Home Video Hovel: Psycho III, by Aaron Pinkston
You could easily make the argument that Psycho II wasn’t a story that needed to be told. It is difficult to follow-up masterpieces, let alone more than 20 years later. Still, the story exploring Norman Bates out of the mental hospital and back into the real world has a lot of interesting angles. It’s not a wholly successful film, but is surprisingly worthwhile. So then, what narrative territory is there left to explore in Psycho III? Honestly, not much.
Coming soon after the events of Psycho II, Norman is again struggling with his sanity, trying to maintain peace while reopening the Bates Motel. Because peace and quiet usually aren’t on the table for characters like Norman, three characters converge on him, leading to the plot of Psycho III — a nosy journalist trying to link Norman to the killings in Psycho II, a douchebag drifter who takes up a part-time job at the motel, and a young ex-nun running away from a religious crisis that contributed to a tragedy at her convent. The film spends a majority of the first act introducing these characters instead of focusing much time on Norman, which is one of many homages this film shows to the original.
Besides a subplot where Norman falls in love (and not entirely in a creeper way) with runaway nun Maureen, there isn’t much pushing the story into new territory. It is really the same ol’ Norman, struggling with his sanity, taking orders and being ridiculed by his dead mother. The drifter character played by Jeff Fahey is the only potential piece that could save this film from stasis, and Fahey really nails it. He is great as the douchebag, and the psychopathic edge is a nice touch. He’s a different kind of psycho than Norman, one more fit for the 80s culture — wild, brash, loud, excessively violent, more of a lunatic, really. He’s a worthy adversary to Norman, though the film doesn’t carry this psychopathic showdown far enough. This may be difficult to pull off because, unfortunately, Norman is a shell of himself in Psycho III, far from the great character that terrified audiences in the original. Norman has always had an emotionless, straightforward vibe, but the insanity just under the surface is almost completely gone at this point. Sure, he is still crazy, but no longer in a way that will make an audience uneasy.
Perhaps the biggest draw to Psycho III is Perkins taking the role as director, his first of only two films in the chair (along with the 1988 horror comedy Lucky Stiff, which has the tagline “It’s Psycho meets The Naked Gun!” Fantastic). As a director, Perkins handles the film’s few big moments decently, but he doesn’t have the ability to build the tension throughout long stretches of the film. Because of this, much of the film falls fairly flat. It is clear, though, that Perkins, along with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, want to show their reverence for Hitchcock’s masterpiece. We see more of the Bates Motel, including Norman’s love for taxidermy that decorates the motel office. Perkins also chooses to pay direct homage to the two most shocking and important moments in the original and walks away with a 50% success rate (which might be a miracle). The twist on the shower scene is surprising and extraordinary. It hits you in the gut in a much different way than the killing of Marion Crane. In Psycho III, Maureen is established as a Marion stand-in, complete with short blonde hair, and her experience in this archetypal scene helps establish her character and future motivations in a clever way. The other death scene homage is much more of a remake and completely unsuccessful. While there is a different setup and result to the scene on the steps of the Bates manor, it doesn’t come close to the technical achievement displayed by Hitchcock. In turn, the shot looks fake and a bit desperate.
Psycho III has many of the same problems as its predecessor, a horror film short of the original’s tension and without the thrills that defined its era’s genre work. I’m not exaggerating when I say the first kill comes in halfway through the film and there are even fewer horror moments than in the rather tame Psycho II. This film, though, can’t capture the strengths of its predecessor, leaving it a lifeless, humorless slog.
Despite the relative quality of this film, Shout! Factory puts as much care into the new Blu-ray Collectors Edition release as all of its releases. Normal for Shout! Factory, the transfer is gorgeous: grainy, but clear. This release includes interviews with actors Jeff Fahey and Katt Shea, special effects makeup creator Michael Westmore, and (my personal favorite) Maureen body double Brinke Stevens. There is also a newly recorded commentary track with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, whose credits also include Cronenberg’s The Fly and DragonHeart. Like the commentary track for the Psycho II release, it is smartly moderated, this time by the DVD producer, which keeps the commentary conversational while covering information important to the film and career of Pogue. I will continue to look forward to most anything Shout! Factory releases, even when the film isn’t of any particular interest.