released by Shout! Factory
Directed by Robert Victor Galluzzo
2010, Region 0 (NTSC), 87 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on October 19th, 2010
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho revolutionized the horror genre by manipulating the usual storytelling conventions. At the same time, it created an anti-hero in the character of Norman Bates that would live on for five decades, inspiring a string of sequels and countless imitators. The original 1960 film has received much attention over the years, but the rest of the series has been neglected in terms of supplemental material. Director Robert Galluzzo sets out to rectify that oversight with the first official documentary to cover the entire franchise, The Psycho Legacy.
One of the biggest hurdles the filmmakers had to overcome was the size of the subject matter and the fact that many of the participants have either died or were unavailable for comment. Hilton Green was the assistant director on the original film and served as producer on all three sequels, and offers a refreshing look at the series spanning 50 years. Also on hand are a variety of interviews with many of those responsible for the sequels, a welcome approach as these tales have not been previously shared within one program.
The Psycho Legacy moves at a very swift pace covering each of the four films of the series in twenty minute segments. The interviews come from a variety of sources which explains why some look better than others. Archival material is used for some of those that have passed on, including actors Anthony Perkins and (very briefly) Janet Leigh and Psycho II director Richard Franklin. The majority of the material focuses on the first sequel with participation from writer Tom Holland, editor Andrew London and producer Hilton Green. An interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey can be found separately within the special features, but he is conspicuously absent from the actual documentary.
Several cast members from each sequel are on hand including Robert Loggia, Jeff Fahey, Diana Scarwid, Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey. Mick Garris is the only surviving director of the series and offers many amusing anecdotes from Psycho IV, while Charles Pogue talks about the challenges in writing Psycho III. Not all of the stories are sugary sweet, as rivalries and personality conflicts are exposed without reluctance, but everyone involved agrees their time with the franchise was a blast.
There are some glaring omissions in this retrospective however, namely Bates Motel, the 1987 TV movie directed by Richard Rothstein and starring Bud Cort as a recently-released mental patient who inherits the motel from his friend Norman Bates. Also missing is any mention of Gus Van Sant’s 1998 “shot-for-shot” remake of the 1960 original. While the film received less than stellar reviews, it is strange that such a high profile title could be completely ignored.
Hindering the production is the level of participation from rights owner Universal Studios when it comes to using clips from the films. While about 30 seconds of footage from all four films is present, the inclusion may have taken too large a share from the overall budget, as some of the fresh material appears to have been shot with whatever was handy at the moment. Audio problems plague the interviews resulting in a mildly amateurish vibe that pervades the entire documentary.
Contemporary directors, including Stuart Gordon (Dolls), Adam Green (Frozen) and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), appear alongside a variety of horror-site webmasters who cherish the films. Gordon addresses the similarities between the classic Bernard Hermann theme and Richard Band’s theme to Re-Animator, neither of which is sampled here for comparison. Green and Lynch are clearly fans, but offer nothing to the mix except to eat into the brief overall running time and occasionally surpass the screen time of those directly involved with the productions.
Director Galluzzo does his best with a lot of fine material and keeps things moving at a decent clip, but repeat viewings will reveal the limitations that keep this from being the ultimate experience that it should be. While there is little question that a retrospective documentary on this film series is long overdue, it is unfortunate that so many obstacles block the best of intentions.
Video and Audio:
The DVD is pretty solid given the limitations of some of the source material. The feature bounces between a 1:33 full frame and 1:78 widescreen aspect ratio and is given a 4x3 hard matte. Picture quality is generally strong, aside from some dated material culled from original electronic press kits or television broadcasts.
The audio offered up is a 2-channel stereo mix that will neither impress nor disappoint audiences, as dialogue remains clear despite some occasional hum from the source material.
Shout! Factory continues to impress with the care they extend to the titles in their library, and this is no exception, as the additional material clocks in at roughly three hours in length. Unfortunately, the supplements, though plentiful, are at times lacking in substance.
Released as a two disc set, disc one contains the main feature with a series of deleted scenes and extended interviews. Filled with additional stories and reflections cut from the finished film, these moments are quite welcome and could easily have substituted for some of the third-party ramblings.
The majority of the extras can be found on the second disc of the set, including the full panel discussion with Anthony Perkins (42 minutes.) The much-touted “lost interview” footage with Perkins is actually a Q&A session from a horror convention, and while the material is nice to see, it is a shame that the source is amateur video from some boob with a camcorder on auto-focus, resulting in some pretty blurry moments — but it’s better than never seeing Perkins speak at all.
The Psycho Reunion Panel (6 minutes) is actually a bit of a letdown, as this is a brief highlight reel of audio clips that are too short to carry much weight.
Running about two minutes, A Tour of the Bates Motel is another disappointment in that the director is given a walking tour of the location, but not allowed inside. We learn that the office and Cabin #1 are standing sets, but the doors are never opened. This is also the case with the Psycho house, as it is revealed to be simply a series of flats, but the camera never peeks around the façade.
The Revisiting Psycho II featurette with writer Tom Holland and editor Andrew London is actually pretty solid, since we get to see foreign press materials, script pages, and even set blueprints. It clocks in at 15 minutes.
Shooting Psycho II (19 minutes) is a nice interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey. Curiously absent from the main feature, it is nice to find this piece included in its entirety.
The man responsible for providing the footage of Perkins at the convention is the focus piece of the seven minute A Visit with Memorabilia Collector Guy Thorpe. His home is filled with posters, lobby cards, and photographs from the series. The jewel in his collection is the actual skeletal Mother prop used in Psycho II.
In Norman Bates in Print: Robert Bloch – Author of Psycho, David J. Schow shares his reflections on the man and his work in this nice featurette. A particular highlight comes in the comparison of Bloch’s novel for Psycho II, and the actual feature. Running time for this featurette is 12 minutes.
Psycho on the web is a brief (four minute) look at the presence of the film series on the internet.
Wrapping it up is the 12 minute featurette The Hyaena Gallery Presents Serial-Killer Inspired Art. This is a bit long-winded and, while relevant thematically, it feels too much like padding for it to be anything more.
Click cover to purchase.