“Norman Bates is back to normal. But mother’s off her rocker again” in Scream Factory’s high definition special edition of Anthony Perkins’ directorial debut PSYCHO III.
Business is slow at the Bates Motel since the events of PSYCHO II, but Norman is back to his taxidermy hobby and Mother is back upstairs watching over him while drifter Duane (Jeff Fahey, WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART) is minding the register; however, things are about to change drastically. Ambitious freelance journalist Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell, THE CHANGELING) is doing a story on the insanity defense and is curious about Norman’s feelings on Lila Loomis’ persecution of him. She is also interested in the possibly related disappearance of waitress Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar, PSYCHO II) who was once Norman’s co-worker during his brief stint as a short-order cook following his release from the asylum. Norman is dumbstruck when he sites Marion Crane-lookalike Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid, MOMMIE DEAREST) – even the initials are the same – hitchhiking into town and looking for accommodations. A former novice nun whose spiritual crisis resulted in the inadvertent death of her mother superior – in a VERTIGO-style mission bell tower – Maureen is as drawn to Norman’s reticence as she is repelled by Duane’s forwardness (he had given her lift a few nights before and tossed her out when she resisted his advances).
Duane is smart enough to know that Norman is not all there, but sees an opportunity when Tracy fills him in on Norman’s backstory and pays him to keep his eyes and ears open (which pays off for him when he overhears Norman arguing with his mother one night). Although mother thinks Norman’s obsession with Maureen is another “of your cheap erotic delusions, out of your cheap erotic imagination" she decides to get rid of the girl only to discover that Maureen has slit her own wrists in the tub (and misinterprets mother’s silhouette for the Virgin Mary saving her from the sin of suicide). Norman rushes Maureen to the hospital and is commended for his good deed by the sheriff (Hugh Gillin, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE) who now sees Norman as a victim who just wants to be left alone after the events of the second film. Tracy, on the other hand, is suspicious; and she has right to be since someone has started to slash their way through the Bates Motel’s suddenly crowded guest list of homecoming jocks and bimbos. Is Mother taking her jealousy of Maureen out on other women or is someone trying to drive Norman fully around the bend?
Anthony Perkins’ directorial debut is less of a horror film or even a thriller than a tragedy, and one that is only part love story. On the commentary for PSYCHO II, screenwriter Tom Holland suggested that Perkins’ was less concerned with story that the emotional worlds of the characters; and screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue’s (David Cronenberg’s THE FLY) scant thriller scenario presents a cracked quartet in Norman, his mother (who gets more dialogue here than usual), Maureen, and Duane (with Fahey in a characterization as off-the-wall as Perkins is studied). The climax is tragic but the finale is more than a little busy (and rushed) in its need to undo the twist of the second film (discussed on the commentary track) and wrap things up poignantly (before negating the effect with a smirk-at-the-camera final shot that seems to owe more to the de rigueur “it’s not over yet” horror film endings than a nod to the Hitchcock film’s final shot).
Both sequels made concessions to the slasher genre both with situations involving promiscuous young people – who did not even have to make a move on Norman himself to incur Mother’s anger – and in depictions of graphic violence, and PSYCHO III ups the gore quotient with slashed wrists and a wicked throat slitting (although most of Universal’s preceding eighties horror pics like THE THING and CAT PEOPLE had already upped the ante). Perkins’ direction and the cinematography of Bruce Surtees (DIRTY HARRY) are more concerned with mood than the hyper detail of Richard Franklin’s previous entry, with the murders casually referencing the set-pieces of the first film rather than entire camera movements and compositions recreating moments from the first film as well as Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre (and yet there are a handful of shots that are very cinematically Hitchcockian in content without appearing to reference specific films). Carter Burwell’s score features a fine harp and synth main theme that is more modern than the symphonic scores of the first two films but also more mournful – as suited to the drama at the heart of this horror film (that is until the end title reprise segues into a pop-oriented version) – but the rest of the score is rather bland from its synth stabs and shrieks to the whispered Latin chanting which seems ill-suited to the film despite its religious elements. PSYCHO production designer Henry Bumstead is on hand again, but the most striking elements of the film’s settings were already laid down in the first film (although he had to recreate the Bates Motel for the second film).
Shout’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer of PSYCHO III doesn’t look as good as Shout’s recent disc of the series’ second installment. The colors are rich when required and the use of gels is more pronounced, but the film just looks more made for cable than PSYCHO II (which actually went into production as a cable movie). What the enhanced resolution does reveal – although I haven’t seen the DVD in quite some time – is that the visual effects of Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor are less inspired and accomplished as those of Albert Whitlock on PSYCHO II (Dutton and Taylor had worked under Whitlock on several Universal productions like THE THING, CAT PEOPLE, GHOST STORY, and Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT). The matte paining of the sky behind the house is foreboding but rather static, and the recreation of the back-projection Arbogast death homage looks less convincing than it did in the original film (which is not to disparage their work in general, which includes the recreation of old New York in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and much more recently some traditional matte photography for Ridley Scott’s 2007 final cut of BLADE RUNNER). The audio is available in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo rendering of the Dolby Stereo soundtrack as well as a 5.1 remix. Both come to life during the music passages and the suspense sequences, but the original mix was never as detailed as that of the second film. English SDH subtitles are also included.
PSYCHO III’s array of extras is not only more numerous by also more interesting than those of Scream’s PSYCHO II. Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue appears on a commentary moderated by Michael Felsher, and reveals that he offered up two different pitches for PSYCHO III. The other one would have brought back Janet Leigh as a psychiatrist lookalike of Marion working with Norman after the trauma of the second film (whilst otherwise hitting the same beats as the finished film). He also reveals that early on in the development of the “runaway nun” version a certain prominent red herring character was actually meant to be the real killer (which actually would have been quite interesting given the actor's performance, particularly later in the film). He also had developed an idea for the fourth installment, which was very different from the eventual made-for-cable prequel (and Felsher correctly points out that Pogue’s concept would have been better received now then back then). The greatest challenge to the script was dealing with the Emma Spool storyline introduced in the second film. Pogue did not like how it messed with the original film’s mythology – although he concedes that it is otherwise a good film – and set about “un-spooling” – as Felsher quips – that aspect as part of his take on the series. When asked about the film’s religious iconography – a first in the series – Pogue admits that he’s not a religious person and that he is simply subscribing to the notion that real horror comes from repression; and the notion that the Bates Motel attracts lost souls (figuratively not supernaturally) like Norman and Maureen, and possibly even Duane.
Like PSYCHO II commentary moderator Robert Galluzzo, Felsher also remarks on the film’s ultimate sympathy towards Norman in that a seemingly “good” character – here Maxwell’s reporter – comes across as more villainous (not unlike the second film’s aggrieved Lila Loomis). Also like the previous films track, they also discuss the film’s concessions to the slasher trend, with Pogue and Perkins wanting to achieve the kill scenes through montage rather than showing actual wounds and being overruled (Pogue’s reasoning of including the homecoming revelers had less to do with that concession than just making it difficult for Norman to move and hide a body with the motel fully booked). Pogue also discusses working with Perkins as director and star, and the few moments in the film in which he disagreed with Perkins’ changes (although like Holland on the second film’s track, he reasons that Perkins knew the character better than he). Pogue was initially concerned that Perkins did not get his nourish approach to the script until Perkins invited him and the rest of the crew to a screening of the Coen Brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE which was very much in this film’s intended spirit.
Co-star Jeff Fahey appears in "Watch the Guitar" (16:48), a brand new interview in which the actor describes how he felt being asked to audition for PSYCHO II as his second studio film following SILVERADO (he had also been in an episode of the eighties run of ALRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS that ran for four seasons, but he doesn’t mention it). He memorized the script for his audition and was amazed at how Perkins could go in and out of character as Norman and as director. Of the shoot, he recalls being uncomfortable doing the sex scene as scripted, but that Perkins was flexible enough as a director to adapt his suggestions (although he also recalls Perkins being so in character as Norman that he missed his mark with the foam part of the guitar during the fight scene and Fahey had to get stitches). In an aside, he recalls Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez quoting his character’s lines on the set of GRINDHOUSE. In "Patsy's Last Night" actress Katt Shea (8:39) recalls being asked to audition on set opposite a shrub, being made up for her death scene, and how Perkins’ referred to her as his “leading lady”. She had intended PSYCHO III to be her last film as an actress – she also made Cirio H. Santiago’s THE DEVASTATOR the same year – before going into directing with STRIPPED TO KILL for Roger Corman (and using Michael Westmore – who she met on this film – to do the effects make-up).
In "Mother's Maker" special make-up effects artist Michael Westmore (11:11) – who comes from a renowned family of Hollywood make-up artists – reveals that he had apprenticed at Universal in the 1960s but left to work on independent films only to be called back to work on PSYCHO III because Perkins wanted a Universal team (which he of course got with returning production designer Bumstead, producer Hilton A. Green, cinematographer Surtees who had followed Clint Eastwood from Warner to Universal, assistant director Don Zepfel who had been a DGA trainee on Hithcock’s FAMILY PLOT). He felt less pressure in creating “mother” since she was a different character from the one in the original film and had not been dead as long. He discusses working on the effects for Maureen’s slit wrists and the latex mask for the body in the swamp (he does not discuss the appliances for Shea’s death scene, but perhaps that has been left out since it was covered in her interview). In "Body Double" (5:13) scream queen Brinke Stevens describes being typecast after SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (although she is glad to have worked constantly because of it), but that her role as Diana Scarwid’s body double came from a trade ad that her agent answered (she believes Scarwid would have done the nudity but was in New York doing a play during the reshoots). A theatrical trailer and TV spot (1:53) as well as a stills gallery rounds out the package. (Eric Cotenas)
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