Ranking the "Psycho" Movies!

Updated on August 28, 2017
The original Psycho house
The original Psycho house

Alfred Hitchock knew that he had hit the jackpot when he went on to produce the original Psycho back in 1960 (despite what others around thought). The movie, inspired by Robert Bloch's novel of the same name (which was inspired itself by the grisly crimes of serial killer Ed Gein), shocked the world and changed horror films forever. Despite it's success, it took 23 years to get a follow-up to Norman Bates' story. The film franchise that followed remains one of horror's best as all the films are different and entertaining in their own way. Here is my (purely personal) ranking of the Psycho movies!

5. 'Psycho IV: The Beginning' (1990)

Psycho IV acts as both a sequel and prequel to the original Psycho and Psycho III. Due to the lack of success of the latter, the film was made for TV on a much smaller budget. I don't think it shows too much, perhaps due to Perkins involvement. While he was not allowed to direct it for unknown reasons (Mick Garris was chosen instead), he obviously had a lot of input in the production as I don't think the film would have been made without his name on the poster. While a very unnecessary sequel, the prequel parts offer some interesting insights into Bates's past and motivations. In order to have Anthony Perkins actually doing something in the film except talking, Bates had to be released once again, which is completely ridiculous and impossible. The idea of him calling the radio host is inventive but I think the film would have worked as well if Bates was still in jail and telling his story to a psychologist or a cellmate. The cast is effective (especially Olivia Hussey as Mother) and some scenes are genuinely disturbing, such as the brutal murder near the end. For die-hard fans only.

Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey and Henry Thomas on the Universal backlot where the film was made
Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey and Henry Thomas on the Universal backlot where the film was made

4. 'Psycho II' (1983)

Here we are, 23 years later, back at the Bates Motel. Many were shocked that someone actually decided to create a follow-up to Hitchcock's perfect masterpiece (more to come about that...). The result is also shockingly great. This is a pristine example of how to make a sequel. Instead of recreating scenes from the classic 1960 film, they crafted an original story that gets you invested instantly. Anthony Perkins is amazing here and he makes us actually care for Norman despite his psychological problems. He is not really the bad guy here. His relationship with Meg Tilly's character is touching and very believable. Vera Miles is back, reprising her role from the original as Marion's sister, which I thought was a nice touch. Jerry Goldsmith's score is a bit too downbeat for me as the main theme is quite depressing compared to Bernard Herrmann's pounding prelude theme from the original. Some complained that film was slow and while it sometimes is, I think the story is worth watching and I'm glad the filmmakers avoided the trap of making it into another slasher film like those that were released around the time. The final twist involving Mrs. Spool might seem a bit out of place or forced for some but I thought it was a genial idea. Produced on a small budget of only $5,000000, the film grossed $35,000,000, becoming a surprise hit for Universal that means another sequel would be inevitable.

The cast & crew of Psycho II during filming in the Psycho house
The cast & crew of Psycho II during filming in the Psycho house

3. 'Psycho' (1998)

I love this film! I know I'm in the minority but I can't help it. I believe it's the only shot-for-shot remake that exists, which makes it unique and totally fascinating. Instead of changing elements from the original Psycho, Gus Van Sant and his team managed to successfully remake the film exactly as it was, with a new cast, in color and with some added elements to make it relevant to the late 90s. The assembled cast is quite impressive. Vince Vaughn got a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Norman Bates and while he overdoes it sometimes (we know straight from the start his character is insane), he should at least get some respect for trying his best at portraying a character that was immortalized by the great Anthony Perkins. I actually liked Anne Heche's portrayal of Marion Crane and I thought William H. Macy was better than his 1960 counterpart as Detective Arbogast. Danny Elfman rerecroded Bernard Herrmann's score in stereo and it sounds better than ever! The only thing I really don't like about this film is that they chose to redesign the Psycho house, removing its iconic look. Sadly, the movie was badly received upon release, grossing only $37,000,000 out of it's $60,000,000 budget. As I wrote in my much longer review of the film, this weird Hollywood experiment is worth watching!

Shot-for-shot comparison between the 1960 film and its 1998 counterpart
Shot-for-shot comparison between the 1960 film and its 1998 counterpart

2. 'Psycho III' (1986)

Wow. I remember watching this film for the first time and being traumatized by it. There are some freaky scenes in there! Following the unexpected success of Psycho II in 1983, Universal green-lighted another sequel. Impressively directed by Anthony Perkins himself, the movie is much faster-paced than the second installment and Charles Edward Pogue's script features plenty of gore and dark humor, something that was unexpected and quite refreshing. The story follows Maureen Coyle, a Marion Crane look-alike nun on the run who ends up in the Bates Motel and in Norman's arms. They really seem to be made for each other and both actor's performance is genuinely moving. Maureen's passing his unexpected and totally shocking, as is the final reveal of Norman dressed as mother (see the traumatizing pic below...). Jeff Fahey is a very underrated actor and he is stealing the show here as Duane Duke, a aspiring musician who gets to manage the Bates Motel and goes insane along with Norman. There is another plot twist involving Mrs. Spool that was totally unnecessary and about which I didn't really care. The film got an electronic score by Carter Burwell which sounds very dated nowadays but fits the tone of the film quite well. Apart from that, Psycho III is pretty flawless. It manages to be dark, scary, funny, original and always entertaining. The film was inexplicably overlooked upon release and grossed only $14,000,000. That's a shame as I believe this is the best Psycho sequel out there!

Norman Bates is back to normal. But mother's off her rocker again!
Norman Bates is back to normal. But mother's off her rocker again!

The Obvious Number 1: 'Psycho' (1960)

What more could be said about this classic piece of movie making that has not been said before by much smarter people? This is the film that revolutionized horror films forever, shocking the world upon release and allowing the slasher genre to slowly emerge. To those who have not seen the film, the final reveal is as shocking now as in 1960. Also shocking is the fact that the film failed to win any Academy Awards despite being nominated in 4 categories! Anthony Perkins especially deserved an Oscar as he gives an unforgettable performance as the troubled Norman Bates, creating one of the silver screen's iconic character. The film was a troubled production, as depicted in the excellent 2012 film Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins. Everything about it is iconic; it's pounding soundtrack, the shower scene, the Bates Motel, the Psycho house. Psycho grossed $50,000,000 out of its $1,000,000 budget, becoming a huge success. I can't help but think about this film every time I go into the shower! Thank you Mr. Hitchcock...

Thank you for reading!

Polling time !

Which of the Psycho movies is your favorite ?

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      Warren W. Spencer 4 months ago

      my all-time favorite movie---particularly the sandwiches-'n-milk scene between Norman and Marion before her slaughter by him in the shower