The Psycho franchise is a weird one. Such a weird one in fact that most people don’t remember it as a franchise at all, its subsequent efforts all living in the shadow of its original. And yet, when one does take the time to take a peak in the darkness, there are definitely some interesting things to be found (side note: I’ve always liked how the word “interesting” doesn’t carry within itself any positive or negative value. It’s what my art teacher used to call my projects.) After the surprising thoughtfulness and compassion of Psycho II, we could have expected the same spirit from the follow-up that came out three years later. To say that the film is completely devoid of these things would be false — however, the way it decides to treat most of its themes is relentlessly odd. For the most part, it is a pretty entertaining ride. That is, of course, until it’s not.
One of the most noticeable thing about the film is simultaneously its biggest advantage and its downfall. Anthony Perkins is for the first time in the director’s chair, and every single aspect of the film is deeply influenced by that fact. Perkins loves Norman. I don’t have time for pseudo-analysis of whether that is a genuine love for what is indeed a fascinating character or a nostalgia for his most acclaimed role; it’s probably a little bit of both, but in the end, it doesn’t matter (© Linkin Park). What matters is not the reason, but the consequence: this is a film that gives everything to Norman (before, of course, taking it away from him again. Hey, it’s Psycho not the Looney Tunes!). Not only that, it gives him everything he had in the original — and more. A new Mother figure ? Check. A pretty girl that looks like Marion ? Check. That same girl actually falling in love with him ? Alright, I can deal with that !
While Norman and Mary’s relationship in Psycho II definitely had some ambiguity attached to it, this is the first time that Bates has an explicit love interest. She comes in the form of Maureen Coyle, a former nun suffering from depression. It is in the moments the two share that the film leans closest to the sympathetic depiction of its protagonist it had introduced previously. As the world rejects them both because of their mental instability, they find solace in each other’s company. While the representation of mental illness in the film lacks the subtlety of previous installments (maybe the real cure to depression… was love?), it is still there that the film shines.
Unfortunately, aside from these touching moments, the film often tries to be too much at once. The film tries so much to replicate the first one, sometimes repeating dialogue lines word for word, while never reaching the same level of greatness. By returning to the basics without the material to do so, Psycho III ends up shooting itself in the foot, constantly drawing comparisons to its much superior original. The few elements of originality even start to fade out after a while: Maureen is essentially a Mary 2.0, and the other new characters are clearly just there to be despicable and eventually be killed. At some point, the film tries to be both psychological thriller and classic 80s slasher, and by trying to be both at once, it just becomes incredibly muddled. It’s not really scary, nor funny, and if we are sad, it is mostly because of all the potential that has been wasted rather than due to anything unfolding on the screen.
It is slightly disappointing that Perkins’ direction talents are nowhere near his acting abilities; however, the latter does make the film watchable through all the confusion. Through the years, he has truly come to love the tragic serial killer, and it shows in all of his scenes. Even when he is delivering nonsensical lines, his charisma is everywhere on the screen. Jeff Fahey also deserves a mention — he’s one of the most despicable characters of the film, but God is he convincing at it. While the other performances are nowhere near as remarkable, all of the actors are given enough room to be convincing. While Perkins has trouble settling for a tone, the rare scenes where he does find its footings can be more than anxiety inducing. Add to this some great cinematography and a few ridiculous scenes and what you get is far from being awful — just disappointing considering what the Psycho franchise first promised it would be. It’s very easy to love Perkins as Bates, but his efforts behind the camera unfortunately just couldn’t live up to his and our expectations.