Psycho III (1986)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: September 24th, 2013
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
With Psycho II, Universal pulled off the near-impossible by producing a solid follow-up to one of the greatest films of all-time, so they naturally tried their luck again a few years later by revisiting Norman Bates once again. The result was not quite as solid, though Psycho III is arguably the oddest entry in the Psycho canon (with the exception of Bates Motel, which hardly counts). That said, if the first sequel was perhaps a little unnecessary, then this one is even more perfunctoryóitís often exactly what you might expect out of another Psycho movie released at the height of the 80s slasher craze.
Well, sort of. The prologue is actually a little disorienting, as we open not on Bates Motel, but in a tower where a nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwig) threatens to commit suicide. During the attempt, another nun actually falls to her death, and Maureen leaves the convent out of horror and shame. She finds herself hitching a ride with an aspiring musician (Jeff Fahey) who winds up attempting to rape her before she manages to flee. The two cross paths a few days later when they wind up at the Bates Motel after all; the musician takes up post as the assistant manager, while Maureen just needs a place to stay. The awkward situation is made less ideal by the presence of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who is fascinated by and smitten with Maureen because she reminds him of Marion Crane (she even sports the same initials); of course, Mother Bates isnít too pleased by her presence.
One of Psycho IIís more commendable aspects was its refusal to simply leach off of Hitchcockís classic, and, while this sequel isnít an exact retread, it treats the original film as more of a crutch. Even though the previous filmís ending rejigged the franchise mythology with a last minute reveal, it sort of returned things to the status quo: Norman was once again off her rocker while Mother was firmly placed on hers, and part 3 takes that notion and runs with it, so much so that it feels like the past 25 years were uninterrupted after all. Hereís Norman munching on candy corn, stuffing animals, and repeating lines he said decades earlier. Once bodies begin to pile up, thereís little doubt that Normanís being goaded into doing his ďmotherísĒ dirty work.
However, the framework in which all of this familiarity operates is a little interesting. Psycho III might feature more than a few callbacks to the original film (including a cool recreation of the infamous shower scene), it owes even more to another Hitchcock classic in Vertigo, which is invoked from the opening bell with the tower setting. From there, Norman essentially assumes the Scotty Ferguson role of falling for the doppelganger of a woman from his past. Of course, itís an especially twisted riff on Vertigo considering Norman had nothing but repressed psychosexual longings for Marion Crane and wound up stabbing her to death. When Maureen enters his life, itís a true test of his sanity, as he sees this as a second chance to overcome his psychosis, and Psycho III continues to paint a sympathetic portrait of Norman.
In fact, it might be even more sympathetic; where Psycho II made him a victim of a diabolical plot to undo his sanity, this one finds him at war with both karma and his own mind. One can easily imagine Norman echoing Bogie from Casablanca: ďof all the motels, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.Ē The bizarre relationship between Norman and Maureen is fascinating, if only because itís hopelessly awkward and made all the more so by Perkinsís turn as Norman, who is once again something of a twitchy motor-mouth forever preserved in adolescence. One typically watches a horror movie between oneís fingers to avoid unsightly images, but one might do that here because this relationship is akin to a train thatís doomed to derail from the start.
A lot of junk surrounds this unusually tender center, as the film arranges a cast of characters in order to tear Norman down. In addition to Maureen, Faheyís wannabe rock star is up to no good as Normanís assistant. Rather than tend to the motel, heís more interested in sleazy nights on the town, and he obviously has a few screws loose from the start (Faheyís increasingly unhinged performance briefly serves as a red herring that could lead one to assume Psycho III is once again following the copycat path). One of his would-be conquests is a journalist (Roberta Maxwell) looking to follow up on Normanís rehabilitation, so she enlists the musician as a spy in order to uncover any possible bizarre behavior.
She eventually uncovers quite a lot, particularly when the film takes an obvious slasher digression that finds a group of football fanatics shacking up at the motel to watch a big game.* As schlocky as it is, itís a fun little detour that allows Perkins to direct some death scenes with quite the panache. I wonít say that Psycho III does for phone booths and toilets what the original did for showers (especially since future generations will wonder ďwhatís a phone booth?Ē), but the nightmarish, schizophrenic lensing for these sequences is a nice call-back to the original. The aftermath of one murder even has a wry twist on the swamp scene in the original that shifts the audienceís sympathy firmly to Norman; here, the swamp is replaced by an ice machine that houses a victimís corpse, which goes completely unnoticed by the oblivious sheriff pilfering blood-soaked ice in an effort to cool off.
With such occasionally wry moments (which give way to a truly broad, unhinged climax), Psycho III remains consistently kooky and fun. One might argue that a sequel to a confirmed masterpiece should aspire for more, but, letís be real: itís a miracle that none of the Psycho sequels completely embarrassed themselves and the franchise. The returns began to diminish here, but itís not like the series was completely circling the drain just yet.
Like Psycho II, this sequel is making its Blu-ray debut thanks to Scream Factoryís new Collectorís Edition, which again represents a worthwhile upgrade over Universalís previous DVD offerings. With the exception of a few rough spots and artifacts, the transfer is rather remarkable, especially when compared to its grubby DVD counterpart. Likewise, the soundtrack springs to life with a 5.1 DTS-MA mix (the original stereo is also preserved) that adds some natural ambiance to the presentation.
Even though Psycho II is generally lauded as the superior sequel, itís Psycho III that gets the more elaborate Collectorís Edition treatment. Instead of vintage EPK stuff, Scream has put together about 35 minutes worth of interviews with Fahey, actress Katt Shey, effects man Michael Westmore, and body double Brinke Stevens. In addition to the usual promo material (trailers, a stills gallery), Michael Felsher moderates a commentary with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, so this is the sort of special edition that Psycho fans have been anticipating. The only bummer here is that Scream didnít just also go ahead and give Psycho IV the same treatment, but maybe thatís still in the cards for a later release. Dare I dream that Bates Motel finds its way onto the Scream label as an extra feature? Probably not, as I expect the company line on that ill-fated pilot involves a complete denial of its existence. I suspect it's still sitting in the corner thinking about what it's done alongside Gus Van Sant's malformed remake.
*As someone who grew up without cable and with a father who doubled as a rabid college football fan, I can attest that this would be perfectly normal behavior. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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