*. Call it reverse psychology. Because Psycho is such a great and revered movie, one is primed to dislike the sequels (and, even more, the remake). Add to that the degraded genre that slasher horror had become by the early ’80s and I think everyone came, and comes, to the Psycho follow-ups with very low expectations. So when Psycho II turned out to be not that bad it seemed all the more impressive.
*. I think the same thing goes for Psycho III. I know I wasn’t expecting it to be any good, especially after Psycho II had ended on such a frankly ridiculous note. But while it’s not great, it doesn’t totally discredit the original and is head and shoulders above most of the other horror trash at the time. By 1986 horror was really feeling played out. I’ve mentioned before how Hellraiser (1987) came as such a jolt coming when it did, erupting out of what had become a wasteland.
*. In not being just another ’80s slasher film I don’t want to go too far in praising Psycho III though. There are real characters, like Norman and a weird ex-nun played by Diana Scarwid, but there’s also some very gratuitous nudity, with Norman’s victims often linked to sexual activity. That much is pretty standard. As are the kills. You can tell they wanted to try to do something different, like killing the girl in the phone booth, but none of it is presented in a very interesting way.
*. Despite the opening scene being a strained homage to Vertigo, there’s little of the spirit of Hitchcock here. Just one bit of gruesome humour relating to an ice chest. This was the first time behind the camera for Anthony Perkins, and he does well enough. It would be too much to expect him to have any sort of personal style though, and he doesn’t. Nor does he do a very good job building suspense. Gene Siskel thought the film “just sort of laid there for me,” and it did for me too.
*. It does at least aim for continuity with the previous instalments. The classic lines get recycled. Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies. We all go a little mad sometimes. Some camera tricks are repeated. Norman has his bag of candy corn back. The copy of The Belly of the Beast, which Meg Tilly was reading in Psycho II, is still lying around.
*. I like how Duke thinks a “five-figure salary” is a really big deal. In 1986!
*. But aside from it being better than slasher average for the time, I really didn’t like this one very much. They try to clean up the mess made of Norman’s parentage from the previous film but only end up with something even more ridiculous. And the whole subplot with Maureen Coyle as the ex-nun who mistakes Norman dressed up as his mother for the Virgin Mary, before later falling in love with him, was just too much. Was there any need to introduce such silliness?
*. Perkins is good, as usual. He’s comfortable playing the part of someone who isn’t comfortable in his own skin. But more than that, Norman isn’t comfortable in the ’80s, and neither is the movie. Even the homages seem weird and out of place, like dinosaur bones turned up in the excavation for a drive-through. The movies, like the highway, had by this time passed the Bates Motel by (though it would later appear on cable). That’s not to say movies were getting better, just that they were moving at a different speed and heading in another direction.