Psycho III , released 26 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s breathtaking 1960 original , is at heart just another slasher sequel, but has the catch of being directed by Anthony Perkins, Mr. Norman Bates himself, and is peppered with knowing black humor throughout the Charles Edward Pogue screenplay. Grossing much less at the box office than its Richard Franklin helmed predecessor , Psycho III is a slow burner that bravely takes its time getting going before lapsing into the trademark bloody killing spree, and has enough bizarre little touches to make it stand out from the wave of ’80s slashers that besieged filmhouses around the same time. The slasher was experiencing a decline in popularity by 1986, and even the Friday the 13th series was feeling the downward trend, so at least Psycho III was able to make a profit, however small, and has since gained fans who love its tongue-in-cheek humor and showstopping performance by Perkins, who by this time had clearly come to understand and embrace every nuance of his creepy character and have great fun with it.
The very first line we hear in Psycho III is “There is no God!” and is screamed by distraught convent nun Maureen Coyle (Mommie Dearest ‘s Diana Scarwid), who has the first-time lady of the cloth blues and wants to take her own life by jumping from the top of her own convent’s bell tower. Mother Superior ascends the tower and tries earnestly to convince Maureen that she has an obligation to God and must not commit her selfish crime, but while grappling with the suicidal nun loses her footing and falls to her death from the top of the holy building, a tragic incident which forces young Maureen out of the convent and onto the empty desert road with her all of her meager possessions packed into a suitcase. After an unfortunate roadside encounter with horny traveling singer Duke (Jeff Fahey) that leaves her soaked and feeling more alone than ever, Maureen checks into room #1 at the Bates Motel (where she unhappily discovers Duke has coincidentally just been hired as front desk clerk by Norman), but not without Norman seeing her and noticing her striking resemblance to Marion Crane from the original , the cool blonde whom Norman slashed to death in the shower of the very same room nearly 30 years before.
This sets Norman further off his already very wobbly rocker, and we discover that he has stuffed the corpse of ill-fated Mrs. Spool from Part II and has frequent mother-son exchanges with it, including one wherein “Mother” warns Norman to get rid of that little slut Maureen who’s distressing him before she does. This turns out to be a more difficult task than normal for Norman when, after “accidentally” rescuing the troubled woman from another suicide attempt, he falls for the troubled ex-nun and begins sneaking out of the house behind Mother’s back and taking Maureen out for nights on the town. Meanwhile, nosy reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) has arrived in town and has been harassing Norman with impromptu interviews at home and at the town diner and has teamed up with lecherous clerk Duke to expose Norman as the psychopath responsible for a series of recent disappearances, particularly that of Mrs. Spool.
Unlike in the first two, there’s no mystery as to the identity of the wig-wearing, knife-wielding psychopath, whose face is darkened out during the film’s rare but graphic murder scenes. We know from the moment Norman converses with his dead mother about his sordid fears. There’s little suspense in Psycho III for that reason, at least until the final few minutes when reporter Venable sneaks into Norman’s house looking for evidence and is greeted by “wigged” out Norman, who chases her in grand ’80s slasher fashion up the stairs and cornered into Mommy’s room. After finding Mrs. Spool’s preserved corpse inside the bed chamber, Venable informs Norman/Mrs. Bates that Mrs. Spool was indeed a lunatic and not Norman’s biological mother after all, only his twisted aunt who was in love with his father and over the years had come to believe in her own sick mind that she was Norman’s long-lost true mom. Aside from this revelation, there are few plot surprises in this sequel, but instead some superbly twisted black comedy (like the scene where Duke “kidnaps” mother and hides her out in one of the motel cabins, resulting in a guitar smash-up between Norman, Duke and Woody Woodpecker) and an overall brooding atmosphere. The film has darkly delicious cinematography by the veteran Bruce Surtees and good acting by all, particularly Perkins and Scarwid who — despite a rather obvious age difference — manage to convince (as much as is possible) with their depiction of a doomed romantic relationship between a nun and a paranoid schizophrenic.
As mentioned above, the film’s death scenes are infrequent but memorable, with the first one — not counting the accidental death of the Mother Superior at the beginning — occurring about 40 minutes into the film and featuring one of Duke’s late-night bar hook-ups Red (slasher regular Juliette Cummins) being slaughtered by “Mother” while changing in the motel phone booth, with blood and broken glass being thrust in every direction amidst the redhead’s dying screams. There’s a downright raunchy throat slashing involving gorgeous Patsy (Stripped to Kill director Katt Shea Ruben) taking a piss on the toilet and being interrupted mid-stream by knife-wielding “Mother”, and Norman’s love interest Maureen does indeed get it herself in the end when she trips atop the Bates staircase and (in a rather awkward way that echoes the death of the Mother Superior that she caused) falls backwards down the stairs and is impaled through the back of the head on a metal cupid’s arrow at the base of the landing.
Despite the lack of suspense and some silly writing, Psycho III is fast-paced, weird and darkly funny enough to maintain interest from start to finish. There’s some enjoyably head-scratching touches thrown in by Perkins, like the guitar seduction scene between Duke and Red set to swinging porno music, and I liked the film’s look and atmosphere as much as Part 2 , so I rate Psycho III a 7 of 10.