Following the critical and financial success of Psycho II, Universal wasted no time moving forward with Psycho III. There were more than twenty years between Psycho and its first sequel, but Psycho III came in 1986, a mere three years after its predecessor.
Anthony Perkins – Norman Bates himself – sat in the director’s chair this time around, making his directorial debut with a script from Charles Edward Pogue (who also wrote The Fly remake, released the same summer). Although he pays homage to the master, Perkins doesn’t try to imitate Hitchcock’s style. Instead, he injects the film with a European flare he developed while acting in art house pictures following Psycho. The moody score by Carter Burwell (Fargo) perfectly matches the tone, as does Bruce Surtees’ (Dirty Harry) cinematography.
Psycho III begins with the bold proclamation of “There is no God!” The screen is blank while we hear a female vehemently scream the blasphemy, but the voice is soon revealed to belong to Maureen (Diana Scarwid, Mommie Dearest). Maureen, a nun in training, is contemplating suicide when a sister attempts to help but dies in an unfortunate accident. Maureen leaves the monastery and is picked up by Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey, Planet Terror), a musician on his way to Los Angeles. Duke is a quintessential ’80s scumbag, but there’s a hint of charm.
Although they part ways when Duke begins making advances on Maureen, the pair run back into each other – where else? – at the Bates Motel. Duke is working there to make some extra money, and Maureen needs a place to stay. Norman, meanwhile, finds himself enamored with Maureen. The comely blonde bears a resemblance to Marion Crane, even sharing her initials with Norman’s infamous shower victim from the original Psycho. Between this and the week-old events of Psycho II, Norman has lost it again. He’s back to his old antics, conversing with his long-dead mother as body count rises.
While the previous Psycho film carried religious undertones, Psycho III brings them to the foreground. They’re an interesting addition, but the script as a whole is not as strong as that of Psycho II. Most glaringly, much of the suspense is lost without the ambiguity of who’s responsible for the murders. There are hints that Norman may not be the killer early on, but it becomes obvious that he’s the only suspect as the movie progresses. On the plus side, Psycho III does “fix” the mythology altered in the previous movie.
In addition to a great transfer, Scream Factory’s collector’s edition Blu-ray of Psycho III features new interviews with Fahey, actress Katt Shea (who went on to direct The Rage: Carrie 2), scream queen Brinke Stevens (who was nude body double) and special makeup effects artist Michael Westmore, the most interesting interview of the bunch. There’s also a commentary with Pogue, moderated by Michael Felsher, which is fairly interesting. Rounding out the extras are trailers and a still gallery. With fantastic presentations of both Psycho II and III, I hope Scream Factory tackles Psycho IV: The Beginning in the future.
While no one expected Psycho III to live up to Hitchcock’s classic, it also pales in comparison to Psycho II. Its references to the original film are more heavy-handed, while Perkins’ portrayal of Norman is less subtle – perhaps because he was pulling double duty while directing. Audiences also felt a disconnect, it seems, as the picture received mixed reviews and made less money at the box office. That said, Psycho III is still an entertaining follow-up.