Psycho III (1986) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for strong, bloody violence, sexuality, nudity, and language
Length: 93 min.

Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin, Virginia Gregg (voice)
Director: Anthony Perkins
Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue
Review published February 16, 2013

Psycho III 1986 Anthony PerkinsThe events of Psycho III take place not long after Psycho II, as Norman Bates (Perkins, The Black Hole), still the sole caretaker of the Bates Motel, ends up hiring a temporary new assistant in the wily rogue musician who goes by the name of Duane Duke (Fahey, Silverado). He also has a new patron staying in cabin #1, a spiritually faltering (and suicidal) former nun with an uncanny resemblance, not to mention the same initials, of victim Marion Crane, Maureen Coyle (Scarwid, A Guy Thing). Norman is intensely attracted to Maureen, and the feeling is perhaps mutual, but with jealous Mother Bates always dictating Norman's actions, that doesn't bode well for her longevity. Meanwhile, tenacious reporter Tracy Venable (Maxwell, Popeye) is trying to discover the whereabouts of a missing woman and is sure that she must have met her fate with Norman, though Sheriff Hunt (Gillin, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days) thinks it another case of people just out to pick on poor Norman for his past transgressions.

Anthony Perkins returns to his most famous of roles for a third time, only this time he also serves as director, his first in the chair. As such, it's a bit uneven in spots, but Perkins does bring a good sense of style and symbolism to the proceedings, and sometimes makes homage to Alfred Hitchcock himself, such as an early scene in a California mission bell tower in which a nun falls to her death, recalling a similar scene in Vertigo. There is also an homage to the classic shower sequence in Psycho, that actually is more of a bath sequence, though Mother's appearance strikes the intended victim with more of a sense of hopefulness than horror. Perkins, as a director, reportedly had also been influenced by the style of the Coen Brothers' film, Blood Simple, even securing that thriller's composer, Carter Burwell, to perform the excellent synthesized score for Psycho III as his second feature-film work.

The script by Charles Edward Pogue (The Fly, Dragonheart) is not only adept in terms of getting the details of the first two movies right, but also brings a good deal of interesting characters and surprisingly smart and darkly witty moments as well. It's definitely more influenced by the early 1980s penchant for slasher flicks, as the bloodiness of the killings and the sexuality/nudity are ratcheted up to a series high here.  Whereas Hitchcock's Psycho had ruffled the censors for merely featuring a shot of a toilet, Psycho III not only shows a toilet, but actually has a character sit and urinate in it.  Yes, we're a long way from 1960.

Perkins gives more of his classic, twitchy Norman shtick, which isn't realistic, but it does tread the line between sweetness and evil well. Unlike the modern slasher film baddies who are evil incarnate, Norman is forever conflicted by the homicidal tendencies he unleashes on people who are often scarcely deserving, and Perkins, though his character commits the most heinous of acts, embodies the look of a man-child completely at odds with his own internal desires. Jeff Fahey also puts in a decent performance as the motel's clerk, who is slimy but savvy about what's going on, and provides a good earthy foil for Norman's oft-naive ways, playing the devil to Diana Scarwig's angel on the opposite side of Norman's shoulders.

Psycho III is not essential viewing, and while, like its immediate predecessor, it falls many a mile short of Hitchcock's original in terms of its ingeniousness and its artistry, it's a worthwhile continuation of Psycho II for fans of the Bates mythos, particularly for those who are inured to the slash-n-gash flicks common around the time of its original 1986 release.  Fitting that the original franchise that spawned a subgenre would eventually embrace it, warts and all.

-- Followed by the made-for-cable prequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning Details regarding the making of this film are featured in the documentary, The Psycho Legacy.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo