After the critical and financial success of 1983’s Psycho II, and amidst the 80’s slasher movie boom, Universal wanted to continue the Bates family franchise. Anthony Perkins seeing an opportunity pulled a Leonard Nimoy and said, “Of course I’ll return for my third go-round as Norman Bates, but what I really want to do is direct…” The resulting film, Psycho III is a well made and solid thriller, but is another example of a sequel's diminishing returns, and while Perkins exerts himself nicely behind the camera, his performance as Norman Bates starts to whiff toward parody.
What was so clever about the Richard Franklin directed and Tom Holland scripted sequel was that it was obviously framed as a mystery as opposed to the original in which we do not realize we are watching a mystery until the final reveal. Bate actually does not kill anyone at all in Psycho II until the final scene which pulled a Halloween II by trying to add a twist to the original’s mythology in having Bates’ waitress co-worker actually be revealed to by his duh duh dun REAL MOTHER. Apparently, Perkins and writer Charles Edward Pough thought the Miss Spool being Norman's mom thing was idiotic too, and it’s revealed that Spool was delusional and is of no relation to Norman, and for that all she gets is a shovel to the dome. In Psycho III there is never any questions that Norm is back fighting his demons, putting his mom's best Sunday dress on and dispatching his female motel guests with a large knife. I guess all it took to go back to his hacking ways was the addition of a physical representation, Ms. Pool's taxidermyed corpse in this case.
A strong supporting cast includes Academy Award nominee Diana Scarwid as Maureen Coyle (note the familiar initials) a nun with a lapse of faith who escapes her flock after a suicide attempt leads to the death of one of her sisters. Her character and Scarwid's fine shattered performance provides the film its strongest component: a relationship between two tortured souls, Norman and the nun, who in one of cinema's greatest meet cutes scene form a relationship when Norman, dressed to kill as his mother, finds Maureen lying in a blood filled tub, post-suicide attempt. There's a tenderness to the relationship and the tragic undercurrents that is handled well by both actors. The rest of the cast is comprised of Jeff Fahey as a ladies' man and wannabe rocker who becomes hired at the motel, and begins to take advantage of Norman when he learns some of his secrets. Jeff Fahey does a brazeningly admirable job at attempting to out-scuzz Dennis Franz's manager from part II. Roberta Maxwell is Tracy Venable, the intrepid journalist who will not leave Norman alone to the chagrin of the townspeople and investigates the disappearance of Ms. Spool, she's basically the Arbogast of the film.
If there's one major weakness amongst the cast it's, surprisingly enough, Perkins himself, who seems to be going through the motion. Exaggerating his already stammering delivery to nearly satirical levels (and remember Perkins' already provided a real parody of Bates on a Saturday Night Live sketch by this point), Perkins' interest here seem to lie more with the directorial side of things. In that aspect, he's holds himself fine. Along with cinematographer Bruce Surtees, who worked on numerous Clint Eastwood starring films in the 1970s, widescreen framing is utilized throughout and the well designed look of the prior film which had to establish the Bates house and motel for color, is faithfully duplicated. There's a few too many callbacks to shots from the original film, something that Part II did frequently but more subtly, but for the most part, the film is it's own beast.
Universal released the film in the summer of 1986, and unlike the well received first sequel which did solid box office, it performed more like a slasher film, making the majority of it's money in the first weekend and only making half of the gross of part II. The film's major tragic dramatic moment is offset by a winking final shot that, surprise surprise, mimics the first film's final shot. This was apparently added after initial shooting for one final jolt, but it kind of perfectly reveals Universal's intention for the film, nothing like the adult drama with suspenseful elements and strong thematic drive of the pains of recovery that part II was. Psycho III is solid enough (I've probably have used the word "solid" 18 times at this point), and does tower over many of the slasher films from that particular era (by that I mean specifically the mid-1980's), but the potential was there for a more mature and ultimately, better film. We'd return to the Bates Motel soon after, but this time not in a theatrical release, but on television. But where is Norman? If you don't know what I am talking about, look for the next Psycho series review, coming soon.