31 Days Of Horror 2020: A Return Check-In To Psycho III

For the past 34 years or so I’ve carried with me the belief that Psycho III was just a terrible movie. This belief was founded on my original viewing back when I was still in short pants, mind you, so wtf did I know?

As so many of us who grew up in the 80s can attest, it really was a different time. Heading to the video store to rent horror films, even when I was only 10 years old was just how things were done. My mom knew what I was renting, she was footing the bill, and while she rarely sat down to watch a scary movie with me, I can’t for the life of me ever recall her saying “No, you can’t watch that.”

The Psycho series of films was already one I was interested in, thanks to the Diff’rent Strokes episodes where Arnold goes to Universal Studios and winds up knocking on the door to Norman Bates’ home. That episode was so pivotal and exciting that it even led to my first father-son vacation, when my dad took me to California in the summer of 1985 and we went on the Universal Studios tour.

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But I digress. While I definitely didn’t see the original Hitchcock Psycho before watching the third film in the series, I may have seen the second, though I honestly can’t recall. What I do remember is thinking the third film was fairly boring, and apart from a few naked breasts there wasn’t much I remembered about it.

Flash forward to 2020 and with Covid-19 putting a full-stop to going to theatres, much of the money I would put towards heading out has gone to iTunes movie purchases, especially when there are constant price drops for all sorts of films. Earlier this week Psycho III went on sale for $4.99 so I thought, let’s take a chance. I’m glad I did, as it gave me the opportunity to change my view on the film substantially.

Psycho III picks up shortly after the previous (and more well-regarded) Psycho II. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has killed Mrs. Spool, an elderly waitress who claimed to be his actual mother. The local law enforcement support Norman, believing he is cured of his insanity. Things start to go bad when a reporter (Roberta Maxwell) starts poking around the Bates Motel with help from a drifter (Jeff Fahey). At the same time, Norman begins a romantic relationship a young ex-nun (Diana Scarwid) who bares more than a striking resemblance to Marion Crane from the original film. Before long, “Mother” returns and the bodies begin to drop.

At the time of its release back in 1986, Psycho III was a financial letdown, grossing only $14 million off of its $8 million budget. With an electronic score courtesy of an emerging Carter Burwell and its violence more overt and gorier than the previous films, Psycho III is more in-line with the slasher movies of the era and less in the realm of the thriller style that Hitchcock’s original and its 1983 sequel delivered. However, there’s a lot of good contained in Psycho III that made my rewatch really enjoyable.

First and foremost is Anthony Perkins; his performance as Norman Bates is perfect, from his facial twitches to how he depicts the character’s ongoing internal torment. Perkins also offers up genuine and believable moments of tenderness for Norman, and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the character. There are times where Norman does devolve into your typical slasher a la Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers and that’s unfortunate, but it’s also a sign of those times and doesn’t ruin the film, at least not for me. Psycho III was also Anthony Perkins’ first work as director, and he does a strong job for the most part. The opening sequence to Psycho III in particular is something that his old friend Hitch would likely have approved of.

The story of Psycho III, written by Charles Edward Pogue, is also fairly strong, as it builds off of the second film and gives us more Norman Bates mythology. My memory from 30+ years ago was that Psycho III was a standalone type film, but that was completely wrong. Instead, the third instalment acts as a solid finale to Norman’s story (though there is also Psycho IV: The Beginning, directed by Mick Garris and which Perkins returned for in 1990, but that film was a made-for-tv venture and ignored significant pieces of the second and third films).

While it doesn’t compare to the original film (what does, right?), Psycho III works nicely alongside Psycho II and, much to my surprise, holds up very well all these years later. I must have a been a little mad thinking otherwise.

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