Psycho III (1986)

Psycho III (1986)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the shower!

Norman Bates is still running the Bates Motel and business is picking up when a suicidal nun arrives looking for somewhere to hide out for a bit. Norman is stricken with her resemblance to his first victim Marion Crane and, after saving her life, the two begin a romantic relationship. But things take a turn for the worse with the arrival of nosey reporter Tracy who enlists the help of the motel’s assistant manager to prove that Norman’s insanity plea was all a work. The spectre of Mother threatens to rear her head again.

 

After twenty-three years since the original, Universal took a big risk with Psycho II, a belated follow up to one of the most influential films of all time. After all, the 80s was now over-saturated with knife-wielding maniacs like Michael Myers so what better time to bring back Norman Bates and show the rest how it was done? The question was how could anyone do a follow-up to Hitchcock’s classic and how would modern audiences react to seeing an aging Norman return to the big screen? Well it was a surprise box office success in 1983 and that is in no big part down to the assured direction from one-time Hitchcock student Richard Franklin and clever script from Tom Holland (who would go on to become a competent director in his own right with genre favourites such as Fright Night and Child’s Play). The sequel wasn’t necessary but was far better than it had any right to be. In my review, I said it may be the ‘most underrated sequel of all time’ and definitely deserved the acclaim it received.

However, like many things, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing and that is clearly the case with Psycho III. Taking place one cinematic month after the events of Psycho II, Psycho III is a marked decline in quality from the first sequel, but it isn’t without merit. If anyone was to know what made a good Psycho film, it was surely main star himself Anthony Perkins, and he stepped up to direct here. Sadly, Perkins’ direction lacks any of the consistent finer eye for detail that made Hitchcock and Franklin’s films so good. He does have his moments, such as a sequence where the sheriff is talking to Norman after deciding he didn’t murder a guest and dips his hands into the ice box, without realising that is where her body is stashed. It’s very Poe-esque The Tell-Tale Heart as the sheriff sucks on a bloody ice cube as the camera cuts back and forth to Norman’s panicked face. The film needed more of this sophistication and less of the 80s slasher elements – it’s clear that the script was written to cater towards what everyone thought younger audiences would want to see. The slasher film was on the decline in 1986 though, the market having been oversaturated with dozens of sub-standard efforts, and so the decision to play to this demographic rather than keep with what had made the previous two films successful was a daft one.

If there is one thing that Psycho III is good at, it’s ensuring continuity with the previous films but it’s also one of the film’s biggest weaknesses – its insistence on being so self-referential i.e. you need to have seen the first two films to acknowledge a lot of the lines, circumstances and shots that are copied and spun around. Sometimes they pan out the same way, sometimes they don’t. There are only so many quotes and references to the previous films you can stomach before they start to become tiresome, simply because they keep reminding you that this film isn’t anywhere near as well-made. It’s almost all they’ve got to go on to keep the narrative fresh and they overplay this too much, too soon.

There’s also no real suspense to the proceedings – Psycho II at least had the novel idea of not knowing whether Norman was crazy or not but he’s full-blown wacko here and there’s no hiding it. The story just isn’t as interesting as a result, with Norman becoming just another knife-wielding maniac, only without the Michael Myers mask. There’s no whodunnit, like there was in the previous films, and no real mystery to solve thanks to the ending of Psycho II (which this film continues on with, rather than jettisoning it as the throwaway joke scene it was clearly meant to be). There’s just the narrative of Norman descending further and further into madness, with little to piece together the scenes between slashes.

Anthony Perkins had managed to hold the films together as Norman, a well-meaning and polite character who always had that degree of vulnerability and weakness so that he was sympathetic, despite his homicidal tendencies. Here, Perkins starts to overplay Norman a little too much, as the character does go into his full-blown psycho persona, but he still has some moments of tenderness and humanity. His little twitches and constant nervous stutters make Norman Bates a character we like and want to help, rather than wish to see hang for his crimes. That’s a difficult accomplishment and Perkins, through the previous films as well, has managed to craft the character in such a way that even now he has gone insane, he’s still able to resonate with the audience. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast, who have such poorly written and sketched out characters that are not interesting in the slightest. Diane Scarwid’s nun, Maureen, starts off with an interesting character arc but gets side-lined too much once the narrative has gone into slasher territory. Even worse is Jeff Fahey’s slimy Duke, who is a complete douche bag and acts like a jerk towards everyone, getting his just rewards.

 

Psycho III was a flop and became the lowest grossing film in the franchise to that date, which is why the final film ended up going straight-to-TV. A sad end for a series started off and continued in such style by Hitchcock and Franklin. Psycho III isn’t a total disaster and if you’ve got to this point in the series already, you’ll be too engaged with the character of Norman to really bother about the smaller details.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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