The F*ckin Black Sheep: Psycho III (1986)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Psycho III (1986)
Directed by Anthony Perkins

“PSYCHO III might not be the original, but it’s a solid sequel that keeps Norman alive and kicking.”

After Alfred Hitchcock made PSYCHO in 1960, it quickly cemented its place as the granddaddy of all psychological horror, a movie that all others would have to fight comparisons against. While Hitchcock’s legacy only grew, star Anthony Perkins ended up much like the film after his performance as nervous Norman Bates, never able to live down the role or match it in terms of recognition. That left him with the dreaded label of typecast, being the ultimate mommy's boy for his entire career. He tried to avoid it with various roles, but let’s face it; he would always be Norman Bates. So after two decades of avoiding the character he went back home, returning to the role in PSYCHO II, a criminally underappreciated flick (which I review last week).

Psycho III Anthony Perkins Mother

Three years later, it probably surprised no one that Norman would flip on the vacancy light once again in PSYCHO III. It’s a direct sequel to PSYCHO II which ended (quick spoiler) with Marion Crane’s sister and niece trying to set up Norman and drive him (back to being) crazy after being released from the nut farm. He only kills once when a woman named Mrs. Spool revealed herself as Norman’s actual mom, so Norman smacks her over the head with a shovel and boom…his mother is back (end spoil). PSYCHO III picks up a month later with Norman still at the Bates Motel where business is slow and a reporter (Roberta Maxwell) has started snooping around after several disappearances…including Mrs. Spool. At the same time, a young nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwid) lost her mind after declaring “There is no God!,” tries to jump from a bell tower (very much like in VERTIGO), and ends up accidentally pushing another nun to her death. She’s on the run, meeting up with a drifter named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), and well, long story short, they all end up at Bates Motel where bad things happen.

Perkins tried to entice Richard Franklin back to direct, but he declined leaving Perkins to take over directing duties. For the most part he does a damn good job adding his own style and allowing Norman’s weirdness to be amplified (little things like Norman scooping saw dust into a dead bird and then using the same spoon to scoop his peanut butter…nasty). While PSYCHO II played more of a loving tribute to the original as more of a psychological experiment (complete with some badass camera work), Perkins had no trouble bringing the franchise firmly into the 1980s. Both Hitchcock and Franklin left the gore more to the imagination, but Perkins lets the blood flow (splatter) with a few brutal deaths. The most shocking: that poor girl who just needed to pee and ended up with her throat slashed. That one is quite shocking not just for the gore, but for the brutality. Actually that entire section of the film (about an hour in) is pretty great not only for the shock, but the camera work as Norman tries to figure out what to do with a fresh corpse.  

On top of the gore, Perkins sure had no issue making things seedier…if not straight uncomfortable at times. Reportedly, Perkins was influenced by the Coen Brothers first film BLOOD SIMPLE, and man that really shows as every element seems about five degrees shadier (not to mention constant Coen composer Carter Burwell provides the score). To start, Jeff Fahey plays like a Coen character, a guitar-playing drifter who just happens to stop by the motel for work. Then there’s the lighting. Part of the movie glows in blue while the motel rooms are lit in a constant red glow. It really adds to the film. The real seedy stuff comes with a lot of hot, nude girls and that weird ass sex scene/saxophone music video complete with the most strange use of motel lamps I’ve ever seen.

Of course, PSYCHO III has plenty of stupid moments with the worst when the “football” fans who show up at Bates Motel to celebrate…high school? college? I have no idea but they are all too old for the part (even weirder they hang pennants in their motel room). That whole scene plays almost like a scene from THE ROOM, throwing in good old American football just to do it. At the same time, Norman falling for Maureen is completely uncomfortable and seems a bit out of place. But that’s mostly minor stuff. PSYCHO III might not be the original, but it’s a solid sequel that keeps Norman alive and kicking.





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