31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #16: Psycho III (1986)

Posted: October 17, 2016 in Movie Review
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16. Psycho III (1986)

Director: Anthony Perkins

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell

The danger in crafting a sequel to “Psycho” lay not only in the impossibility of it living up to the original, but also in the very real possibility that it couldn’t do enough to pique the audience’s interest. The series got lucky with “Psycho II,” but the luck finally ran out with “Psycho III.” Not even the promise of Norman Bates himself sitting in the director’s chair can offset the bland story and questionable casting decisions. Like a nun who has turned her back on her faith, nothing could save this one.

Speaking of nuns, “Psycho III” begins with one such sister named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), whose mind is almost as fragile as that of Norman Bates. A genuine freak-out leads to another nun’s accidental death, resulting in Maureen being cast out. It’s a truly awkward opening scene that might play well in a high school drama production. Maureen later hitchhikes with a creepy musician named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey) who tries to put the moves on her during a rainstorm, after which she gets out of the car and starts walking.

It’s been a mere month since the events of “Psycho II,” and concern is growing as no one has seen Mrs. Spool in all that time. No one yet suspects that Norman Bates is the one responsible for her death (as shown via flashback from the end of “Psycho II”). It was Lila Loomis and her daughter Mary who pushed Norman over the edge again, and he’s still not right in the head. Now, he’ll have nosy reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) to deal with. She’s doing an editorial piece on the subject of serial killers, and she’s convinced that Norman is up to his old tricks. She’s not wrong, but her abrasive personality suggests she’s never learned how to approach someone with a mental disorder.

Further complicating things for Norman is the arrival of Maureen into town. At first, Norman thinks he’s seeing the ghost of Marion Crane, especially when he sees Maureen’s suitcase with the initials “M.C.” on it (just like Marion’s). Arriving at the Bates Motel, Maureen is shocked to find Duane working the front desk as the assistant manager, having just been hired by Norman. He gives her the key to Cabin 1 (the same room where Norman killed Marion Crane). Some time later, Norman (in his “Mother” guise) walks into Maureen’s room wielding a knife. Entering the bathroom, expecting to find Maureen showering, Norman instead finds her bleeding to death in the bathtub, having slit both wrists. Snapping back out of the “Mother” personality, Norman acts quickly to get Maureen (who in her delirium has mistaken “Mother” for the Virgin Mary) to the hospital. The shared experience brings the two close together.

Afterwards, Norman’s jealous “Mother” personality reasserts herself, and the body count starts to pile up. As if that weren’t enough of a complication, Tracy continues her investigation, hiring Duane to help her spy on Norman while she goes snooping around in Mrs. Spool’s former apartment. After a young guest at the motel goes missing, the sheriff comes to speak to Norman about the matter. Norman has hastily stuffed the girl inside the motel’s ice chest. The sheriff goes up to the house, which makes Norman extremely nervous about the chance of him discovering the mummified remains of Mrs. Spool, which Norman now calls “Mother.” To Norman’s surprise, the corpse has gone missing!

Interference from Tracy continues. First, she fills Maureen in on the gory details of Norman’s past, which causes her to leave. Next, it is discovered that it was Duane who moved Mrs. Spool’s remains. Duane thinks he’s got Norman dead to rights. He demands cash payment, otherwise he’ll tell the authorities about “Mother.” Norman struggles with Duane, eventually hitting him several times over the head with his own guitar. Duane shows signs of life as he and his car both sink into the swamp, at which point it can be safely assumed that Duane drowns.

As Tracy interviews the owner of the diner, Maureen returns to the Bates’ house to proclaim her love for Norman. They embrace, but Norman becomes startled by the voice of “Mother,” losing his grip on Maureen’s hands. She falls down the stairs and dies, enraging Norman, who blames “Mother” for it. Tracy shows up at the house to find Maureen dead and Norman dressed as “Mother,” ready to attack her with a knife. As a way of talking him down, Tracy explains her findings: that Norma Bates was in fact Norman’s real mother, and that the reason Mrs. Spool had been institutionalized years ago was that she had killed the man she loved (Norma’s first husband and Norman’s father) in a jealous rage. Mrs. Spool had then kidnapped Norman as a baby. Restored to himself again, Norman removes the dress and wig and destroys Mrs. Spool’s corpse with the knife. Ultimately, Norman is taken away by the sheriff, who expresses his disappointment and declares to Norman that he’ll likely never be released from the mental institution this time. Norman finds this agreeable.

Despite providing answers to the lingering questions which “Psycho II” left open, “Psycho III” does very little to avoid becoming just another average, forgettable slasher film. Anthony Perkins is still great, of course. Didn’t hurt his case that the director knew his character as well as he did… *wink* The scene stealer of “Psycho III” is Jeff Fahey. He plays Duane Duke as a completely selfish and sexist jerk, but he’s funny enough that you wind up loving every disgusting second of his performance.  On the other hand, Diana Scarwid is miscast as Maureen. The supposed chemistry between Maureen and Norman is tough to buy into, and she doesn’t play unhinged half as effectively as Perkins can. Her death scene is frustrating… not because it shouldn’t happen, but because of how awkwardly it is set up.

The screenplay for “Psycho III” was written by Charles Edward Pogue. I can sort of give the guy a pass on this one since he has the excuse of pouring all of his creativity into his script for David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” also released in 1986. I cannot do the same for the movie itself. “Psycho III” had most of the ingredients necessary for a decent sequel, but just doesn’t quite use them all to their fullest potential. I’ve seen plenty of horror movies that were legitimately awful with no redeeming values whatsoever. “Psycho III” at least has a few of those, but can’t escape its own mediocrity.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Pretty much as one would expect for the third sequel. But as you point out, the movie does again feature Anthony Perkins. That fact alone can tempt horror movie fans to watch!

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