Back in 1983, filmmakers took a horrible gamble when they rolled the dice on making a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal thriller, Psycho. The idea initially was as bad on paper as stocking up on lynx body wash and indulging in an hour long shower in Room One of the Bates Motel, but the result turned out to be a suprisingly gripping movie that wasn’t afraid to flip expectations and throw out genuinely suprising twists as it continued the twisted tale of Norman Bates. The main culprit was Tom (Fright Night) Holland genuinely intriguing script that wasn’t afraid to sneak up on the established status quo with a kitchen knife and plunge it into it’s chest as it stumbled down the stairs.
However, as this is Hollywood and Hollywood NEVER knows when to quit, three years later they tried again with the imaginatively titled Psycho III, which aimed to tie off a few of those dangling plot threads and provide some sort of closure to the series…
A mere month after the revelations that came out of the climax of Psycho II, the Bates Motel is in worse shape than it’s ever been with business slower than a snail on crutches, but Norman has more important things on his mind. He’s now sharing his house with the mummified remains of Emma Spool, a local waitress who revealed that it is she who is actually his mother and that Vera Bates was actually his aunt who raised him and who Norman bludgeoned with a shovel moments after finding out. With the last twenty two years of therapy unraveling faster than a cheap sweater, Norman has gone back to bouncing between his multiple personalities of himself and that the vengeful form of his “mother”.
However, salvation may literally be at hand in the form of Maureen, a woman of the cloth who’s crisis of faith inspired suicide attempt caused the accidental death of a fellow nun and left her disgraced and cast out. After a disturbing sexual encounter with wannabe musician Duane Duke, this nun on the run finally finds her way to the Bates Motel only to freak Norman the fuck out thanks to her uncanny resemblance to Marion Crane; Bates’ most infamous victim. Triggered like a six-shot and just as lethal, Norman’s murderous alter ego kicks in, but after visiting Maureen in full mother regalia, he’s stunned to see she’s slit her wrists in the bathtub and pulls an impressive 180⁰ by deciding to call an ambulance and nurse her back to health.
The two broken souls are convinced that they can heal each other, but their naive hopes are further complicated by the sexually voracious Duke working part time at the Motel and a snooping reporter trying to get the scoop on Norman’s connection to the missing Emma spool. As the pressure mounts, brutal murders affect random visitors to the Motel, but has Norman really gone off the deep end again or is someone trying to frame him as before? Whatever the outcome might be, Maureen better watch her back and stay the hell out of those showers….
Whereas Psycho II managed to justify it’s existence thanks to the entertaining squirming of it’s eel-like plot, sadly Psycho III doesn’t manage to pull off the same trick and instead is somewhat of a disjointed mess. Directed by Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins, the movie limply drags itself along while seemingly having no idea as to what it should be doing or where it’s going despite springing into life every now and then for an admittedly effective scene or two.
The main problem (especially for a film linked to Hitchcock) is that proceedings don’t really feel particularly cinematic and instead feels very much like a 1980’s TV movie – something made all the more ironic by the fourth Psycho actually being a tv movie in 1990 – and the distinctive flair you’d expect from a series famous for enthusiastic rug-pulling simply isn’t present.
However, as the saying goes: even a stopped clock is right twice a day and when Psycho III lurches into life it provides some pretty effective imagery and none more impressive than the moment when a crazed Norman is stopped in his tracks by the discovery that his intended victim has tried to take her own life. Even more memorable is Maureen’s take on the situation as due to blood loss she hallucinates the sight of Bates brandishing a knife in his mother’s dress as the Virgin Mary holding a silver crucifix and takes this as a sign that Norman could be her salvation… anyone care to make a small wager on how THAT turns out? But despite this and a few other moments (dead body in the ice box during a heat wave!), the rest of the movie feels as unfocused as a dirty contact lens with chief offender being the character of Duane Duke – played by genre favorite Jeff Fahey, he starts off by being the type of charismatic, misogynistic sexual predator you’d expect to see driving through those parts of California on his own, but then downplays this as he starts to work part time at the motel and feeds the snooping journalist facts and tidbits about his increasingly unstable boss. However, by the third act he discovers Norman’s secret and suddenly becomes the kind of leering, unhinged maniac that would seem more at home with the family from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre – although ironically both inspired by the deeds of real life killer Ed Gein – as he cuddles up to the stuffed husk of Emma Spool. We know he’s blatantly not on the up and up thanks to the grotesque way he treats women, but the transition from rapey wannabe musician to a cartoonish madman is just dumped in our lap and it’s not even a red herring or something that alters the course of the plot. He’s just fucking nuts.
Despite his clean serviceable style, Perkins simply seems ill equipped to turn in a Hitchcockian-style thriller this early in his directorial career and instead gives things a vaguely sleazy feel thanks to the treatment of various women by the movie. Now, bear in mind, the original Psycho was always supposed to be where cinematic sleaze met directorial class, but a scene that follows a woman peeing before having her neck opened like a pez dispenser goes into strangely voyeristic details while the copious nudity elsewhere feels a bit bottom drawer and subsequently seems out of place.
Finally, maybe it’s the dual pressures of directing and playing the lead, or maybe it has something to do with all the dialogue that seems to be looped, but it often feels like Perkins is doing more of a Norman Bates impersonation than he is simply playing him – it’s a strange accusation to level at the man but something decidedly feels a little off… and not in the good way.
Despite some good ideas, Psycho III unfortunately ends up being the worse of the franchise at that point, but when it comes to the third parts of trilogies it’s a case of failure being the Norm…