Norman Bates has stiff competition in ‘Psycho III’ (1986)

Psycho III (1986)

Translation: Norman is back to normal. But mother has once again lost her head…

Directed by Anthony Perkins

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

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“There is no God”

This statement is screamed by a distressed nun named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) who is standing on the ledge of her monastery’s bell tower, contemplating suicide. Some of her fellow nuns come to try and dissuade her from jumping but by accident Maureen pushes one of them off the ledge, killing her. Ridden with guilt and condemned by everyone at the monastery, she decides to leave and travel by foot through the desert. She has no set destination and ends up catching a ride from an aspiring musician heading to Los Angeles by the name of Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). They drive through the night until they are halted by a rainstorm, during which Duke tries to make the moves on Maureen. Having none of his behaviour, she manages to get out of the car but finds herself stranded in the middle of the night under the pouring rain.

The next morning, Duke finds himself at the Bates Motel and seeing a ‘Help Wanted’ sign, asks for a job. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who has been living alone in the Bates home since the events from one month prior (from Psycho II), agrees and hires Duke. Maureen, after walking the whole night and hitching a ride from a truck driver, also ends up at the Bates Motel. She rents a room for the night. Still feeling confused and depressed over the events at the monastery, she attempts suicide by slashing her wrists with a raw razorblade. She is miraculously saved, though under slightly questionable circumstances, by Norman and from that event grows a budding relationship.

Meanwhile, Duke goes into town encounters reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) at a bar and she starts enquiring about the happenings at the Bates Motel all the while informing Duke of the “real” Norman Bates. From there, we see the dynamic between Maureen and Norman develop and we see an evolution in Duke, a once unsuspecting money- and lady-hungry wannabe who is now turning mysterious in his ways.

Body count: 5

Sheriff: “What Norman did was a long time ago. And he paid the price.”

Venable: “Depends on who you ask.”

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*The following contains spoilers*

As with Psycho II, the makers of Psycho III wished to continue the legacy that Sir Alfred Hitchcock had brought to the original Psycho. Great effort was made to ensure the same atmospheric feel and aspects from the cinematic version would be preserved. Recruiting Anthony Perkins as director was a very nice choice because despite his lack of directorial experience, he was extremely professional and was highly appreciated amongst cast and crew alike. Most importantly, he brought a unique perspective having had starred in the two prior films and having had worked closely with Hitchcock himself. Seeing as the film Psycho and the character of Norman Bates shaped Perkins’ life the way they did, it was undoubtedly therapeutic to come back to the Bates house/Motel calling the shots. At the same time, it was his way to honour Hitchcock by going back to Psycho’s cinematic roots.

Janet Leigh comes to visit her good friend Tony and to support his directorial debut.

Both Perkins and screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue (also co-writer of The Fly) sought to ‘fix’ the mythology that Mrs. Spool was Norman’s real mother. So, the story was altered accordingly so that there would be no doubt that “Mother” was indeed Norma Bates. There are also many moments in the film either through dialogue or camera shots that give homage to Psycho. Here is a list of some of the instances that I spotted/noted:

  • The opening scene gives homage to Hitchcock film Vertigo (the bell tower and the nun falling off).
  • Duke is forced to stop driving down the highway due to heavy rain, so he pulls over to sleep on the side of the road. This is combo of events that happen to Marion Crane – she pulls over to sleep on the side of the road due to sleepiness and it is pouring down rain when she loses her way and ends up at the Bates Motel.
  • Direct quote from Norman to Duke: “12 cabins. 12 vacancies.”
  • Norman’s hobby of taxidermy is featured and the Motel’s parlour is once again filled with stuffed birds.

Also, Norman invites Duke back into the parlour, which is the first time someone has willingly been welcomed in the room since Marion Crane dined with Norman.

  • Norman offers Duke some candy corn.
  • Direct quote when Norman is speaking to Maureen after her suicide attempt: “We all go a little mad sometimes.”
  • Direct quote after Red is murdered: “Mother, mother! Oh, God! Blood, blood!”
  • After discovering Patsy Boyle’s freshly murdered body, Norman runs out of the bathroom and leans on the wall, covering his mouth with his hand. This is exactly how Norman reacted to seeing Marion Crane’s body.
  • Maureen falls down the stairs exactly like Detective Arbogast.

There are also a few references from Psycho II:

  • When we first see the exterior shots of the Bates house/Motel, there is a sun-bleached, deteriorating copy of In the Belly of the Beast on the ground. This was the very same book Mary Loomis was reading when she spent her first night at the Bates house.
  • Norman is once again eating peanut butter, this time while simultaneously stuff birds he has poisoned from the bird feeder.
  • When Duke comes to the Motel, he sees the cash register drawer open and tells Norman that he should keep it closed, otherwise “someone will stead you blind”. This is almost exactly what a police officer tells Norman when he and the Sheriff are investigating Norman’s basement in Psycho II. An access is open and the officer suggests that Norman put a padlock on the doors, otherwise “someone will rob you blind.”
  • Norman offers Maureen to stay at the Motel “FOC” – free of charge – word for word as he had done with Mary.
  • Norman continues to sleep on the couch in the living room rather than move back up to his old childhood room.

“My return to sanity did not return the dead.”

From the very first glance you see of Norman, you get the feeling that he is back to his strange ways. Gone is the freshly rehabilitated, looking for a new lease on life Norman. Back is the awkward, secretive recluse who spends most of his time conversing with a corpse.  Norman seems to have lost some of his composure and it is clearly seen when he goes to Statler’s Café. He is openly more hostile and mentally fragile, particularly when he first sets eyes on Maureen and starts hallucinating that she is the reincarnation of Marion Crane. It does seem strange that Norman has gotten off seemingly scot-free, no questions asked in regard to the previous events with Mary & Lila Loomis and the other victims. Even the Sheriff appears to have softened his attitude towards Norman, even coming to his defence when Venable tries to link him with Mrs. Spool’s disappearance. Perkins once more delivers a top notch performance both incarnating Norman and acting as director. For co-star Jeff Fahey, Perkins’ transition from rehearsing actor to director to being Norman Bates was amazingly smooth and slightly creepy.

(An interesting detail in the film is that we hear “Mother’s” voice during her conversations with Norman but when the camera moves on him, his mouth is not moving. Chew on that.)

The main cast is great as are the supporting and bit players. Scarwid is fine in the role of Maureen though I wish that she had not played ‘dumb’ to the idea of being innocent to the world around her. Her performance was, at time, a little too sweet and overzealous.

The greatest character in Psycho III, aside from Norman of course, is Duane Duke. He is the only person in the series to be nearly as twisted as Norman. Duke gradually unravels, only completely snapping after stealing the corpse of “Mother” and trying to use it as leverage. The ensuing scene between he and Norman in Cabin 12 is probably one of the best in the film due to the high-quality performances but also because of the revelations uncovered. The Norman/Duke confrontation marks the first time we see Norman become violent without being dressed as “Mother”. It is also the first time that we see Norman avenge his mother. Before, it was always “Mother” committing the vengeful murders, sometimes to protect her son and sometimes out of blind rage/jealousy. In the end, Duke meets his maker in a very graphic scene at the swamp where Norman is also confronted with some ghosts from his past.

To be frank, I feel like the Psycho series could have ended after III because the film wrapped up the story nicely. The Sheriff notes that Norman will never get out and that he will be locked-up forever after these most recent murders. Technically, since Psycho IV is such a departure from the rest of the series, it is safe to say that this is a definitive way to close the book on crazy killer Norman Bates.

It has been about 10 years since I first learned about the existence of the films following Psycho II. I was naturally very curious to watch them and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Psycho III starts out with a varying style and with different characters from its two predecessors but it turns out to be a pretty great movie and more than worthy to carry the ‘Psycho’ name.

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