Anthony Perkins himself got behind the camera for Psycho III, following in the directorial footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Franklin (some very large shoes to fill) but who better to tackle the third film in the series than Norman Bates himself?
Psycho III starts off with a powerful scene where a nun screams against the existence of the God that she's had pledged her life to, while teetering at the top of a bell tower. Her fellow sisters beg her to reconsider her suicide attempt but before she can make good of it, one of the other nuns inadvertently falls through a week part of the bell tower to her death below. The nun, who we learn is named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), is sent out of the convent with only the clothes on her back and her small suit case. She walks through the desert and is eventually picked up by a man named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey) who is on his way to California to hit it big in the music business. Duane can't keep his hands off the foxy young nun, however, and soon he's scared her off into the desert one more time, the rain pouring down upon her and Maureen near complete mental and physical exhaustion.
Duane finds himself pulling up the Bates Motel to rest for a bit, noticing the ‘help wanted' sign in the window. After a quick chat with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) he eventually winds up getting a job as his assistant, helping to man the desk during the day and to clean up around the place when time permits. Later that day, Norman heads to the diner up the road (this diner should look familiar to fans of Psycho II) where he used to work to get some food and bring Duke back some burgers. Here he's quizzed by a reporter, Tracey (Roberta Maxwell), about his life. She wants to write an article on mental illness but Norman understandably isn't too keen on talking to her about his past. Maureen ends up walking into the diner and it's here that Norman realizes what a striking resemblance she bears to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh's character from the original Psycho). Soon enough, she winds up staying in cabin one at the Bates Motel, and it's then that we realize that old habits die hard for Norman Bates… maybe his stay in the psychiatric hospital didn't do him as much good as we thought it did in the last film.
Psycho III is a mixed bag and as such it tends to divide fans of the series, but it gets more right than it does wrong. The good aspects? Well, Perkins' direction is solid (especially considering that this was the first time he'd ever directed) and the cinematography in the film is excellent. The movie makes great use of shadow and great use of the neon signs to give it an almost other worldly feeling at times. There are also a few keen twists in the plot that you probably won't see coming but that do make perfect sense in the context of the film and in the context of Norman's history. The script by Charles Edward Pogue, who also co-wrote the Cronenberg adaptation of The Fly, does make for a logical continuation of the events in the first two films (and as such you'll need to see them first to follow this one) and the storyline moves along at a decent pace. It follows that story logically and does a great job of building off of the events that took place in the two movies that came before it.
The relationship that develops between Norman and Maureen, who is in many ways just as messed up as he is, fits well and provides a good backbone to the story. Scarwid's Maureen makes for a pretty sympathetic character and the movie goes in some interesting directions as she wrestles with her religious beliefs and her admitted lust for the pleasures of the flesh. Throwing Fahey, who is in full on sleazeball mode here, into the mix also adds an interesting dynamic, as does the nosey reporter snooping around who just flat out will not give Norman a break. The score is also very good in this film, it helps to build tension and suspense without completely ripping off the iconic music from the first movie.
The bad news is that at times, Perkins seems to be overacting. He chews through the scenery here and there and it's hard not to see Norman Bates as a bit of a cliché in this third film. While he's perfect at seeming awkward and out of place any time that he's interacting with people, he does overdo it here, more so than in the past. The ending also feels rushed and borrows almost a little too much from the first movie, which makes the end result slightly on the predictable side. In the end though, it's a very entertaining movie, even if it's marginal one. The use of black comedy throughout the movie is quite effective, the perfect example being a scene in which the town sheriff chews on some ice out of an icebox that holds a corpse. Some of the kills are pretty gory, and in a lot of ways we've definitely gone into typical slasher movie territory, but Perkins paces things well, offers up a few solid set pieces and winds up delivering a worthy follow up.
Psycho III arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.85.1 widescreen presentation with AVC encoding in 1080p high definition. Like the transfer for Psycho II, the transfer for Psycho III also looks very good but once again shows some minor crush in a few of the darker scenes. There are also some moments where shadow detail is a bit muddy. Aside from that, however, things shape up quite nicely here. The scenes that take place outside look great and show excellent color reproduction while skin tones always look nice and natural, never too orange or too pink. Black levels are good and once again anytime we go into the Bates' house we notice a lot of quirky detail and texture in the various rooms, particularly when the camera closes in on some of Norman's taxidermy projects. There are no obvious edge enhancement problems or noise reduction issues here and all in all, Shout! Factory deliver a fine transfer.
Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mixes with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Both tracks sound very good, and once again the surround mix obviously spreading things out where the 2.0 mix cannot. The surround mix this time around is more immersive than it was on the disc for the second movie in the series. There's more going on with the sound effects, particularly in the murder set pieces but you'll also notice it in the scene where Duke and Maureen skid out in the rain. The score is spread out in a more grandiose fashion here as well, using the surrounds more often than you might expect. Levels are well balanced for both mixes and dialogue stays clear. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and Psycho III sounds surprisingly good on Blu-ray.
The previous DVD release from Universal contained only a trailer as an extra. Shout! Factory rectifies that and does a pretty great job with the supplements on this disc starting off with an audio commentary track from screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue moderated by Mike Felsher. This is a mix of trivia and discussion about working on this particular movie and a bit of a career overview for Pogue. Felsher keeps him talking, asking good questions about working with Perkins who was obviously doing double duty here and about following up the unexpectedly well received Psycho II. Pogue talks about where some of his inspiration came from, his thoughts on the first two movies and his opinion on how everything turned out this third time around. It's an amiable talk, the two have a good rapport here and if you're a fan of the movie, this is a pretty great way to learn more about it.
From there we move on to the first of the featurettes on the disc, a seventeen minute piece called Watch The Guitar: An Interview With Jeff Fahey. Here the actor who played Duke shares his memories of seeing Hitchcock's original film at a young age and what it was like to work with Perkins (noting that ‘when we did a scene, he went from Anthony Perkins, right into his character') and the rest of the cast and crew on this picture. He looks back on this one with a good amount of respect, noting that it was a pretty important stepping stone in his career. From there we get a nine minute interview with Katt Shea called Patsy's Last Night. Obviously Shea played Patsy, one of the partiers who books a room at the Bates Motel for the homecoming game. Here she talks about Anthony Perkins and some of the other cast members and then discusses what it was like working on her key scene in the movie. The third featurette is an eleven minute segment entitled Mother's Maker: An Interview With Special Make-Up Effects Creator Michael Westmore. Here Westmore talks about working on the effects set pieces that we see in the movie and talks about how some of those effects were created and accomplished. Last but not least we get a five minute interview with Brinke Stevens entitled Body Double where she talks about working as a body double for Scarwid in this movie and in for various other actresses in movies made throughout her career.
Rounding out the extras are a decent sized still gallery, a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, animated menus and chapter selection. The disc fits in a regular Blu-ray case which in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcover that feature identical cover art to that found on the insert.
Psycho III is more of a traditional slasher movie than the first two films in the series but it's still a really fun watch. Perkins might chew the scenery here but he's still perfect in the part, as twitchy and awkward and uncomfortable as would seem possible while the relationship that builds between his character and Scarwid's anchors the movie. Throw in a fun performance from sleazy Jeff Fahey and some good kill scenes and this one is a lot of fun. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray is a good one, offering up the movie in a solid transfer with an impressive surround mix and a lot of extras too. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.