Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates
Diana Scarwid - Maureen Coyle
Jeff Fahey - Duane Duke
Roberta Maxwell - Tracy Venable
Hugh Gillin - Sheriff John Hunt
Robert Alan Browne - Ralph Statler
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Slasher
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Even after 53 years, Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO is still watched and beloved by many who consider it one of the best suspense thrillers ever made. Classes have been created just for its infamous shower scene. Parodies and imitators still exist, even today. While it's not my personal favorite Hitchcock film [that would be VERTIGO], PSYCHO has earned its place in pop culture as one of the most influential movies ever filmed.
During Hitchcock's lifetime, many never considered a follow up to Norman Bates' and his "mother's" story. However, Psycho author Robert Bloch decided to write a sequel after Hitchcock passed away in 1980. The novel, Psycho II, was released in 1982 to much fanfare - enough of it that a cinematic adaptation was even considered. Universal Studios, though, disliked how the novel played out - especially since the novel criticized the much profitable slasher/splatter film craze that made many studios a ton of cash during this time. So hiring Tom Holland [who would later write and direct FRIGHT NIGHT and CHILD'S PLAY], Universal wanted him to write a sequel to PSYCHO that didn't follow the novel at all. Universal also hired Australian director Richard Franklin [who had directed ROAD GAMES], knowing Franklin had become good friends with Hitchcock before his passing. With Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles back on board to reprise their roles, PSYCHO II was released in the summer of 1983 - to much positive success both commercially and critically. Even today, many still praise the sequel - believing that while it's not a necessary film, it's a well-made movie that's better than it ought to be.
Due to the success of PSYCHO II, another sequel began to be considered. Anthony Perkins wanted more control this time around, suggesting he'd co-write the screenplay, as well as direct the film himself. Since Universal felt Perkins knew Bates and the PSYCHO story more than anyone, they agreed to those terms. Charles Edward Pogue, who had come off from his screenplay for David Cronenberg's THE FLY, decided to help Perkins co-write the script with homages to the previous two films. Feeling the mystery was gone and wanting to go back to basics, PSYCHO III was written more as a slasher film that would capitalize on what younger audiences wanted to see in their horror at the time.
PSYCHO III was released in 1986, three years after PSYCHO II. Unfortunately, PSYCHO III wasn't as well received as the first two films, making PSYCHO III the least commercially successful PSYCHO film in the franchise. Maybe it was because the slasher film craze was on the decline. Maybe it was because fans didn't want a continuation [especially since many hated how II had ended]. Or maybe it was just bad timing in terms of its release. It's hard to say why PSYCHO III didn't do as well as it did. It's unfortunate since it's a pretty great sequel that ties up loose ends from the previous two films, even if it's not as good as those films.
A month after the events of PSYCHO II, strange things are happening. In a convent, a young nun named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) murders her Mother Superior by accident, after declaring that "There is no God." Guilty and feeling disgusted with herself, Maureen runs away from the convent and hitchhikes. She's picked up by a broke musician type named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who does what all hitchhikers stereotypically do - try to rape the poor girl. She gets away and ends up at the Bates Motel, not realizing that Duke has just been hired there as Norman Bates' (Anthony Perkins) assistant. But since she's desperate, she stays in Room #1 - the same room Marion Crane was murdered in during the original PSYCHO.
Norman, trying to hide the fact that he murdered Mrs. Spool [the woman who claimed was his real mother], and avoiding the nosiness of a snooty reporter (Roberta Maxwell), is also haunted by Maureen - who shares the same physical characteristics as Marion Crane. One night to kill Maureen, Norman finds Maureen in a bathtub of blood after she slit her wrists. Saving her, Maureen feels that Norman is a kindred spirit that needs her as much as she needs him. The two start romancing each other, which just makes "Mother's" presence intensify. With Norman struggling with control between his two personae, terror may strike the Bates Motel one more time.
PSYCHO III isn't as memorable or as well-told as the first two PSYCHO films. Those movies focused on the suspense and mystery of the story - the first with the identity of the killer, and the second with the idea of Norman possibly losing it again against his will. PSYCHO III goes back to basics, happily content in playing with the slasher conventions to toy with Norman Bates' murderous side. After all, we know by the end of PSYCHO II that Norman is back to being bat-shit crazy, so any mystery of a killer wouldn't exist anyway. And while that does take away some of the effect in terms of suspense with the lack of a whodunit angle, both Perkins and Pogue still manage to tell a fun, thrilling tale that harkens back to the original film that happens to feel fresher and more modern than the remake Gus Van Sant directed in 1998.
The last time I watched PSYCHO III, prior to the weekend, was in the early 90s. Back then, I wasn't able to appreciate the nods and the imagery that both Perkins and Pogue infused this sequel with. The Christian imagery, in particular, is very strong. One of the main characters is a failed nun who denounces God in the very first line of the film. She's an innocent who accidentally murders her Mother Superior, making her struggle with her morals. In that sense, she's almost a mirror image to Norman - both of them have murdered their mother figures and they're both struggling with it, which brings both of them together for better or worse. In one scene, Norman sees a portrait of the Virgin Mary turn into his mother. Maureen sees Norman as a saint while she's losing blood during her suicide attempt. Even a statue of Cupid murders a character. Just so much told metaphorically, that I honestly shouldn't reveal everything in the film. It's fun as an audience member to pinpoint details and wonder what they mean within the context of the story.
The other cool stuff within the story are the homages and throwbacks to the first two films. Some critics knocked this for trying to recreate something so classic and cherished by so many. But I thought it was a lot of fun to see certain things that connected me back to the previous films, as well as watch certain classic moments recreated in a fresh way. The shower scene is recreated, but this time within a phone booth. We even get the "Oh mother, blood! Blood!" line said right after the event. The line "We all go a little mad sometimes," is also repeated as well. We get a falling stairs sequence, very similar to the Arbogast deal in PSYCHO. The book Mary read in PSYCHO II, The Belly of the Beast, can be seen outside the Bates Motel. There are some others as well, which are recreated well and make Norman's story mean more for the character and for us.
Speaking of Norman Bates, PSYCHO III is his story and his story only. The fact that it plays out as a slasher actually benefits the film, because it allows the story to follow Norman more as he struggles with his psychotic murder spree again. Moreso than ever, we witness Norman struggle with his world. His "mother" is stressing him out, to the point where he wants to be free from her influence. He's haunted by Maureen, due to her resemblance to Marion Crane. The fact that she's given Marion's room and he watches her shower doesn't help. However, Norman sees a kindred spirit in Maureen and ends up falling for her. But he can't be happy because "Mother" keeps wanting Norman to kill her. The struggle really takes a toll on Norman, as he begins losing what's left of his sanity, as well as his murderous instincts as he nervously fumbles in hiding the corpses of his victims from cops, reporters, and even assistants. I think the great thing about PSYCHO III, even though it does focus on his killer persona, is that it focuses on his humanity. After all, he poisons his bird feed to stuff dead birds - yet, lets one go free when they manage to survive the poison. Plus, he's a perfect gentleman to Maureen, genuinely finding a connection with her that makes him happy. He's a normal guy with obvious mental and mommy issues - yet he's so likeable, you can't help but root for the guy even when he does bad things. It's interesting to watch the character in constant war with himself, which raises the suspense and tension quite a whole lot as the story plays out.
I wish the other characters were just as developed in this film, but unfortunately they're not as interesting as Norman. Maureen is the embodiment of everything Norman wants in a woman. She's pure. She's needs to be taken care of, while she's willing to do the same for him. They share similar passions. She's also a suicidal, fragile woman who struggles with God. She has an interesting arc on paper. But there's not enough of her in the film that doesn't make her anymore than the stereotypical clueless girlfriend who wants to change the bad boy, thinking she's helping him for a better future. She does make one wonder whether her presence triggers the feelings Norman may have had for Marion Crane years ago, since he's haunted, yet invited by Maureen's presence.
Duane Duke is nothing more than the opposite of Norman - a sleaze who doesn't care about anyone but himself - and his guitar apparently. He's willing to rape Maureen after he picked her up on the road. He seduces women into his bed by waving lamps in front of his naked body, before kicking them out right after. And he's willing to blackmail people, or conspire with others, in order to gain some sort of cash and notoriety. The guy is a jerk. And Tracy Venable is your stereotypical nosy reporter who doesn't leave well enough alone. She's pretty annoying, trying to befriend Norman while trying to get a juicy story out of him. The only real good thing about her is that she fixes what many believe the ending of PSYCHO II had ruined when it comes to Norman Bates' established history. So she's not completely useless. The rest of the characters are only around for a body count.
I'm not saying that the characters are bad or anything. They fit well within PSYCHO III's story, even if they are moths to Norman's flame. But seeing how well the stories were told and handled in both PSYCHO and PSYCHO II, you kind of feel disappointed that this film plays it safe with the slasher route. The mysterious vibe of the first two films are truly lacking and missed somewhat here. But at least the film is still entertaining.
The script does have some issues. Certain characters really behave stupidly. The scene with the Sheriff grabbing ice from the ice box [where a dead body is hidden] just makes the man completely incompetent. It's a great scene in terms of suspense and tension, but it just makes the guy clueless as hell. Also, Norman doesn't really change his M.O. all that much. I mean, how many times can a person dump bodies in a swamp while realizing that's the first place the police will look? Also, there's a ton of exposition done to tie up loose ends, including the one with the reporter figuring out the truth about Norman and Ms. Spool. The story is more focused on Norman losing his mind and killing people, which works better than it ought to. But a stronger story and maybe more mystery would have helped somewhat.
Due to the fact that it's more of a slasher, PSYCHO III gushes more blood and displays a bit more gore. We get some brutal stabbings, slit wrists, a throat being cut open, arrow violence, and a bunch of corpses getting the spotlight. We also get some Brinke Stevens butt shots, doubling for Diana Scarwid's butt. Violence plus T & A - yep, this fits the slasher trope alright.
The direction by Anthony Perkins is quite impressive, especially since this was his first foray behind the camera. It's a very stylish film, as it's obvious Perkins had watched many of Hitchcock's works prior to filming. The opening sequence with the death of Mother Superior is obviously a nod to VERTIGO. One character falls down the stairs like Arbogast did in the original, which Perkins shoots in the same surreal manner. The phone booth death sequence, which recreates the shower scene, is similarly shot in the same manner [I love how we never see the knife actually stab the victim, like in the original]. We get some cool scenes with Diana Scarwid recreating Janet Leigh moments, to give us a sense as to how Norman sees Maureen. Perkins also heightens tension and suspense, especially during the last half of the film. The ice box scene, the swamp scene, and the final moments are all great visual moments that really grab you as a viewer. Perkins knew exactly how he wanted to tell the story, since the visual presentation is so confident. It's sad he wouldn't be able to direct more films, especially since shooting PSYCHO III was when he learned he was HIV-positive. But if things had been different, Perkins could have had a great career as a director. He did a fantastic job on this film.
Perkins also excels in the acting department. He captivates you in every scene he's in. He's quiet one moment, and twitchy and nervous in the other [moreso than usual]. Perkins really gives Norman's struggle with himself life and meaning, as you can't help but feel for the guy as he just wants to be free from his "mother's" control. He also shares a sweet chemistry with Diana Scarwid that makes you wish they could have a happy ending. Perkins is just fantastic in this film, especially as the film gets to the end.
Diana Scarwid is also quite good as Maureen Coyle - playing a struggling, suicidal potential nun who falls in love with Norman. She comes across as fragile and naive quite convincingly, making her a tragic figure in the life of Norman Bates. I also thought she pulled off the Marion Crane appearance quite well, creating a throwback to the original film. Jeff Fahey is also very good as the roguish Duane Duke. Fahey is super charming as a womanizing schemer who'll do anything for a quick buck. Still don't understand the whole naked lamp deal [which Fahey requested to do], but it added to the character I felt. Roberta Maxwell is decent as Tracy Venable, although she was more annoying than anything. Maybe that was the point of her character, but I honestly couldn't stand her presence.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE DRESSING LIKE MY MOTHER
- Maureen declared "There is no God!" Maureen must have seen Miley Cyrus twerk at the VMAs. For shame, Miley. You're making atheists out of the Catholic Church!
- Norman Bates poisons his bird feed in order to find birds to stuff. It also works on winged animals for taxidermy purposes.
- There's concern over the disappearance of Ms. Spool. I don't see why. Spool probably didn't dig her current situation and just needed to get away. Some people really need a shovel to the head!
- Norman's "mother" thinks all women [especially short-haired blondes] are whores. She must have seen Miley Cyrus twerk at the VMAs. For shame, Miley. You're making the dead speak ill of the living!
- Norman saved Maureen from ending her life because suicide would give the Bates Motel a bad name. Yes, because homicide is much more appealing to the public...
- Duane Duke likes to shine two lamps on women he likes before screwing them. That's... one way to get the ladies hot and sweaty...
- Norman and Maureen had a pretty dull slow dance while on their date. They both must have seen Miley Cyrus twerk at the VMAs. For shame, Miley. You're making people lose their rhythm out of embarrassment of looking stupid.
- Norman wanted to kill Maureen after she got him aroused, making him sick to his stomach. That Oedipus Complex sure is a mother...
- Some girl was murdered on the toilet. Man, that's some shit.
THE FINAL HOWL
While not as good as the first two films, PSYCHO III is still a pretty great follow up. It's a fun slasher with cool nods to previous films, nice kills, and some nice tense scenes that will grip you. Anthony Perkins is the star of this movie, both in front and behind the camera, displaying his love for the series that made him a household name. And while the mystery is gone and some of the characters do stupid things, the story is still strong enough to keep you captivated. PSYCHO III was much better than I had remembered it 20 years ago. It's definitely a film worth keeping by the window for everyone to see if you're a fan of Norman Bates.