Psycho III (1986) d. Perkins, Anthony (USA)
After the critical and commercial slamdunk of Psycho II and with sequel fever in full swing, it came as no surprise when word arose that the Bates Motel would be re-opening for business. Having engendered a generous portion of goodwill, the prevailing spirit was one of optimism, especially when it was revealed that Anthony Perkins would not only be reprising his signature role, but assuming the director’s chair for the first time in his illustrious career. If anyone knew Norman, it was Tony...or so we thought.
Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue landed the Psycho III gig largely due to the heat from his recent “collaboration” with David Cronenberg on The Fly (read as: Cronenberg retained Pogue’s conceit of Seth Brundle’s agonizingly slow transformation from man to insect and essentially rewrote everything else). Sadly, Pogue does exactly what his predecessor Tom Holland had skillfully avoided: He turns Norman into a bad joke, a gleefully nutty fruitcake with barely concealed murder in his eyes.
He also introduces several incidental characters that feel imported from the dead teenager flick from down the road, nothing but fodder for Mother Bates’ blade. The fact that Perkins not only went along with but embraced this nonsense evokes a special kind of disappointment – one can understand his desire to allow the character to expand and grow, but whereas Psycho II felt like a respectful reprise, the twitchy antics three years later stink of hamming for the groundlings.
Perkins’ primary co-stars are a drifting musician named Duke, colorfully essayed by Jeff Fahey, and disgraced nun Maureen Coyle played with strained sensitivity by Diana Scarwid. While both performers are highly watchable, the characters themselves feel like nothing more than plot devices drifting with whatever ill wind Pogue chooses to blow. Duke starts off an immoral scoundrel, but inexplicably (and all too conveniently) morphs into a full-blown third-act loon for no other reason than to keep our sympathies with Norman. (His “Watch the guitar” refrain smacks precisely of the catchphrase the writer wants it to be.)
Scarwid’s character fares slightly better as Perkins’ potential love interest – with the same initials as Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, no less – but their relationship feels hollow and manufactured despite the able thespians’ attempts to the contrary.
By the same token, Norman’s burgeoning relationship feels out of synch with previous incarnations, despite Pogue’s assertions on the audio commentary for Shout! Factory’s upcoming Blu-ray release that his aim was to return the character to his roots. (He also openly confesses to disliking Holland’s script, especially the “Spool mythology.” Well, congratulations, Chuck; if going the opposite direction from the critically acclaimed 1983 sequel was your intention, mission accomplished.)
This is not to say that there aren’t a few memorable moments. The ice machine’s finger licking gag, a character’s creative dispatch via a prop first introduced in Hitchcock’s 1960 original, the sight of Perkins in full Mother garb, a nasty throat slash on the john...
These are all satisfying horror moments, but they belong to another movie, a far more crass and lowbrow one than Norman and his fans deserve. Vera Miles might have met an ugly fate in the previous sequel, but it was an isolated shock moment designed to do just that. Here it feels like Pogue and his director/star have been cajoled into turning their protagonist/antagonist into another franchise star packing punchlines and sharp implements, guilty of pandering in the first degree.
It’s cheap and unpleasant – much like the “Norman Bates is back to normal, but Mother’s off her rocker again” tagline – delivering exactly what the skeptics feared might happen when Holland and Franklin took their proverbial stab: a lowbrow slasher flick.
Over the past quarter century, the film’s reputation has grown since its initial mixed reception, and even if I’m not a fan, one can’t help but appreciate the care that Shout! Factory has exhibited in their presentation. Michael Felsher and his Red Shirt Productions have opened up a treasure trove of extras: in addition to commentary with Pogue (which Felsher moderates like a pro), there are a quartet of interviews that are in some cases more enlightening than the feature itself. “Watch the Guitar” with Jeff Fahey sees the seasoned star graciously acknowledging the opportunity presented to him as a young actor coming off his breakout turn in Silverado. He has nothing but good things to say about the experience, though he wisely sidesteps his feelings about the final result.
Katt Shea, who plays the unfortunate party girl, is a little more forthcoming in “Patsy’s Last Night,” saying that she was disappointed upon her first viewing but was thankful with the relationship that came of her makeup chair experiences with makeup man Michael Westmore (she recruited him for her directorial debut, 1987’s Stripped to Kill).
For his part, the longtime Universal veteran speaks well of his collaboration with Perkins in amping up the bloodshed in “Mother’s Maker.” Finally, B-queen legend Brinke Stevens talks about being Scarwid’s “Body Double” for the requisite Psycho shower scene, delightful and forthcoming as always.
Psycho III hits Blu-ray on September 24 and is available for pre-order HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine