Release Date(s)1986 (September 24, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal (Shout/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Hitchcock’s Psycho is often cited as one of the godfathers of the modern slasher film. That’s overstating the case by quite a bit. While it was certainly an influence, it’s probably more accurate to say that Psycho sits somewhere near the top of the slippery slope that eventually led to slasher flicks. There are a lot of differences separating Norman Bates from Jason Voorhees. But with Psycho III, the series came awfully close to becoming the very thing it had been credited with helping to create.
Taking place about a month or so after the events of Psycho II, Norman (Anthony Perkins again) has fixed up the Bates Motel and reapplied himself to his favorite hobby: taxidermy. He hires a new assistant manager, an aspiring rock star named Duke (Jeff Fahey). But the ghosts of the past are stirred up when he meets Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a suicidal ex-nun who bears an uncanny resemblance to another former Bates Motel guest, Marion Crane. Meanwhile, reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is snooping around, investigating both Norman’s alleged rehabilitation and the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Emma Spool, Norman’s old coworker at the nearby diner.
Perkins made his directorial debut with Psycho III and unfortunately, he steps right into some of the traps that director Richard Franklin managed to sidestep in Psycho II. He invites direct comparison with Hitchcock’s original with far too many echoes and callbacks. There are lines of dialogue and images straight from the 1960 film. This is a battle Perkins is destined to lose. More damaging, Norman has somehow transformed into a killing machine. In the previous films, there are motives behind the murders. Most of the deaths in Psycho III are just people in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s hard to stay sympathetic for Norman when he’s just slaughtering strangers at random.
The fact that Psycho III isn’t a complete waste of time is thanks entirely to Anthony Perkins. As a director, Perkins displays a flair for the unusual whenever he allows himself to step out of the Master’s shadow. He stages a weird sex scene between Fahey and a one-night stand that feels almost like he invited David Lynch to drop by the set and shoot a scene. There’s also a fun variation on the famous shower scene and the movie finally begins to come into its own in the last act. But it’s a little too late. It’s always a pleasure to see Perkins as Norman but without much motivation and Perkins’ own admitted inexperience behind the camera, his performance alone isn’t quite enough to salvage the picture.
The Scream Factory release of Psycho III is on par with their work on Psycho II. Image quality is about the same (i.e., very good to excellent) and the audio, again in both 2.0 and 5.1 flavors, is well-mixed and robust. This time, the extras are all new, beginning with an extremely interesting commentary from screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue in conversation with DVD producer Michael Felsher. There are also terrific new video interviews with Jeff Fahey, actress Katt Shea (now a director herself best known for Poison Ivy and The Rage: Carrie 2), makeup artist Michael Westmore, and cult movie goddess Brinke Stevens (who was Diana Scarwid’s body double on this). The package also includes a still gallery, a trailer and a TV spot.
I was hoping that Psycho III would prove to be better than its reputation, especially with Anthony Perkins behind the camera. Unfortunately, despite some flashes of inspiration, it’s a mostly redundant entry in a series that probably should never have become a series. Perkins would play Norman once more in the 1990 TV-movie Psycho IV: The Beginning, proving that you can have too much of a good thing. But it’s a testament to his performance and the character that these later missteps don’t diminish the enduring popularity of Norman Bates.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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