Maureen Coyle is an emotionally tortured young nun who's lost her faith and attempts to commit suicide by jumping from a bell tower, only to accidentally push another nun who tries to intervene to her death. Forced to leave the convent, she's picked up along a desert road by Duane Duke, an aspiring rock and roll singer heading for Los Angeles. When they get caught up in a bad rainstorm that night, Duke is forced to pull over due to the severity of the storm and because his car's engine appears to be giving out. Later on, he attempts to come on to her and she's forced to fight him off and bolt out of the car, to which he responds by angrily driving off, leaving her stranded. The next day, Duke arrives at the Bates Motel where, unbeknownst to everybody in Fairvale, Norman Bates has regressed back to his psychosis in the month since Lila Loomis' attempt to drive him insane and his murder of Emma Spool, whose mummified corpse he keeps up in Mrs. Bates' old bedroom. Duke inquires about a "Help Wanted" sign on the motel's front door and Norman offers him a job as assistant manager, which Duke takes just long enough so he can get his car fixed. When Norman heads to the diner he used to work at in order to pick up some food for himself and Duke, he's interviewed against his will by Tracy Venable, a journalist who's doing a story about the insanity defense and the rehabilitation of the mentally disturbed. During the interview, Norman sees Maureen arrive at the diner and is horrified to see that she looks like Marion Crane, whom he murdered 22 years before, and even has the same initials. Norman quickly leaves when he hears Maureen asking about a cheap place to stay nearby but she eventually ends up at the motel, where Duke, apologizing for what he did the night before, checks her in. Norman is very disturbed when he sees this, especially when he sees that Duke gave her Cabin 1, and it isn't long before Norman is talking to "Mother," who says that if he won't get rid of Maureen, she will. While Duke is in town that evening, he meets Tracy in a bar and learns about Norman's past from her, eventually striking a deal to give her information about any suspicious actions on his part that he can. Back at the motel, Norman's murderous impulses take hold and, dressing as Mother, he attempts to kill Maureen in her in Cabin 1's bathroom, only to find that she's slashed her wrists in the bathtub in a suicide attempt. Maureen wakes up at St. Matthew's Hospital, after Norman had called an ambulance for her, and he offers to let her stay at the motel as long as she needs to in order to recover. However, Mother's influence and hatred for any young woman who catches Norman's eye, as well as Duke and Tracy's snooping, begin making it dangerous for anybody staying at the motel, especially Maureen. And Tracy begins finding evidence that Ms. Spool may not have been Norman's mother as she claimed to him she was.
The best way to describe this film's portrayal of Norman Bates is to think of his characterization in the original and then imagine how it would have gone had he not murdered Marion Crane. Following on the ending of Psycho II, Norman is now back to running the Bates Motel while filling his spare time with the hobby of taxidermy on dead birds (which he's never in short supply of thanks to some poisoned seed out in the feeder) and is often talking to the corpse of Emma Spool and then answering and thinking for her. As in the original, he's portrayed not as an evil person but as an actually very decent human being who has a very serious mental illness, as seen when, after discovering that one of the birds he poisoned is still alive, he takes it outside and lets it go, and his relationship with "Mother" is again shown to be a conflicted and torturous one for him. While he still worships her and does whatever she tells him to, he knows deep down that their relationship is just plain wrong, telling her at one point, "It isn't right. It's isn't natural," although exactly what level of it he's talking about isn't completely clear (in other words, does he mean the fact that he's acting as if his dead mother is still alive or how unnaturally close they are?) There's a point early on when he's talking to Tracy Venable about how the past haunts him constantly, no matter how hard he tries to bury it, showing that, as Tracy herself puts it, he's definitely not without conscience and doesn't want to hurt people anymore, which is why he's terrified at the prospect of Maureen, a woman who reminds him of Marion, staying at the motel. When she does end up there, you can see Norman trying to fight his murderous impulses when he watches her through the hole in the wall of the parlor, although he's ultimately unsuccessful, as Mother takes hold and comes close to killing Maureen, only to discover that she almost did it herself by slashing her wrists. This clearly brought Norman back to his senses and he had Maureen taken to the nearby hospital, where he even offers to let her stay at the motel as long as she needs to in order to get back on her feet. His growing feelings for Maureen strain his relationship with Mother even further, as they begin to argue about her, and while she's able to kill Red through Norman, he's able to keep her at bay and have a nice dinner date with her one night. However, the rather intimate time they spend together in her motel room, even if it didn't lead to sex, doesn't sit well with Mother at all and when he goes back up to the house, Norman really has to fight to keep from killing Maureen when she follows him up there. He stops himself by grabbing the knife by the blade and slamming it down before telling Maureen to go back to her room and lock the door, knowing that he can't fight Mother off much longer, as becomes clear when he kills another woman that night.
I've always heard that it was during the making of this film that Anthony Perkins learned he was HIV positive and if that's the case (I say that because I've heard sources say it was during the making of Psycho IV several years later), it explains some things about him that I've always noticed here. While his acting is still top notch, his facial expressions and speech sometimes come across as... odd. He has bizarre facial tics here and there, some lines aren't said with as much emotion and conviction as they could be, and the way he often stares with his mouth hanging open looks like somebody who's not quite right. Also, is it me or does he physically look sick here? It might be the shorter cut hairstyle he sports but he's always looked more unhealthy here than he did before. Some have said that he didn't look that good in the previous film but I thought he looked well enough; here, though, he really looks ill. It kind of helps the movie in a way, as it makes it look like he's really gone downhill in the month since he regressed at the end of Psycho II, but I think it's also indicative of the fact that Perkins only had six more years to live at this time.
Here's a major difference between Anthony Perkins and Vince
Vaughn: Perkins makes this look work while Vaughn, as we'll
see later on, just looks ridiculous.
|Charles Edward Pogue in The Psycho Legacy.|
Psycho II and III have always felt very closely connected to me and one of the main reasons, in addition to the fact that they're both made in the 80's, is that some of the supporting characters from the previous film return, most notably Sheriff Hunt (Hugh Gillin). Like before, he doesn't have much of a role in the story but it's interesting to see how, given what he feels happened in the previous film, he doesn't look at Norman as a suspect in the disappearance of Ms. Spool and a couple of other guests at the motel at all. As I described up above, he's very defensive about him towards Tracy, telling her at the diner to leave him alone and continuing to defend him after he brings Maureen to the hospital. He does routinely search Norman's house when the character of Patsy is reported missing and is baffled and frustrated by his behavior when he tries to keep them from going upstairs but he's willing to let bygones be bygones, angrily telling Tracy when she tells him he can't just let it lie, "I've had enough of this Nancy Drew horseshit from you!" (Little does he know that Patsy's body is in the ice machine he happens to be grabbing cubes out of right then.) As a result, he's angry and disappointed with Norman when he's exposed as having killed more people at the end, telling him he believed him and that he made a fool out of him. His last words to him are, "You'll never get out again! They're gonna put you away forever." Also returning is Ralph Statler (Robert Alan Browne), the owner of the diner that Norman worked at before and who is not as cantankerous here as he was before, showing genuine concern for Ms. Spool's disappearance and speaking up for Norman along with Hunt. He's also the one who points Tracy in the direction of the diner's previous owner, who tells her that Ms. Spool once murdered someone, leading to her uncovering the truth. Myrna (Lee Garlington), Norman and Mary's less than friendly coworker from the previous film, is also seen again briefly. The only other character who's really worth mentioning in a serious way is Father Brian (Gary Bayer), the psychiatrist at St. Matthew's Hospital who begins counseling Maureen while she's recovering from her suicide attempt, reassuring her that the lustful thoughts she had before are perfectly normal and saying that if God had given up on her like she feels, she wouldn't be alive now. However, he's not too sure about Maureen's decision to go back to Norman in spite of his past and when Tracy brings him newspaper articles on Ms. Spool, he seems absolutely flabbergasted by it and can be seen during the final scene, in apparent shock at what's happened.
Technically, the film is very interesting. Like I said, Anthony Perkins did his homework when he got the job to direct and managed to make it a very good-looking film. I personally like the way Richard Franklin and Dean Cundey shot Psycho II better but the work Perkins and Bruce Surtees did here is still really nice. They shoot the Bates house and the motel really well, making the former feel as ominous as ever, especially when they shoot upwards at it, and the introductory shot to the motel is nicely atmospheric, getting across a very desolate feeling with cutaway shots of lizards crawling around and the wind blowing the pages on a phonebook inside the booth and making the chairs out in front of the rooms rock back and forth. Like Franklin did, they pull off some camera angles and movements that are very Hitchcockian, like the slow crane up the front of the house to Mother's bedroom window when we first hear her speak and an overhead shot of Red getting attacked in the phone booth that's reminiscent of several shots in the shower scene. One of the most interesting parts about the film's look, however, is the way Perkins and Surtees play with the lighting. In addition to having a lot of darkness and recreating some of Cundey's trademark blue lighting for the exterior nighttime scenes, there are also scenes that are completely bathed in deep, vivid colors, like the green in Norman's parlor (the random shot of his stuffed owl lit that way is particularly striking) and the sleazy pink lighting you see in Duke's room, particularly during the sex scene between him and Red. It's very much like the lighting you see in a lot of Dario Argento's films, which could have been a major influence on Perkins since he spent so much time making movies in Europe.
Speaking of which, Perkins also made some unusual choices with the editing of the film. There are scene transitions and reveals that you never see in mainstream, Hollywood movies, like when you think you're looking at light through the bottom of a door and the camera pulls back to reveal it's actually the edge of a butcher knife or when Norman walks out of Maureen's hospital room, closes the door behind him, and when he turns around, he's now in Mother's room at the house. Beyond that, we often see things through Norman's eyes in a way that give an insight into his mental illness, like when he's sewing up one of the birds he poisoned and in one shot, the bird becomes Mother's arm, or, most significantly, whenever Mother seems to move in-between cuts, despite the fact that she's a corpse. Perkins also plays with your sense of reality and what's really going on in some moments, like when the bag he's keeping the stuffed birds in suddenly scoots across the table on its own before it's revealed that one of the birds is alive and when he turns off the TV but we can still hear the screams from the movie he was watching (originally, I thought it may have been motel customers fooling around outside but this is before the motel is overrun by a bunch of rowdy people in town for a big football game). By the time you get to the scene where Norman is acting as if Woody Woodpecker's laughing on the TV is Mother, it's hard to tell whether or not that's actually what it's meant to be in some way! These odd choices may become a bit egregious as the film goes on (I don't understand the part where Mother starts speaking in an inaudible whisper at all and Norman is confused by this at all) but, if nothing else, they do manage to make the film stand out from the others.
Perkins and Charles Edward Pogue have something of an odd religion motif going throughout the movie, with the female lead being a nun who's lost her faith and is constantly reminded of it, adding to her torment. When she first gets into Duke's car, he has a small figure of the Virgin Mary on his dashboard that disturbs her and which she knocks off the dashboard when he tries to come on to her. When she checks in to her cabin at the Bates Motel, she sees a Bible on the nightstand, causing her to remember her accidentally killing the one nun at the beginning. Things really get strange when she attempts suicide and her blood-loss causes her to see the cross-dressed Norman as Mary, with the butcher knife becoming a crucifix in her eyes, making her think she's intervened to save her life... and then, the first thing she sees when she wakes up at the hospital is a nun who looks identical to her vision, complete with the position she's standing in. As I described, these visions, combined with Father Brian's counseling, prompt Mary to get her life back together and start her relationship with Norman. Even after she learns of his past, she decides to go back to him and try to help him, feeling that when she saw Mother through the window, it was another vision of Mary, giving her a sign that she mustn't fail Norman like she has so many others. And we know how well that worked out for her. I don't know what exactly Perkins was trying to say with this angle, if anything, but it seems like a very cynical take on religion, that it'll only torment you or get you killed!
A major problem with Psycho III is that there a number of aspects of it that are very reminiscent of the original (a fact that was not lost on Anthony Perkins), to the point where you feel you're watching a gorier, sleazier remake of it, a trap that Psycho II was able to avoid. For instance, the set-up of the plot is very similar: a troubled person who's running away from something ending up at the Bates Motel and catching Norman's eye, while his mother is determined to get rid of her in one way or another. Other than the fact that we now actually see what's really going on, Norman's conversations with Mother hearken back to the original, and there are a number of shots and moments that are flat-out repeated, like Norman watching someone undress through the peephole in his parlor wall, Red's death in the phone booth being shot a lot like the shower scene, with some of the same camera angles, Norman recoiling around a wall upon finding one of his victims, putting his hand over his mouth, Mary falling to her death down the stairs much like Arbogast did (the blue screen work there is very noticeable), and the film ends on Norman smiling evilly at the camera just like the original, albeit without the superimposition of his mother's skull over his face. A number of lines are even repeated, such as, "We all go a little mad sometimes," "My hobby: stuffing things," and, "Mother! Oh, God, Mother! Blood! Blood!", which comes right after the phone booth kill the way it did the shower scene before. It's alright to pay homage to other movies (the opening scene is an homage to Vertigo and works pretty well) and I agree with Pogue's notion that when you're doing a sequel, you should honor your source material, but when you recycle so many of the same beats to the point where it's hard to ignore, you've got problems.
Out of all the Psycho movies, this is the one that fell into the trap of becoming a typical slasher movie. It may be better shot, have higher production values, and a lot of artsy techniques applied to it that you don't normally get with slasher movies but that's basically what it is. Not only is it the goriest by far but it's also the sleaziest, with the character of Duke having that tacky pink lighting in his room, graphic pictures of naked women strewn everywhere, he does drugs, and he has kinky sex with a girl he picks up at a bar, a scene that's complete with music straight out of a porn and is right before she gets killed. Said girl, Red (Juliette Cummins, who the previous year had been in an even sleazier slasher movie, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning), is typical of the girls you see in these types of movies and there are also a number of obnoxious, young people hanging out around the motel that are clearly only interested in either getting drunk, high, or laid and are completely disposable (although only one of them gets killed). While I have nothing against slasher movies and enjoy quite a number of them, that's never what Psycho was really about and so, it's a bit disheartening to see them take that easy route with this one, although it's through not fault of Anthony Perkins or Charles Edward Pogue. They wanted it to be all implied like the original but Universal forced them to up the gore quotient to appease slasher fans.
All that said, though, the gore and makeup effects, courtesy of Michael Westmore, are well-done and do succeed in making you wince. The first few of them, like the dead birds you see Norman stitching up, the sudden shot of him doing the same to Ms. Spool's gray, dead arm (which is quite a shock the first time you see it), and Maureen's slashed wrists (stuff like that always gets to me personally), with blood gushing out of them that's turned the water in the bathtub completely red, are all effectively gruesome and make your skin crawl, but they're ultimately just a prelude to the first major gore scene, which is the death of Red in the phone booth. Like I said, it's meant to be this film's version of the shower scene and its construction is very similar: a girl in a vulnerable, vertical position who suddenly gets blindsided and hacked to death. Like the shower scene, it happens very fast and is cut quite quickly, and while you certainly see more blood here, with close-ups of the blood-covered knife, splatter on the glass on the inside of the booth, and a very painful shot of Red's bare feet stepping on broken glass from when Norman first burst through the door, it's mainly constructed through close-ups of Norman stabbing at the camera and her reacting, as well as some overhead shots of the attack. When it's all over, you get a vertical shot of the aftermath, complete with a bit of dark humor as the voice on the blood-covered phone that's been knocked off the hook says, "We're sorry. We cannot complete your call as dialed. Please hang up and dial again."
One character who gets a gruesome death and continues to be abused long afterward is Patsy (Katt Shea), a nice-looking, brunette girl in short-shorts who gets killed in the bathroom of Norman's parlor. She gets her throat sliced open and then stabbed right in the gut, with Norman cutting off the toilet roll she drags down with her for some reason before leaving. When he later finds the body, he drags the body out and tosses it through the back window (Shea had to continue to act dead when her chin hit the ground) but before he can dispose of it, two people come around the corner and Norman has to act like he's making out with someone as they pass by, to which the guy responds, "Hey, looks like somebody's getting lucky!" You later see that he stuffed the body in the ice box outside and there's a scene that's both suspenseful and sick where Sheriff Hunt, arguing with Tracy, opens the box without looking in and grabs himself some ice, with the body just out of sight of him and everyone else. His hand gets extremely close to hers at one point and then, he begins grabbing ice right next to a bloody spot before actually grabbing some blood-coated cubes and sticking one in his mouth. He just spits it out without remarking on the taste but what makes this bit darkly funny is, this whole time, he's telling Tracy that he has no evidence to suggest Norman has done anything, when said evidence is right next to him. And as if Patsy's body hadn't been desecrated enough, we have a moment later on where Norman, attempting to get rid of her and all traces of Duke, tries to get her out of the ice box but because he can't get her stiff arm to bend underneath the roof of it, he has no choice but to break it with a sickening, off-camera snap (a possible nod to a moment in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy where the killer has to break a corpse's fingers in order to retrieve a piece of incriminating evidence from its hand). He then stands in the rain, holding the body, and randomly kisses it (no doubt one of those unimportant moments Tom Holland said Perkins sometimes asked for) before dumping it into the trunk of Duke's car.
Duke's death is interesting not because it's elaborate or gory (after getting beaten senseless by a lamp and then his own guitar, Norman drowns him) but because it leads into a memorable sequence where Norman drives his car to the swamp to get rid of all traces of him and Patsy, only for him to get jumped from the backseat by Duke, causing him to lose control and careen off into the swamp. The force of Norman hitting the brakes beforehand flings Duke into the floorboard of the passenger seat and as they struggle with each other, with Norman trying to hold Duke down there, he accidentally hits the gas pedal and the car speeds into the water. The car submerges and fills up with water, drowning Duke and almost drowning Norman, who has to get out the door and swim to the surface, yelling when he almost swims into Red's body on the bottom (Pogue described this as Norman's descent into his own private hell). That eventually leads to Maureen's unfortunate death, where Mother causes Norman to inadvertently push her down the stairs in the house, ending with her getting stabbed in the back of the head by the arrow of a cupid statue at the bottom. Finally, we have to mention Ms. Spool's mummified corpse, which Norman has kept as fresh as he could with his taxidermy skills. It's not as gruesome or decayed as Mrs. Bates' corpse in the original, a sign that Norman has gotten better at his hobby, and I wouldn't call it frightening either but it's still very striking in appearance, with its wrinkled face (in some shots, like the one here, I think it kind of looks like Michael Myers' mask) and wild hair. The way it's often shot is creepier than the way it actually looks, as Perkins often puts it in shadow, blacking out its face, which is very effective when you combine it with the voice. And if Mother were actually alive, her death would be the grisliest in the entire franchise, as Norman hacks at her again and again, sending sawdust flying and slicing her head off, sending it rolling across the floor, before hacking at the body a few more times, exhausting himself.
In his attempt to make the movie feel like Blood Simple, Anthony Perkins hired that film's composer, Carter Burwell (who would go on to become the Cohen Brothers' go-to composer), to do the score and what he came up with is just as different from the previous scores as it is unusual. The score is almost completely electronic and fits well with the film's odd tone. That's not meant as a slight against it, mind you; in fact, the score is one of my favorite aspects of Psycho III. The main theme, which is titled Maureen in the Desert on the soundtrack listing, is a very interesting one, with a slow, plucking beat in the distance that sometimes sounds almost chiming and a rather melancholic melody, that's accompanied every now and then by a distant male voice going, "Aah!" It sounds kind of like something you'd hear in a western and it fits well with the opening of Maureen wandering through the desert and the inner turmoil she's going through after what she's just done. It's a haunting piece that's heard in a couple of different forms throughout the film, including a piano version that Norman plays while humming along with it, and it's nice that it's also heard again during the ending credits, remarking on everything that's happened. The theme is actually redone as a couple of fully synthesized dance pieces, the first of which you hear when Duane Duke walks into the bar where Tracy is and plays it on the jukebox. The other version can be heard in the background of the scene where Tracy talks to Harvey Leach, the man who ran the diner before Ralph Statler, about Ms. Spool at a nursing home and it also closes out the ending credits after the main theme (it's called Electroshock Waiting Room; not an easy title to forget). A really menacing theme is first heard in the scene where Norman is struggling with his murderous impulses, knowing that Maureen is Cabin 1. It's another electronic bit with a rhythmic banging in the background and some eerie chanting in parts, which really emphasizes Norman's disturbed mindset as he watches Maureen undress for the shower and Mother takes control in order to kill her. There's also an eerie, sort of driving piece that plays when Norman has lost track of Mother and heads to Cabin 12 upon finding the note on the dining room table, a high-pitched, string-sounding piece that plays as Norman loads the bodies into Duke's car and becomes more and more nightmarish as it goes on as the sequence goes on until Norman crashes the car into the swamp, where it becomes accompanied by those chanting voices from that one piece, and a disturbing piece with more chanting voices and some ticking, almost liquid-like sounds accompanying it that plays during the climactic confrontation between Norman and Tracy (you can hear those odd sounds by themselves in scenes such as when Norman discovers Patsy's body and when Tracy enters the house).
One last piece of music I have to talk about is Scream of Love, a piece that's performed by Burwell, Steve Bray, and David Sanborn and plays during the sex scene between Duke and Red. Like I said earlier, that is porn music if I ever heard it, with those nasty-sounding saxophones and that electronic beat in the background, and it makes that scene all the more sleazy and dirty. It really got to me the first time I heard it. I found myself just cringing from how unabashedly ugly it sounded and for a while, it was a part of the movie I always dreaded mainly because it made me feel like I was watching a porno. It also spawned a music video that was shown on MTV two days before the film itself was released in July of 1986 and even had an introduction by Anthony Perkins there. It's on YouTube, complete with Perkins' introduction, and I recommend watching it purely for that, as Perkins has a nice comment about the title: "Hey, what good is love without a good scream?"