PSYCHO IIIMOVIE REVIEW
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When PSYCHO II came along, it already had a script (Tom Holland), the funds (Bernard Schwartz of Oak Industries), and a Hitchcock approved director, Richard Franklin. Universal Picture owned the rights to the movie so all Bernard Schwartz needed was their blessing, which he got.
With the success of PSYCHO II, Universal wanted a franchise and here is the thing about that. It was 1986 and only one studio at the time had a hit and miss reputation for doing sequels right and that was 20th Century Fox. 20th Century Fox sequels, from THE PLANET OF THE APES to Star Wars to ALIEN (those were the hits. The miss was THE OMEN sequels) may arguably not be as good as the original, but overall they didn't crap up the franchise with garbage. Studios like Universal (JAWS and its sequels) and Warner Bros. (THE EXORCIST and its sequels) were renown at the time for having an unbroken record of doing just that: Not simply making a sequel that didn't live up to the original, but for making sequels that butchered the cash cow.
With Executive Producer Bernard Schwartz out (the real name of actor Tony Curtis) Universal Pictures executives were back at the helm and in control. No late Alfred Hitchcock or Richard Franklin (busy with a different Horror movie and working with some fellow Hitchcock alumni) could be found. Universal put career Second Unit/Assistant Director, Hilton A. Green (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS [TV], PSYCHO, MARNIE) in as producer and, because actor Anthony Perkins wanted to direct and was willing to do it for free, gave him the job.
You see the problem already, right? When you have a bonfide hit on your hands, you increase the budget for the sequel so you can have better everyone and everything. Universal Pictures had a smash hit on their hands, so naturally they decided to go cheap and murder the franchise they so desperately wanted. Because what audience doesn't want to see a lousy sequel to the movie they adore?
Now successful actors with long and busy careers have been known to become good directors (Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood), but very few successful actors with long and busy careers have been known to become good directors who can Direct-Themselves-In-The-Lead (Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood). You're either behind the camera or you are in front of it. And if you are in front of it, then you can't see yourself acting.
PSYCHO III starts off awful with a black screen and a woman's voice bellowing from all the way back to Junior High Drama class, "There IS no GOD!"
Other movies have started off with a black screen and a quick quip that opens the movie, and this can be intriguing ("My god! It's full of stars!" - 2010), but not here. This voice is so over-the-top soap opera that the very first response to this movie is to cringe.
A wet fart would have started this movie off better.
We open to Maureen (Diana Scarwid: STRANGE INVADERS, EXTREMITIES, WHAT LIES BENEATH, THE CLEARING) praying to a statue of the virgin mother, Mary, begging for forgiveness for what she just said. Sorry, just having a crisis of faith, that's all.
How bad a crisis? In the next scene Maureen stands in the tower of a Catholic nunnery, ready to jump. Nuns below beg her not to do it. Nuns running up the stairs to her, beg her not to do it. Surprised by an unexpected grab, she murders (in a 3rd degree manslaughter kinda way), the reverend mother, quickly earning the wrath of the rest.
Wracked with guilt (who wouldn't be?), which only adds to her suicidal crisis of faith, she walks off into the desert with her suitcase, in a crying jag.
Extremely unnecessary dramatic histrionics? Yes. But let's stop here because I gotta wonder just how many damn Hail Mary's Maureen had to say over killing the Reverend Mother, before the nuns let her sashay off into the desert? We all know that the Catholic Church covers for perverted priests and bishops, hiding them from the law of the land, but are they really going to cover for initiates that kill one of their Alphas?
In the first 5 minutes, PSYCHO III started off really, seriously bad. Except for Maureen, everyone else is painted in the most garish of hambone comic book strokes. What do I mean by that?
See, I really like to read comics and I read a LOT of comics! My tastes are international from across all the continents. I also enjoy ridiculous movies but we'll get into that later. My point is, if PSYCHO III was a comic, it would be the worst character development I'd ever seen - short of the 1960 - 1970s era DC and Marvel.
Maureen is hitchhiking on a backroad and winds up in a beat to hell car held together by Bondo and rust. The car is driven by Duane (Jeff Fahey: IMPULSE, THE SERPENT OF DEATH, IRON MAZE, BODY PARTS, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, SERPENT'S LAIR, DARKMAN III, PLANET TERROR) who pathetically plans to make his fortune in Hollywood as a guitarist.
Well the world is full of dreamy fools and sometimes the fools win (Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo).
When a hard rain comes down that night, Duane pulls over and goes to sleep. Maureen falls asleep too. Duane opens his eyes and, using a pocket flashlight, starts inspecting her body. Maureen wakes up to find Duane all over her, babbling the worst seduction lines ever. But "No means No", so he kicks her out and throws her luggage into the mud.
Duane drives off and leaves her alone in the night and rain and middle of nowhere without shelter or food. So he's an inhuman creep, asshole, and douchebag, but he's no rapist. Dude's got a line he will not cross. Alone in the cold and rainy night, Maureen uses this time to consider the personal life choices that have brought her thus far.
You know what?
I went into PSYCHO III thinking that, if anyone could deliver a damn good PSYCHO movie, it would be Anthony Perkins.
I was wrong.
Anthony went to his grave saying that he was stuck with a terrible script by Charles Edward Pogue (THE FLY , DRAGONHEART). The script is in fact, terrible for a PSYCHO movie (Pogue had nothing but bombs whenever he had sole writer credit. He's best as a team player). PSYCHO III hideously plays out like a cut & paste version of the studio horror movie slasher ethos of the period: you have sex, or desire sex, you die.
Norman doesn't kill because other people have sex or want to have sex. Norman doesn't have a problem with that. In fact, he is desperate for human intimacy and companionship.
The only time Norman kills is when he personally wants to have sex, because Mother-In-His-Head has a problem with it. Pogue didn't understand that, so Norman is a different character than he was in the two previous movies. And because Anthony Perkins knew the character so well, he spent the entire movie awkwardly grafting the Norman character he knew, onto the alien Norman character that Pogue wrote.
That still doesn't let Perkins, the director, off the hook.
Unlike Hitchcock and Franklin, Perkins decided that Norman needed to look crazy instead of just act crazy. Appearing harmless is the Primary Scary Thing about a killer like Norman (He looks like he "Wouldn't hurt a fly."). You would feel comfortable in his presence, so he comes into this one with an 80's style spikey haircut and a spooky leer.
Then Anthony and his cinematographer, Bruce Surtees (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, NIGHT MOVES , PALE RIDER - Clint Eastwood's longtime GoTo guy for cinematography) added plenty of goofy carnival colored background lighting whenever Norman is about to lose his marbles and go off on a tear.
Bruce had a long established history of cinematography before and a little after PSYCHO III. I know for a fact the man could do better, but he was giving Perkins what he wanted.
In the previous PSYCHO movies, Hitchcock and Franklin made Perkins act. In PSYCHO III, Anthony chose to have his hair-do and surroundings act for him.
Every time the primary colored lightshow happens I'm reminded of George Romero's CREEPSHOW (1982). Now CREEPSHOW was great, because the whole movie was supposed to be a comic book. PSYCHO is not supposed to be a self-aware parody.
Anthony and Pogue gave this movie an ending that would have ended the franchise - something Universal Studios didn't want. So the suits came in, got another director, and gave it the end they wanted - which arguably crapped it up even worse (and yes, the end is terrible). This means the studio suits remain forever ultimately responsible for the movie that killed their franchise.
Further, the suits knew they killed their franchise. In an effort to pawn their incompetence off as intentional, they gave PSYCHO III a joke of a slogan,
"Norman Bates is back to normal, but Mother's off her rocker again."
Har dee har.
It's 26 years later, and the PSYCHO story created by Robert Bloch, started by Alfred Hitchcock, reinvigorated by Richard Franklin, and given life by the acting of Anthony Perkins, is dead forever: as are all four men.
PSYCHO III is not quite a catastrophe, but definitely a crash.
Two Shriek Girls.