Norman Bates is back!
Released in 1986 and directed by Anthony Perkins himself, Psycho III picks up a few months after Psycho II ended. Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course) is still free. He’s still got his motel. He’s still talking to his dead mother. Of course, at the end of Psycho II, Norman was told that the woman who Norman thought was his mother actually wasn’t his mother. Instead, Emma Spool told Norman that she was his mother, which led to Norman promptly hitting her with a shovel and then keeping her preserved body hidden away in the motel. Got all that? Great, let’s move on….
In Psycho III, business suddenly starts booming at the Bates Motel! All sorts of people come by to visit.
For instance, there’s the obnoxious tourists who show up at the motel so they can watch a football game and get drunk. Future director Katt Shea plays one of the unfortunate tourists, who ends up suffering perhaps the most undignified death in the history of the Psycho franchise. Shea later ends up being stored in the motel’s ice chest. At one point, the local sheriff grabs a piece of ice and tosses it in his mouth without noticing that it’s covered in blood.
And then there’s Duane Duke (a young Jeff Fahey!), who is superhot but also super sleazy. For reasons that are never quite clear, Norman hires Duke to be the assistant manager at the motel. Duke turns out to be thoroughly untrustworthy but he’s Jeff Fahey so he remains strangely appealing even when he shouldn’t be.
Red (Juliette Cummins) shows up at the motel so that she can have sex with Duke and then get stabbed to death while taking off her top in a phone booth. That, I guess, is Psycho III‘s equivalent of the first film’s shower scene. Later, Duke comes across Norman mopping up all the blood in the phone booth but he doesn’t say anything about it. Duke knows better than to ask why there’s blood in the phone booth.
Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is a journalist whose sole purpose in life is to prove that Norman murdered Emma Spool. Tracy’s main function in this film is to explain just why exactly so many different women have claimed to be Norman’s mother. It’s a rather complicated story and you’ll get a migraine if you think about it for too long.
And finally, there’s Maureen (Diana Scarwid), the former nun who has lost her faith and her sanity. She shows up at the motel and stays in Marion Crane’s old room. She takes a bath instead of a shower and slits her wrists. When Norman storms into the room to kill her, the barely lucid Maureen mistakes him for the Virgin Mary and sees his knife as being a crucifix. Maureen survives and Norman is hailed as a hero for rescuing her. Later, Norman and Maureen fall in love. You can guess how that goes.
When compared to the first sequel, Psycho III is much more of a standard slasher film and there’s certainly never any doubt over who is doing the killing. However, Perkins again does a great job in the role of Norman, making him both sympathetic and creepy. Fahey, Scarwid, Maxwell, and Hugh Gillin (as the hilariously clueless sheriff) all provide good support. There’s really not a single character in this film who doesn’t have at least one odd or memorable quirk. Duane Duke, for instance, is one of the most amazingly sleazy characters in the history of American cinema. Just when you think that the character can’t get any worse, he proves you wrong.
As mentioned above, Perkins directed this film. It was one of two movies that Perkins would direct before his death. As a director, Perkins had a good visual sense, even if he did allow the narrative to meander a bit. There’s nothing particularly subtle about Perkins’s direction and several of the scenes — like the sex scene between Duke and Red — are so over the top that they become rather fascinating to watch. That said, there was really no longer any need to be subtle when it came to Norman Bates and his story.
With the exception of the weird Gus Van Sant remake with Vince Vaughn, Psycho III would be the last Psycho film to be released into theaters. It would also be Perkins’s second-to-last time to play Norman. (The last time would be in a 1990 made-for-TV sequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning. Despite it’s title, Psycho IV pretty much ignored everything that happened in the previous two sequels.) Perkins passed away in 1992, at the age of 60 but the character of Norman Bates would live on, both in his own performances and in the later work of Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel.