Shout! Factory // 1986 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 11th, 2013
"Norman Bates is back to normal, but mother's off her rocker again."
I think we all remember where we were when Lawrence of Arabia 2 won Best Picture. No? How about City Lights II: Tramp's Revenge? The Rules of the Game Quatre? It's a More Wonderful Life? No? Me neither.
With few exceptions, sequels to classic movies are a bad idea. When Universal greenlit Psycho II more than two decades after Hitchcock's untouchable original, it must have sounded like madness. The decision was in part a response to Robert Bloch's 1982 novel of the same name, although the film had almost nothing in common with that book. Instead, writer Tom Holland used the characters and Bates Motel setting as a jumping off point for a rollercoaster thriller that reimagined the mythology. It wasn't Hitchcock, but it is fondly remembered by '80s slasher fans, including the fine folks at Shout! Factory who put it out on Blu-ray alongside its 1986 sequel Psycho III.
Psycho III picks up after the events of the previous film, with Norman (Anthony Perkins) back to his crazy ways at the Bates Motel. His unbalanced world is thrown into further disarray with the arrival of a greasy drifter (Jeff Fahey), a nosy journalist (Roberta Maxwell), and a troubled nun (Diana Scarwid) who reminds him of Marion Crane. She and Norman grow closer, once more awakening his murderous "Mother."
Psycho III isn't Hitchcock either, but it's far closer in spirit to the original film than the second entry in the franchise. While Charles Edward Pogue's screenplay begins immediately after the shocking end of Psycho II, it mostly rejects Tom Holland's retooling of the story. Psycho III isn't coy about the identity of the killer. It doesn't play with viewer expectations. There are very few twists. Instead, Pogue and Anthony Perkins (who directed the film) revisit the themes and structure of Psycho. Norman Bates deals with sexual desire through the intervention of "mother." An outsider (in this case, a reporter) comes snooping and causes problems. People die. Birds are stuffed. The similarities between Psycho III and the original are the film's strength and its weakness. Comparisons to Psycho would hurt any movie, and this third entry isn't anywhere near as good as the original. Still, Pogue's affection for Hitchcock shines through and he brings enough of his own ideas to make Psycho III worth watching.
Religion and faith figure heavily into the story with the addition of Diana Scarwid as Maureen Coyle, a nun who has lost her faith. The film begins with Scarwid's Maureen screaming "There is no God!" Norman first sees her as doppelganger of Marion Crane, his victim from the first film. After a dark encounter in a familiar location they begin an awkward relationship -- the closest to a non-Oedipal love story Norman will ever have. Scarwid throws herself into the conflicted role, giving Perkins' crazy a run for its money. Pogue and the director don't flesh out the religious themes as much as they could have -- perhaps to make room for studio-decreed gore -- but the romance challenges the most damaged parts of Norman's psyche. By the finale he is no longer the unwitting puppet of a mummified mother.
Psycho III also adds a psychotic counterpart for Bates in Jeff Lahey's scumbag singer Duane Duke. In an early draft of his screenplay, Duane was the killer and some of that cruelty remains in the finished film. Duke isn't nearly as key to the story as Maureen and he mostly acts as conduit for the film's sleazier material, but Lahey is great and Duane's arc builds to one of the best scenes in the movie. A lot of credit for what Psycho III gets right goes to Anthony Perkins, whose direction draws heavily from Hitchcock. He boosts Pogue's affection for the original film with similar shots and specific callbacks. Some homages work better than others. Perkins is at his best when he follows his own twisted vision, as in the famous scene where the sheriff casually eats from the motel's tainted ice machine.
Scream Factory does right by Psycho III on Blu-ray with a faithful 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The grain leans towards gritty, but it fits the material. Details are sharp, colors are well-saturated, and the picture holds up in the blown out desert daylight as well as the inky darkness that hides Mother's activities. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is front-heavy, but it opens up in the film's crazier sequences.
This "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray set isn't bursting with bonus features, but it's got a solid collection for fans of this forgotten horror flick:
* Audio commentary with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue: Pogue is joined by Michael Felsher, of Red Shirt Pictures, for an engaging conversation about the screenwriters goals and alternate ideas for the film, his screenplay for Cronenberg's The Fly, working with Perkins, and general reflections on Hollywood.
* "Watch the Guitar: an Interview with Jeff Fahey" (16:49): Fahey looks back on this early role with affection, talking about the big love scene, the injury he sustained when Perkins missed his mark with a stunt guitar, and a funny Quentin Tarantino anecdote from the Grindhouse set.
* "Patsy's Last Night: an Interview with Katt Shea" (8:40): Katt Shea, a.k.a. "the girl who dies on the toilet," doesn't have a big role in Psycho III, but she gives a fascinating interview about making this movie and her later career as the director of horror films like The Rage: Carrie 2.
* "Body Double: an Interview with Brinke Stevens" (5:14): Stevens may not be famous, but she's been in a lot of films, including This is Spinal Tap, Three Amigos, and some Roger Corman movies. She appeared in Psycho III as Diana Scarwid's nude body double, and her interview is punctuated by plenty of voyeuristic footage.
* "Mother's Maker: an Interview with Special Make-up Effects Creator Michael Westmore" (11:12): Westmore was an old hand at Universal when Perkins brought him in to do Psycho III's special effects. He was tasked, among other things, with coming up with a new version of Mother, slightly less withered here than in Hitchcock's original.
* Stills Gallery: Use your remote to skip ahead or sit through an 8-minute slideshow of production stills.
* Trailers (1:54): Two trailers, one long, one short -- both full frame and low-fi.
Psycho III steps back from the crazy twists of Psycho II, with a story that's draws from Hitchcock's 1960 classic as well as '80s slasher flicks. A nod to ideas about faith give the screenplay some depth, but it never reaches the psychological heights of the film it's trying to emulate. Like its predecessor, Psycho III is better than it should be -- especially in Shout! Factory's loving hands. It might have been even better had Pogue and Perkins been interested in making something new instead of constantly pointing backwards to a much better movie.
Maybe not the "most" shocking, but still not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R