Monday, September 6, 2010

Psycho III (1986)

Reviewed By: Billy

I recently heard a well-respected film critic say, “If you only see one Psycho movie, see Psycho III.”

Okay, that’s a lie. It was my brother, JM, who said that.

But really, he deserves a lot of respect for having the courage to say something so wise and yet to sure-to-be controversial. Psycho III really is the greatest of the series. Well, other than the amazing remake starring the self-pleasuring Vince Vaughn and a walkman. But that’s another review for another day.

Opening with actress Diana Scarwid screaming, “THERE IS NO GOD” as if she’s been asked to imitate a coyote readying for attack, this masterpiece immediately thrusts the viewer into a world of hammy overacting and annoying camera angles, a world that will make the next hour and a half fly by like years. This opening scene, in which young nun Diana accidentally causes the death of another nun, easily surpasses the original’s “death of Arbogast” as possibly the worst-staged demise in film history, especially when followed by an evil nun gleefully taunting, “You’ll burn in hell for this!” instead of running for help. Man, nuns are mean.

Anyway, Diana runs away and hitches a ride with a lecherous drifter who kicks her out of his car after she rejects his advances (his farewell, by the way, is my new favorite quote, “You could’ve been comin’ rather than goin’!”). And so, the poor gal ends up walking to the deserted Bates Motel. Just in case we stupid viewers couldn’t figure out that it’s supposed to be deserted, the director lets this tumbleweed the size of an industrial washing machine blow through the frame:
Let me introduce you to this director of great subtlety, by the way…
Yes, in the case of Psycho III, Anthony Perkins takes the lead both in front of and behind the camera and seems determined to show us just exactly what a great director can do.

And that great director is…umm…Alfred Hitchcock, who clearly forced Anthony to play with great restraint when he originated the role of Normal Bates back in 1960. Here, Mr. Perkins directs himself to immediately go off the deep end, speaking his lines in such a jarring, machine-gun style that I challenge any of you to listen to his first few lines of dialogue and have any clue what he’s talking about.

Anyway, the arrival of Diana sets poor Norman on an even further downward spiral. Hell, he becomes a twitching, jittery mess, and all apparently because of her remarkable resemblance to Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh in the original). It’s actually pretty amazing that Norman’s been able to survive during the years since he’s been released from the looney bin, considering all it took to make him completely nuts again was a woman with short blonde hair…which, let’s be honest, is the only thing Diana Scarwid and Janet Leigh have in common. That said, I defy anyone to tell me that Diana Scarwid and Denise Crosby (of this amazing film) are not the same woman:
Whatever Anthony the director may lack in controlling his actors, he more than makes up for in boobs and bad 80s aesthetics. May I present to you Exhibit A:
This doll ends up on the wrong end of Norman’s knife after wandering around the hotel topless for no apparent reason (I hate to ever say someone is asking to be killed…but come on…). The murder, by the way, happens in a phone booth, and is staged just like the original’s shower scene…except for the missing tension and suspense, and the addition of hilariously loud, goopy fake blood that is clearly being spurt out from a plastic bottle by a production assistant just out of frame.
The second death scene is even classier than the first, in that it involves a young hotel guest actually sitting on the toilet when she bites the big one. She inexplicably grabs the rolls of toilet paper as she falls off the pot, leading Mrs. Bates to make perhaps the most awesome move in slasher history:
Anyway, lots of other things happen, but what’s important to note is that the movie ends like this:
I’m not even going to explain it. The fact is, you must see this movie. After all, as a well-respected film critic once said, “If you only see one Psycho movie, see Psycho III.” It truly is, for us, the most enjoyable of them all. It takes everything that worked in the original, throws that away, the fills the holes with the best conventions of 80s horror. It’s brilliant.


  1. But what about Roberta Maxwell, the SCREAMING reporter - I loved her in this movie. In fact, I just watch it to see her ...does that make me a bad person?

  2. As so often, I find myself in complete agreement. It's all great, but I especially love the bit where he eats peanut butter with the same spoon he's using to shovel sawdust into the stomach cavity of a dead bird, also the way the plot assumes considerable familiarity on the viewer's part not merely with Psycho but Psycho 2 as well. (Love that rotting paperback at the beginning.)
    Watch Psycho 4 next: it's a prequel! With the kid from ET as young Norman! And the adult Norman's been released again, even after all those murders and hiding his mother's severed arm in his jacket when they took him away...
    One thing that always bothered me: when Norman goes to the diner, why does he bring back two burgers for Duane Dook (Call me Dook)? Surely one would have been sufficient?

  3. Once again a lovely review as always. I actually first came to watch the Psycho series, with this one. Imagine my confusion as a boy? Haha. But wasn't Jeff Fahey just the pinacle of seedy hottness in this flick? Oy.

    And, it seems to me Perkins was channeling Ken Russell in this movie, as a director. He had just starred in Crimes of Passion (which I'd LOVE to see you lay into as well.) III is a lot queerer and weirder than the others, all the way around.

    However, the Psycho movies are pretty consistently decent though. There are no real stinkers like in the Jaws, Friday the 13th, Elm Street or Halloween series.

    In fact I actually enjoy/consider Psycho II better than the original, but thats just me, haha.

    By the way I left a comment in regards to a Shot on Video horror flick on the Burial of the Rats review, that you might not have read.

  4. I'm pretty much with you on this. I love Psycho II but as the first sequel to a revered classic it had to play nice with the Psycho iconography while things were able to get a lot looser in III. The warped, seedy vibe that Perkins brings to this movie (while still being knowledgeable towards Hitchcock's work - as in the Vertigo-esque opening) is terrific and it probably is closer to how tawdry the original must've seemed to audiences in 1960 than the slickly made Psycho II. It's great stuff all around - and a movie ripe for rediscovery.

  5. I enjoy this sequel as well (even own it on DVD). It's just so kooky and bizarre that I like it! I think II is better, but III has its own unique vibe that keeps the viewer entertained. And Norman Bates is definitely off of his rocker in this installment. I love the first three PSYCHO films. Not a fan of IV or the pointless remake.

    Great review. I need to review the rest of these PSYCHO films.

  6. Just saw this about a month ago on Showtime (or was it HBO?) they were doing a marathon of sorts. It pays homage to the series but it definitely shows its a sign o' the times with its 80's sleaze and cheese.

    Need to check out IV next.

  7. I am in no way ashamed to admit that I love -all- the PSYCHO movies (well, maybe not Part V, that one's a dud) but this one gets special honorable mention for featuring the tasty redhead goddess Juliette Cummins (also featured prominently in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V), and whom you pictured above. Yay!

  8. There's a Part V???
    This is the best news I've heard since this very site alerted me to the existence of Wrong Turn 3...

  9. There isn't a Part V unless you count Van Sants horrid Remake. Just a Part IV.