Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Psycho III (1986)

Directed by:
Anthony Perkins

Perkins (making his directorial debut here) has some good ideas, there are some macabre comic moments that really work, a lot more gore and even a welcome flashback to the great shovel death in Part 2, but the scares are too few and far between and the suspense is almost nonexistent. Oddly, Norman is treated with much less empathy than the previous two films, giving this an awkward, wholesale, hollow slasher movie feel. The character was never meant to compete with Jason and Mike Myers and part of the great appeal of the first two films is almost entirely lost this time out. The major question is: Why the sudden change in tone? Norman was previously a complex, tortured and queasily sympathetic kind of psycho, yet here he is frequently depicted as someone who receives more glee from his sadistic killings than inner torment, anguish or remorse. The latter is usually a more interesting slant to me (how many faceless, cardboard killers haunt the shelves of your local video store?), unless you are dealing with a film like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (ironically made the same year). That film thrived on icy objectivity, yet still afforded the emotionless killer with one scene to dryly comment on, and lash out at, the sadistic abuse he had faced early in life. We had something of an understanding how someone could get to a point where killing another human being holds the same emotional resonance as brushing their teeth. I'm assuming the writers of PSYCHO III were attempting something similar to Henry. If we've seen the first two films, we already know what Norman has been through. We've bore witness to his conflict with inner demons and childhood abuse, his disquieting confusion, his remorse, his attempts at rehabilitation... We don't really need a return course in Norman 101. It's just a matter of time until the already-batty-as-they-come Bates slips into the realm of unfeeling killing machine, eh? Though this film has nowhere near the raw power or genuine insight of the John McNaughton classic (not that the two films are exactly comparable to begin with), I think I still see where they wanted to take it. And for the record, and despite my initial, slight disappointment about the direction of the series and character, Roger Ebert was one of several high-brow critics to actually give good marks to this installment and defend it by praising its clever Hitchcock references and black comedy. However, I can't help but wonder why exactly this film was made other than monetary reasons. The ending of Part II, silly as it may have been, already accomplished in a couple of minutes the exact same thing this film spends 90 minutes doing. Not that it's not entertaining or bad by any means. It's well above-average for the demands of the slasher movie crowd, it's just not quite up to par with either the 1960 classic or the grandly entertaining 1983 first sequel.

The plot this time out is only a slight, less complex variation on what we've seen before in Richard Franklin's PSYCHO II (1983); picking up right at the end of that film, Norman Bates is even crazier than before and is murdering people left and right at the infamous hotel. He becomes involved with a suicidal former nun (Diana Scarwid) who fled her convent after feeling responsible for an accidental death (the falling-from-a-bell-tower sequence even employs direct, intentional visual cues from Hitch's classic VERTIGO). She also happens to look like Marion Crane (and shares the same initials), which causes even more confusion for our anti-hero. Jeff Fahey co-stars as a sleazy musician whom Perkins hires to work night shift. When he tries to frame Norman, he gets beat to death with his own guitar. Roberta Maxwell is a author who wants to write an article on Norman. Back from the previous film are Hugh Gillin as the friendly local sheriff (involved in one of the most memorable bits involving an ice chest and a hidden dead body), Robert Alan Browne as the diner owner and Lee Garlington as the bitchy waitress. B-Queen alert: Juliette Cummins (also in FRIDAY THE 13TH 5, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 2 and others) is one of the victims, as is future director Katt Shea (Ruben), who went on to a successful career working as a writer and director on such good love-budget efforts as DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1988) and STREETS (1990). And, oh yeah, Brinke Stevens (who has nothing but good things to say about the director/star in interviews) worked three days on the film as Scarwid's body double during her shower scenes. Though to me, a step down in quality for the PSYCHO series, outing number three is well worth watching and was a promising debut for Perkins (who would also go to direct only one more film - the cannibalism black comedy LUCKY STIFF - in 1988).

Perkins reprised his role in PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (1990), which was made for cable and details Norman's horrific childhood, and did a parody of the character on a famous Saturday Night Live motel management sketch in the 1970s. There was also BATES MOTEL (1987), an awful NBC series pilot starring Bud Cort that was understandably not picked up (Perkins himself said he boycotted the awful, misguided project) and Gus Van Zant's equally pointless 1998 remake, which should seal the fate of the idea of stretching this franchise any further.


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