Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Franchises: Psycho. Psycho III (1986)

That's one of many video covers I remembered from the horror section of our town's video rental store and it always stuck with me (in fact, it may have been the first image of Norman Bates I ever saw), as I know it did a number of people. That's also a really good tagline too, isn't it? As I said in my review of Psycho II, both of these movies were among the very first DVDs I ever bought when I got my first player in the summer of 2002, so regardless of what I ultimately say here, it holds a lot of nostalgia for me. I think I watched it the same day I watched Psycho II and, as I also said in that review, I was so surprised by how good that movie was that it taught me to really go with my own judgement as opposed to the general consensus from then on. I don't think I was expecting Psycho III to be another surprisingly great movie but, after that experience with the previous one and knowing that this one was most definitely not well thought of, I was interested in seeing what I would make of it, especially considering it was directed by Anthony Perkins himself. Well, lightning didn't strike twice in this instance; I was not impressed with this movie when I watched it. It's grown on me a little more over the years and I can watch it if I need to kill an hour and a half but after watching it again, I've decided that, outside of the Bates Motel TV movie and the 1998 remake, it's my least favorite Psycho movie. I actually put this on a list I did years ago called, The Movies I Love But Everyone Else Hates, and I think whenever I update that post with images, I may remove this from it because, while I don't hate it, it's hardly a movie I can say I love. It has some good notes to it and there are aspects of Perkins' direction that are interesting, as they're not stuff you see in big, mainstream studio movies at all, but, on the whole, the movie is much gorier and sleazier than it needs to be, resulting in it becoming more of a typical slasher movie, and is often too offbeat and strange for its own good.

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.

I can't recall when I learned that Anthony Perkins directed this film as well as reprised his role as Norman but, regardless, that fact was something that made me interested in it long before I finally saw it. I'm also not clear on how it was decided that Perkins would helm it; I'm guessing they figured he was as good a choice as anybody, seeing as how he knew the character of Norman inside and out. By all accounts, Perkins studied long and hard to be a director and, technicality-wise, proved to be quite an efficient one, to the point where, when his cinematographer, Bruce Surtees, questioned him about what he thought was an impossible shot, he gave a long and detailed instruction that turned out to be absolutely right, which prompted Surtees to apologize and say that he would never question him again. Also, by all accounts, everybody on the film enjoyed working with him and would gladly discard something they'd been preparing all day for him if he felt something better would work. However, story-telling wise, Perkins was very lacking. It's interesting, after I did my review of Psycho II, I listened to the audio commentary on Shout! Factory's Blu-Ray by Tom Holland and Robert Galluzzo, the director of the Psycho Legacy documentary (which focuses very heavily on this film), and at one point, Holland mentioned that Perkins, because of the period in his career where he was making art films in Europe, was more interested in mood and style rather than in things that would keep the story moving. He pointed to a random moment in that film where Norman is looking at himself in a mirror, something Perkins wanted, as an example and for me, that explained a lot about his direction here. While I do think he did some interesting things with the editing and cinematography, there are a number of similar moments that are just random and don't add anything to the story, and the film's tone, which he intended to be like the Cohen Brothers' Blood Simple (which he had the cast and crew watch before filming began), is so offbeat that it sometimes comes across as forced, like it's trying to be strange for the sake of being strange. Right before his death in 1992, Perkins took full responsibility for the film's critical and commercial failure, saying that he wasn't skilled enough as a director pull it off, although he did end up directing another movie, a 1988 horror comedy called Lucky Stiff.

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.

When Maureen leaves Norman the next day when she learns about his history, he now only has Mother left and is absolutely distraught when he can't find her. After finding a note purportedly from her that asks him to meet her in Cabin 12, Norman is blackmailed by Duane Duke to sell his house and grounds and give him the money he needs to go to Los Angeles, which leads to a fight between them that ends in Norman beating him senseless. In this scene, you get another look at the back and forth nature of Norman's psychosis, where one moment he's defending his mother's action and saying that he wants her back and the next, he realizes what he just did to Duke and angrily accuses her of making him do it, although he does dump Duke in the swamp with everyone else. Right after that, Mother causes him to inadvertently kill Maureen when, after they meet at the top of the stairs in the house, Norman "hears" her voice and when he turns to the direction of the sound, he accidentally pushes Maureen back down the stairs, causing the back of her head to be impaled by an arrow on a statue at the bottom. Anthony Perkins' acting when he realizes what he's done is heart-wrenching, especially when he angrily yells, "Mother!" in a distraught, tortured voice. When he later threatens her, "I'll get you for this, Mother," although she calls his bluff by saying he doesn't have the guts and she once again takes control of him to kill Tracy when she shows up at the house. He almost does, until Tracy tells him the truth about Ms. Spool, that she wasn't his mother as she claimed to be (more on that later). That catches Norman's attention and gives him the gumption to knife Mother's corpse up, which he later describes to Sheriff Hunt as an act of freeing himself from her grip for good, despite the fact that he'll more than likely be locked up forever now. However, as he's driven off in the back of the squad car, we see that he has Mother's arm hidden within his coat and the film ends with him stroking it while smiling evilly at the camera, which means he's not so free, making the climax before pointless (it's not Perkins' fault, though; Universal made him do that).

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.

Up to this point, this is where Mother (voiced by Virginia Gregg, who was also one of the people who voiced her in the original) feels the most like a character. Not only do we now get a fly on the wall perspective of Norman's interactions with her but we also see her the way he does, with the corpse moving into different positions in-between cuts and such. What's more, the sense of their tormented relationship and the hold she has on him that we had before is amplified tenfold here, as we hear her voice more than in the previous films. She's determined to be the only person in Norman's life, telling him to kill anyone else who "comes between them." She sums this feeling up during their first conversation where she tells him that the dead don't come back, referring to Marion Crane, and when he says that she herself did, she says, "I never went away. Don't you know that by now? You can't get rid of me. I'll always be with you, Norman. Always." She then treats him like a little boy, telling him, "Stand up straight and wipe your snotty little nose," and tells him to simply get rid of Maureen if her presence is going to disturb him so much. Norman, not wanting to hurt anyone anymore, refuses and Mother tells him, "Then maybe I will." And she almost does, until Maureen's attempted suicide causes Norman to temporarily overcome his other personality and help her, although Mother insists that she will die eventually. This starts a number of venomous arguments between the two of them, as you can hear Norman tell Mother not to touch Maureen and later on after he and Maureen had a very close encounter in her cabin, Mother calls him a "dirty, dirty boy" and refers to Maureen as a whore. When Norman refers to their relationship as unnatural, Mother says, "It's perfectly natural for a son to love his mother," leading to Norman clamping his hands over his ears and yelling, "God, will you leave me alone, Mother?! Will you leave me alone?!" Maureen then comes up to the house and Mother tries to kill her through Norman, telling him to give her the knife, but he's able to fend her off long enough to tell Maureen to go back to her room and lock the door. That leads me to something else about Mother in this film: she's downright bloodthirsty! Both times when Norman is able to stop her from killing Maureen, she takes her homicidal rage out on other women staying at the motel in very grisly ways. She's even able to get Norman to do the dirty work all on his own, such as when he bashes Duke senseless with his own guitar (her corpse appears to warn him of Duke sneaking up on him by pointing her finger) and eventually drowns him in the swamp, and most tragically when she causes him to accidentally push Maureen down the stairs to her death. This causes major discord between her and Norman, especially after she tells him to get the "whore" out of her house and throw her out in the muck "where she belongs," and when Norman threatens to get her for this, Mother venomously says, "You haven't got the guts, boy!"

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.
When Tracy Venable arrives at the house and is confronted by Norman, we get our first clear look of what it's like when she completely takes him over since the ending of the original. Not only is he dressed in her clothes again and we can clearly see Norman's face (like before, in all the other scenes, his face is kept in shadow, as it's someone else playing him) but we also see and hear Mother's voice speak through him. In the original, we heard her but we didn't see Norman's lips moving when he charged at Lila and in the final scene, it's only her thoughts, but here, we very clearly see and hear it, as she calmly asks Tracy, "Why can't you leave my poor son, my Norman, alone?", and it's quite unnerving, especially with the expression Perkins has on his face. Mother attempts to kill Tracy, backing her up the stairs, as she tries to get through to Norman that Ms. Spool wasn't really his mother but rather his deranged aunt, who was in love with his father and, when Norma Bates stole him away, she killed him in a jealous rage when Norman was a baby. She also adds that Ms. Spool did think that Norman was her child and that she had him with Norman's father. Norman, knowing how his mother would respond to that, has her call Tracy a lying whore and while he seems to free himself from her control upon hearing the truth, taking the wig and dress off, Mother still orders him to kill Tracy like everyone else. But, unfortunately for Mother, Norman is able to get the gumption to hack up the mummified corpse, prompting her to growl, "Can't you do anything right? How dare you treat your mother in such a way." It is darkly funny that Mother continues to chastise him even while he's "butchering" her, as Norman gloats, "So I don't have the guts, huh?!" while severing her head. Like I said earlier, Norman appears to have freed himself from Mother for good but the ending suggests otherwise (some sources feel that her arm was meant to be a victory trophy for him but I doubt that's the meaning, given that evil smile it ends on).

Charles Edward Pogue in The Psycho Legacy.
Before we move on, we might as well address that revelation about Ms. Spool that completely undoes everything we thought we knew about her from the previous movie. The reason for this falls completely on writer Charles Edward Pogue, who said that the thing with Ms. Spool was the one aspect of Psycho II he didn't like. He didn't like how Richard Franklin and Tom Holland screwed with the mythology of the original and felt that Norman's mother must be Mrs. Bates. I've always had very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I like that it gave Norman the impetus to finally break free of her control (which makes me wish that the actual ending was very different) but, on the other hand, it's so convoluted. In the previous film, we had this complex mystery about who was calling Norman and who was the actual killer and at the end, we get a pretty interesting twist that Norma Bates wasn't really Norman's mother at all but rather his aunt who adopted him as her son while his real mother was put away herself (personally, I don't think that twist hurt the original movie at all, but that's just me). But now, we get this hurried explanation from Tracy Venable that Ms. Spool was the aunt, that she killed Norman's father after Norma stole him away from her (something that Psycho IV would turn around and negate), and kidnapped baby Norman under the delusion that she really was his mother. At this point, my head felt like it was about to burst, as I was like, "So was Mrs. Bates his mother or not?! Aah!" He may have had a good reason for it but Pogue's decision to return everything to the status quo just made the whole story more convoluted that it needed to be, especially since it's not even the main focus (and if this is a prime example of his writing, it makes it clearer why David Cronenberg completely rewrote his script for The Fly).

The idea of an emotionally tortured, suicidal nun who ends up at the Bates Motel and is saved from her depression by a relationship with Norman Bates is an interesting one but Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) has never been one of my favorite characters in the series. It's weird for me to feel that, too, because Scarwid gives a decent enough performance and you get a good sense of the torment she's under from the very beginning. The first thing you hear is her screaming, "There is no God!" and as the movie opens, she contemplates jumping from a bell-tower, feeling that she has nothing to go on, and accidentally pushes a nun who tries to stop her to her death. She's forced to leave the convent, overcome with guilt and severe depression, and things only get worse for her, as she's picked up by Duane Duke who later tries to have his way with her, is left out in a rainstorm in the middle of nowhere that night, makes her way to the motel to discover Duke working there, and is reminded of what she did when she sees a Bible on the nightstand in her cabin. Hitting rock bottom, she attempts suicide in the bathtub by slashing her wrists and when Norman comes in dressed up as Mother to kill her, she hallucinates that he's the Virgin Mary who's come to save her. As she recovers at St. Matthew's Hospital, knowing that Norman will allow her to stay at the motel as long she needs to without paying, Maureen is counseled by the hospital's resident psychiatrist and reveals that she lost her faith because she was unable to shake sexual thoughts as she drew closer to her final vows, with matters only being made worse when she was told that if she was truly faithful, she wouldn't have them. The psychiatrist, Father Brian, tells her that he feels she's the only one who's given up on herself and that if God had forsaken her, she wouldn't be alive and well. Maureen begins to make a complete recovery and state of mind becomes happy and healthy again when she begins to have a nice relationship with Norman and while it never becomes physical, she's satisfied with just being around him. Her resolve is slightly shaken when she learns about Norman's past but she eventually decides to forgive him and return to the motel, feeling that the "visions" of the Virgin Mary she saw at the motel (she saw Mother's corpse through the house's bedroom window and thinks it was Mary again) are a sign and that she won't fail him like she has so many others. Unfortunately, when she returns to Norman, her resolve ends up getting her killed when Mother causes him to accidentally push her down the stairs to her death, the same way she did to the nun at the beginning of the film.

So, after all of that, why is that I have a rather indifferent feeling towards Maureen? Honestly, I think the main reason is that, while her history, motivations, and arc are interesting, it's only a subplot in a story that's really about Norman dealing with his psychosis and how this new relationship affects it. In fact, I find myself more invested in his side of the relationship rather than hers. After everything we've seen him go through, it's nice to see him in a relationship that's warm and loving rather than the emotionally abusive one between him and Mother, which is why it's sad when she causes him to kill Maureen. I don't really have a reaction to her death itself but I do feel bad for Norman when he realizes that the one person who could have possibly given him a better life is dead because of him. I think it also comes down to the sad truth that these movies are all about Norman and that by this point, we've come to really understand and sympathize with him, while Maureen is someone we never knew about until now and they try to shove in her backstory which, as interesting as it is, simply doesn't matter in the long run and tends to make the film drag in the spots where it's heavily focused on. And by the way, the notion of Maureen reminding Norman of Marion goes absolutely nowhere and is eventually dropped altogether, making it pointless. Plus, she doesn't look like Janet Leigh at all to me, making the connection that Norman makes feel random. According to trivia, they had an idea of bringing Leigh back to play the character (who was originally written as a neurotic psychologist) but Universal was against it. I don't know if it would have saved the movie but it might have made things more interesting and, if nothing else, made you care about the character more.

What makes this franchise interesting is that the main character, the one you sympathize with and like, is a crossdressing, knife-wielding killer with a major Oedipus complex and yet, you still meet people who are worse than him! Case in point, Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). Warren Toomey in the previous film may have been pretty sleazy and loathsome but he's got nothing on Duke. He may come across as an energetic, likable, charismatic guy when he first picks Maureen up but he shows his true colors that night when he makes an aggressive pass at her and when she fights back, he leaves her out in the rain, throwing her suitcase in a puddle while he's at it, telling her, "Stupid bitch! You could've been comin' instead of goin'!" When he arrives at the Bates Motel the next morning, he clearly contemplates stealing money from the wide open register in the office before laughing it off with Norman, saying that the only honest way he knows to get money is to earn it or inherit it as he applies for the job of assistant manager. He may apologize to Maureen for what he did to her the night before but still proves to be an untrustworthy prick when he charges her $25.95 for a single, even though it's supposed to be $20.95, keeping the extra five bucks for himself. What he gets me is that he actually tries to hit on Tracy Venable when he meets her at a bar in town that night, despite the fact she's a bit older than him, although it does prove lucky for him since he finds another way to make some easy money by keeping tabs on what Norman does for her. The most despicable thing he does is when he takes a woman at the bar back to the motel, has kinky sex with her in his cabin, and has no further use for her after that, treating her like crap and throwing her out of the room in only her underwear, although he does eventually give her clothes back (throwing them in her face, though). He hardly seems guilt-ridden when he finds evidence that suggests she may have been murdered thanks to him and later that night, appears to push Norman into going into Maureen's cabin with her, knowing how dangerous that could possibly be for her. He seems to be expecting something to happen when Norman tells him he can take off for the night and he creepily says, "Whatever you say, boss." He probably thought it would get Norman arrested faster and, by extension, get him money from Tracy faster. Somewhere along the line, though, Duke, deciding that Tracy would benefit the most from it, instead decides to steal and hide Mother in his cabin, luring Norman there with a note and then, strung out on drugs, blackmails Norman, telling him to sell his house and land in order to give him the money he needs to get to Los Angeles and begin his music career in exchange for her. When he threatens, "You know what I want, and you know what I'll do if I don't get it," a fight breaks out between them that ends with Duke getting bashed on the head with a lamp and then by his own guitar until it's smashed to pieces ("Watch the guitar"). Even after that, though, Duke isn't killed until he attacks Norman when he tries to drive him into the swamp with his car and is drowned when it fills up with water after they crash into it.

Sadly, though, Duke isn't my least favorite character in the film; that honor goes to Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), the nosy reporter who comes to Fairvale to interview Norman for an article about the insanity defense. Right off the bat, she comes across as a sarcastic smartass who suggests that Norman had something to do with Ms. Spool's disappearance and, even though she is right, the way she talks about it and fires back at Sheriff Hunt and Ralph Statler, telling the former when he asks what she wants with Norman, "I don't think that's really any business of yours, Sheriff," and, "Until I've broken some law, lay off the third degree, huh?!", really rubs me the wrong way. She continues to be snarky afterward, asking the two of them, "What are you? His fan-club?" when they defend him and, when Statler says that Norman was a great, dependable worker when he worked at the restaurant, she shoots, "Gee, let's make him employee of the month!" The way she says this stuff, combined with her expressions, makes her somebody you just want to deck in the face, and, after she tells Hunt she'll cry "police brutality" when he tries to keep her from bothering Norman when he walks in, she completely ignores his refusal to the interview and basically interrogates him, making him feel guilty and uncomfortable. Being a sleazy dickhead who's less appealing than a killer is one thing but when you're meant to be something of a character the viewer is supposed to like and I'm rooting for Norman, getting satisfaction when he tells you off out in front of his house, something is very wrong (hell, when you manage to turn Duke off and have him describe you as, "About as warm as a cry for help," you've really got problems). Part of it could simply be because Norman is a character I genuinely like, understand, and can see that he's trying so hard to be good that I don't like it when anybody tries to make trouble for him but, again, another part of it is that I genuinely don't care for Tracy. I especially hate it when she tells Maureen about Norman's past and takes her away from the motel, as well as continues to dog Hunt about not doing his job in investigating Norman... and let me you remind that she's actually right about everything. As a result, when Tracy finds out the truth about Ms. Spool and shows up at Norman's house to be cornered by him, I couldn't care less about whether she lives or dies if I tried. The only thing I'll give her is that she tries to get through to Norman by telling him the truth and this does give him the incentive to free himself from Mother's control but regardless, I'm still not exactly jumping for joy when Tracy manages to survive.

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?"

Psycho III is definitely a mixed bag of a movie. It's definitely not without its merits, as it has Anthony Perkins still on form as Norman Bates, some acceptable performances from the other actors like Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, and Hugh Gillin, it's well-shot and photographed, has some interesting visuals and unusual editing courtesy of Perkins' direction, good gory makeup effects, and an unusual but enjoyable music score. However, the film does have its fair share of problems: it's a little too odd and random for its own good at points, it has some sort of religious theme that's ultimately little more than window dressing, Maureen's story and arc isn't as interesting as it should be and tend to drag the film down, Tracy Venable is annoying and unlikable, there are far too many callbacks to the original Psycho, and, despite the artsy flavor Perkins tries to bring to it, the movie, in the end, becomes little more than a sleazy slasher movie and, because of the slow parts, I sometimes find myself waiting on the next gory bit, which isn't what the previous movies were about. I'm not going to call it a horrible movie or one that I hate, because that's not true, but it's still my least favorite of the four movies that make up the real bulk of the franchise and I can see why it didn't do that well when it was released (although, it does have its fair share of fans, regardless). All I can say is be aware of what you're getting when you go into it, which is a bit of a comedown from the previous films.

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