Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 18, 2013)
While 1983’s Psycho II didn’t light up the box office, it produced a profit and did well enough to green-light another film in the series. This leads us to 1986’s less-successful Psycho III, an exploration of the life and crazy times of Norman Bates.
Whereas II picked up 22 years after the original film, III shows events that follow only a couple of months after those depicted in the 1983 movie. A young nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwid) loses her faith and leaves the church. As she wanders in the middle of nowhere, she hitches a ride with Duane (Jeff Fahey), a guitarist on his way to LA to try to break into the music business.
As they travel, they encounter a nasty thunderstorm and Duane pulls over to take a break. He attempts to fool around with Maureen, but she resists his advances and flees into the rainy night.
Eventually Duane’s car needs work and he winds up at the Bates Motel, where he applies for a job as assistant to manager/owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). In the meantime, folks wonder what happened to local waitress Emma Spool, and out-of-town reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) suspects Norman due to his violent past. She chats up Norman under the pretense of a story about the insanity defense and attempts to dig into his mind.
An additional complication arises when Maureen shows up in town. Still down on her luck, she bears a striking resemblance to Marion Crane, the woman Norman killed way back in 1960, and this sets him more on edge than usual – especially with Maureen tries to find inexpensive lodging. Inevitably she ends up at the Bates Motel and Norman’s ghosts come back to haunt him once again.
When I reviewed Psycho II, I didn’t find much to like about it. Although I felt it certainly could’ve been worse than it was, it felt like a cheap knock-off and not a worthy successor to a classic.
This left me with low expectations as I entered Psycho III. It enjoys a weaker reputation than II, though I’m not sure why; while it’s not what I’d call a good movie, I don’t think it performs worse than its immediate predecessor.
Actually, I probably prefer III to II, if just because it feels like it enjoys more of a connection to the original. In II, I think we lose track of Norman too much of the time. The film focuses on secondary characters and turns Norman into a pawn without much to do. I guess some view this as good psychological drama – and I respect the movie’s attempts to do something other than simply remake the original – but II never feels like part of the Psycho universe to me.
While it comes with flaws, at least III seems like it fits into the original’s realm. Of course, like the first sequel, III attempts active references to the 1960 flick – and it even connects to other Hitchcock works such as an opening that consciously emulates Vertigo. That homage seems too self-conscious for me, but other nods fare better, and III even delivers a reworking of the famous shower scene that almost succeeds.
Almost. The film’s replication of the shower sequence offers some interesting twists, but it suffers from awful musical accompaniment and unwieldy religious allusions. These take away a lot of the scene’s potential impact.
Actually, those elements consistently drag down III. I can’t get too upset about the score – hey, it was the 80s! – but the thematic notions prove to be a more obvious negative. The film tries hard to integrate notions of religion and sin but the movie lacks the intelligence to make these stick. When it goes into those areas, the themes simply feel like pretentious contrivances.
While I think III entertains better than II, it does lose points due to a lack of creativity. As I mentioned, at least II tried to give us a spin on the original, whereas III occasionally feels like a semi-remake of the 1960 flick. It comes with enough changes to create its own personality, but the viewer should still anticipate a fair amount of déjà vu.
Perhaps this sense of familiarity allowed Perkins to provide a stronger performance, though. In II, he came across like little more than a bag of superficial characteristics, but in III, he manages to feel a little more like the “real Norman”. Perhaps his presence as director gave him additional confidence, or maybe he felt less pressure this time. Whatever the case, Perkins seems more invested; he doesn’t compare to his sublime performance in the original, but he does fine.
That summarizes my thoughts about Psycho III as a whole: it doesn’t remotely live up to the original film, but it tends to do okay for itself. The movie gives us a few interesting developments and manages reasonable entertainment value along the way. Although I can’t give III a strong endorsement, it’s a decent expansion of the franchise and better than its immediate predecessor.