The Friday Night Horror Movie: Psycho III (1986)

psycho iii poster

In 1987 there was a made-for-TV movie called Bates Motel (it has nothing to do with the more recent TV series of the same name except for the location and existence inside the Psycho Cinematic Universe). I was 11 when it came out, which seems young to be watching a Psycho movie, but it aired on NBC so it must have been deemed safe to watch by my parents.

I don’t remember anything about it except that I loved it, and that it briefly made me obsessed with all things Psycho. I’d never seen the original Hitchcock film or any of its sequels, but I certainly knew about them as they were part of the cultural zeitgeist. Sometime later Psycho III came on some basic cable channel late on a Friday or Saturday night. I don’t think I started it from the beginning but found it while flipping channels and stayed.

I don’t remember anything about it either, and in fact, didn’t realize it was Psycho III until tonight while watching it. What I do remember is a scene in which a pretty young thing does a sexy dance in a motel room while a young Jeff Fahey watches on. He’s naked while sitting in a chair holding a lamp in each hand, wielding one like a sword, or rather like a giant, misshapen cock.

It was about that time when my mother, who must have been watching the film in her bedroom, called out that I should turn the channel. I guess I wasn’t deemed old enough to be watching that one.

I’m not entirely sure why I decided to watch Psycho III tonight, all these years later except that I recently was surprised by how good Psycho II is, and thought maybe this one might surprise me as well.

It isn’t exactly bad, but it is exactly what one might expect from the third sequel in a 1980s horror franchise. It is darker and sleazier than the previous films but unlike Psycho II it has no interest in really empathizing with Norman Bates (though Anthony Perkins’ performance is still quite sympathetic).

The plot picks up soon after the events of the last film. Norman is still running the Bates Motel, and the corpse of Emma Spool has been preserved and speaks to Norman as his mother. Fahey plays a skeezy drifter who takes a job at the hotel.

The film opens with a woman screaming “There is No God” and then it fades in to Maureen (Diana Scarwid), a nun shouting that line again” while staring up at an icon of the Virgin Mary. She then tries to kill herself by throwing herself off the top of a bell tower, in a scene that resembles a similar moment in Vertigo.

The film was directed by Anthony Perkins and he fills the screen with references to the original film and other Hitchcock movies.

Maureen is kicked out of the convent and finds herself staying at the Bates Motel. She and Norman hit it off while Fahey generally acts like a dick. There’s also a journalist who thinks Norman may still be killing people, or at least probably killed Emma Spool.

Meanwhile, Norman is still killing people. Mostly pretty girls who turn him on. Mother doesn’t like that, you know?

There is no depth to the film, it doesn’t attempt to make Norman’s killings a mystery. It is very much a 1980s horror film with some pretty good kills, some really great lighting, and quite a bit of sex and nudity. As such it is pretty good. As the second sequel to one of the all-time great horror films (and the regular sequel to a pretty darn good horror film in its own right), it is disappointing.

I can’t decide if I want to watch Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), but I definitely want to track down Bates Hotel now.

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