Psycho 3

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/04/04 15:46:42

"The worst of the series so far, but still well worth a look."
3 stars (Just Average)

If “Psycho II” turned out to be far better than anyone expected, how about “Psycho III?” Well, it’s a lesser film, to be sure, but I still like it. Granted, its writing is sloppy and its acting is shaky, but it has three key scenes that are so inventive, so intelligent, so flat-out interesting, that they make the rest of the movie worth the time.

We open with a strange prologue in which nun-to-be Maureen (Diana Scarwid) denounces God, inadvertently causes the death of another nun, and runs away. Wandering through the desert, she’s picked up by greasy drifter Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who doesn’t seem to get that she’s not picking up on his advances because a) she used to live in a convent, and b) he’s a greasy drifter.

Anyway, the two split ways, and we move on to the Bates Motel, where things have picked up right where the finale of “Psycho II” left off. (There’s even a flashback in case you’ve forgotten how that one ended.) Our old pal Norman (Anthony Perkins - who else?) has posted a “help wanted” sign, and it’s Duane who gets the job. Maureen shows up later, and Duane gives her the infamous cabin no. 1. But Norman can’t shake the feeling she’s not Maureen, but Marion Crane.

As a movie, it’s so-so. The film plays like a smart mystery poorly mixed with a dumb 80s slasher flick; there’s one rather graphic murder scene that feels added in just to cash in on the horror trend of the time. It doesn’t seem a part of the “Psycho” series. The other deaths, however, are right in line with the minimum-blood, suspense-over-gore technique. (I don’t consider these movies horror as much as thriller.)

The plot’s a little nonexistent this time around. Norman seems to be falling for Maureen, and vice versa. Duane is a creep. A nosy reporter (Roberta Maxwell) has come to town to check up on Norman’s rehabilitation. And mother’s been talking again.

That’s all there is, really. Gone is the intricate mystery of “Psycho II” (I won’t bother to compare this to the original “Psycho;” it wouldn’t be fair). In its place is a rather interesting, softer character study - can a mass murderer and a mentally unbalanced former religious type find love? - blended with a less engaging chain of killings. The screenplay, by Charles Edward Pogue, lacks the kick of the previous entries, as it doesn’t contain the glorious surprises of those films.

Which brings me to those three key scenes. Two are just nifty bits that always catch my eye. In one, the famous “shower scene” is recreated nearly shot-for-shot... in a telephone booth. In the other, a body is hidden in the motel’s ice machine; will the sheriff notice the ice he’s sucking on has some blood on it?

It’s the third key scene that really gets to me. It’s yet another take on the shower scene, this time with Mother entering Maureen’s room just as she did those many years ago. But the script throws us a curve, resulting in a move that’s smarter than anything else in the movie. I won’t tell you what it is (you’ll have to see for yourself), but it’s a scene that gets me every time.

Behind all this is Perkins, who, in addition to his reprisal of his most famous role, also marks his directorial debut. Perkins knows the material and seems to enjoy tinkering with the characters. His decision to have everyone play a little too over-the-top doesn’t quite work, as what is meant to come off as black humor often times comes off as merely Jeff Fahey not acting well. Still, Perkins’ playful mood keeps the movie from sinking into an overly-serious zone, and some of the plot’s dumber moments are allowed to be tossed aside with tongue in cheek.

So just as “Psycho II” was a great movie on its own and a fair successor to “Psycho,” “Psycho III” is a decent movie on its own and a fair successor to “Psycho II.” It’s not a great movie by any means, but any fan of the Hitchcock classic whose curiosity was snagged by “Psycho II” should find something of interest to see here. It’s not, as its ads once claimed, “the most shocking of them all,” but it does have enough clever bits to earn a recommendation.

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