As any stu­dent of hor­ror knows, Psycho cast a mighty shad­ow over the devel­op­ment of post-1960 cin­e­mat­ic hor­ror.  It’s arguably ground zero for the slash­er and seri­al-killer sub­gen­res as we know them today and boasts a lev­el of crafts­man­ship that allows it to remain potent five decades after the fact.  As such, it has been ana­lyzed six ways from Sunday in print  and on video.

The sequels, how­ev­er, are a dif­fer­ent sto­ry.  These late bloomers arrived in the 1980’s, over two decades after the orig­i­nal film, and don’t seem into inspire the same kind of fan fer­vor that the Friday The 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street fran­chis­es inspire.  That said, the faith­ful know that the Psycho sequel tril­o­gy is spe­cial amongst hor­ror series because they each offer dis­tinc­tive takes on their main attrac­tion, sum­mon­ing up lev­els of style and ambi­tion that oth­er fran­chis­es rarely dis­play.  The results form a unique dra­mat­ic arc that hov­ers some­where between Greek tragedy and black com­e­dy and Anthony Perkin’s con­sis­tent­ly mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mances as Norman Bates give them a strong through-line.

Thus, it is nice to see that the Psycho series has final­ly received a lov­ing trib­ute in the form of The Psycho Legacy.  This fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary cov­ers the his­to­ry of the series in just under 90 min­utes and is pri­mar­i­ly com­posed of talk­ing-head footage, with a hefty sprin­kling of clips and well-cho­sen stills to give the pro­ceed­ings some visu­al vari­ety.  The visu­al style is sim­ple, with the inter­views shot in a t.v.-ratio style that reflects its hum­ble ori­gins (it was a labor of love shot over 3 years around day-jobs).  That said, sharp edit­ing by Jon Maus adds verve to the pro­ceed­ings, as does a clev­er musi­cal score from Jermaine Stegall that cheek­i­ly clones its sound-alike main the­me from Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score.

The film begins with a first act that gives the view­er a thumb­nail his­to­ry of Psycho as a film, focus­ing on main­ly how unortho­dox it was for the time and how its rule-break­ing left a mark on audi­ences every­where.  From there, it devotes equal chunks of screen time to each of the sequels, explor­ing how each film tried to hon­or its source mate­ri­al while dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing itself via a fresh approach to the char­ac­ter of Norman Bates (for exam­ple, Psycho II is the movie that “exon­er­ates” Norman and also makes him the per­son that things hap­pen to instead of an antag­o­nist).

At this point, it should be not­ed that direc­tor Robert Galluzzo went into this doc­u­men­tary with some seri­ous dis­ad­van­tages: name­ly, sev­er­al key peo­ple involved with the movies have passed on.  Not only is Alfred Hitchcock no longer with us but we’re also miss­ing Janet Leigh, Psycho II direc­tor Richard Franklin and, most impor­tant­ly of all, Tony Perkins (the per­for­mance link that con­nects the series and the direc­tor of Psycho III).  Thus, if The Psycho Legacy doesn’t quite shape up as the ulti­mate, all-inclu­sive “final word” on the series, it’s not due to a lack of effort on Galluzzo’s part… it’s sim­ply because the­se fac­tors make it impos­si­ble to do one.

That said, The Psycho Legacy remains an engag­ing and infor­ma­tive effort.  A wide swath of par­tic­i­pants from the films — writ­ers Tom Holland and Charles Edward Pogue, direc­tor Mick Garris, actors like Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Olivia Hussey, Robert Loggia, etc. are all on hand to offer their rec­ol­lec­tions of work­ing on the series.  A few sur­vivors are miss­ing in action (most notably Meg Tilly) but the assem­bled group has plen­ty of worth­while info to share.  They are all forth­com­ing yet affec­tion­ate  and Galluzzo weaves their mem­o­ries togeth­er into a solid, fast-paced oral his­to­ry of the series.

Galluzzo also makes up for the loss of key fig­ures by bol­ster­ing the ranks of par­tic­i­pants with gen­re crit­ics (both Michael Gingold and Tony Timpone from Fangoria pop up) as well as writer David Schow and film­mak­ers as diverse as Stuart Gordon and Adam Green.  The knowl­edge and per­cep­tions of hor­ror gen­re pro­fes­sion­als adds a sec­ond lay­er of ret­ro­spec­tive insight to the series.  Schow in par­tic­u­lar has very inter­est­ing things to say about the series on a the­mat­ic lev­el and film­mak­er Rolfe Kanefsky also score some mem­o­rable bits (a like­able moment involves him wax­ing lyri­cal about the won­ders of Jerry Goldsmith’s Psycho II score).

Even bet­ter, The Psycho Legacy also works as an effec­tive trib­ute to Anthony Perkins’ cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions to the series.  His work on the sequels coin­cid­ed with a deci­sion to reclaim his lega­cy as a hor­ror icon and the par­tic­i­pants pay trib­ute to the skill and human­i­ty he brought to the role.  The sto­ries pre­sent­ed here reveal that he had the occa­sion­al prick­ly moment — ten­sion with Tilly on the set of Psycho II, “test­ing” tyro direc­tor Garris on Part 4 — but every­one here pays trib­ute to his devo­tion to the work as well as his gen­eros­i­ty as an actor and direc­tor.  For a hor­ror doc­u­men­tary, it turns out to be unex­pect­ed­ly touch­ing.

In short, The Psycho Legacy is a like­able trib­ute to an unsung series, not to men­tion Perkins him­self.  Fans of clas­sic hor­ror are like­ly to find it a plea­sur­able way to spend 90 min­utes — and if you’re look­ing to find out more about the Psycho films, it’s a nice place to start.

The Psycho Legacy

The Psycho Legacy

The Ultimate Retrospective on the Most Influential Horror Series of All Time!In 1960, Director Alfred Hitchcock unleashed the moth­er-lov­ing, mur­der­ous Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) onto screens in Psycho and scared audi­ences sense­less. With its shock­ing show­er scene and unheard-of-at-the-time twist end­ing, it sin­gle-hand­ed­ly changed the hor­ror gen­re forever. Psycho was so suc­cess­ful that it spawned three sequels, one remake, one TV series pilot, count­less imi­ta­tors and is now con­sid­ered the “grand­fa­ther of mod­ern hor­ror”. The Psycho Legacy is the first doc­u­men­tary to unrav­el the screen­writ­ing, cast­ing and direct­ing of all of the Psycho films and reveals sev­er­al sur­pris­es and insights that every fan of this clas­sic fran­chise will want to know.Director: Robert GalluzzoStars: Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Henry Thomas, Diana ScarwidIncludes nev­er-before-seen inter­view footage with Anthony Perkins and ultra rare inter­views with stars of the sequels.