Psycho III

I’m going into this review of Psycho III without much of any preconceived notion. After Norman put his new version of Mother (Emma Spoole) in her rocking chair, where do we go from here? Turns out, this installment is not half bad in terms of storyline and the incorporation of new characters.

The movie opens with a new character, Maureen, having an existential religious crisis of sorts as she almost commits suicide by throwing herself out of the bell tower window of a convent. She’s apparently a nun-in-training, but something’s happened to make her believe no God exists. Since she can’t handle this idea, death seems the only way out. The other nuns stop her from killing herself, but not before one of them falls to her death on the inside of the tower. Sadly, the remaining ones blame Maureen even though it was an accident–yelling at her that she’ll burn in hell for this. Not much sympathy there.

As Maureen (understandably) packs it in and walks away from the convent, we see she looks a hell of a lot like Marion Crane from Psycho I. Same short blonde hair and the same situation of running away from something. And another “M” name, along with Mary from Psycho II and the infamous character from the original. All of these women have “M” names, same first letter as “Mother.” Coincidence? Again, I highly doubt it.

Maureen evidently doesn’t have much in the way of an exit plan, since she hikes through the California high desert until she gets to the highway and starts hitchhiking. Classic horror movie device: hitch-hiking never ends well for anyone.

Another key new character quickly shows up and gives Maureen a ride: the fallen-away Catholic guitar player named Dwayne “Friends just call me Duke.” I can’t help but like this guy at first; he’s chatty, friendly, kind of self-effacing and seems harmless. He gives Maureen some water (vital in the desert) and clears some of the mess out of the way in his car, trying to make her more comfortable.

“Goin’ to LA to be a rock and roll star.”

The worst kind of car trouble is indeed “no car.” LOL at least in the desert.

The scenery of the desert is also quite pretty as Duke and Maureen drive through into the night. Recalling more of Psycho I, a heavy downpour starts to fall. Duke intends for them to sleep in the car until it stops. He also has something else in mind. The dude might be nice, but he still apparently lets one of his two heads take over. “No” means “No”, buddy.

“You could’ve been coming instead of going!”

So the tool kicks Maureen out of the car, where she starts sobbing once again. As much as I have some sympathy for Maureen, she also needs to toughen up a little and grow something of a backbone. Sobbing will get you nowhere in this kind of situation. Unbeknownst to Maureen until daylight, she’s been kicked out not far from the Bates Motel.

Norman’s got a “Help Wanted” sign in the front office window, and the place hasn’t lost its decrepit charm. There’s a shot of Mary’s old book, “In the Belly of the Beast” lying forgotten among some leaves and sticks. Nice touch referencing Psycho II.

Norman has a new way of getting taxidermy animals, as he’s poisoned the birdhouse out front and picks up the birds as soon as they die and fall out of it. He’s also stated doing his taxidermy on the kitchen table, something Norma never would’ve allowed. We also see a newspaper clip reporting Emma Spoole’s disappearance, as Norman has a flashback to what really happened to her.

Pretty creepy moment: when the bag starts jumping with a bird that Norman didn’t know was still alive.

Norman’s not alone for long as Duke honks the horn and asks about the “Help Wanted” sign. He hires Duke as assistant manager, a gig that comes with a free room. Big difference: Norman says he just lives up at the house with himself alone, not with Mother.

Turns out that Psycho III takes place only a month after the last events of Psycho II transpired. Emma Spoole had worked at the same diner Norman once did, and she never missed a day of work until she went missing. People still have her disappearance as their main topic of small-town gossip. That is, when they’re not gossiping about Norman. No one seems in any hurry to find out what happened to Ms. Spoole; it’s just “beats the hell out of me.”

“Rumours and innuendo have caused that boy enough trouble.”

The sheriff and diner owner are quick to defend Norman against Tracy the reporter, who’s doing a piece on the insanity defense. And Norman makes for a prime interviewee. He soon gets distracted by the sight of Maureen being dropped off at the diner, as she’d hitched a ride with a trucker. Norman has some great, thought-provoking dialogue here about how “the past is never really past.” It could just as easily apply to the story arc of Bates Motel.

Some great visuals as Norman flashes back to the death of Marion Crane as he watches Maureen leaning over from the counter stool where she’s sat down. Marion’s black-and-white face morphs into the color one of Maureen, which I think looks pretty cool, FX-wise. We definitely get the point that she reminds him a lot of his long-ago victim. Maybe this time, Norman can set things right.

Maureen quickly comes to represent some form of redemption for Norman Bates, and I think the filmmakers did a good job handling this concept. It starts out with him simply wanting to help her, giving her a motel room and making sure Duke the new manager doesn’t try any more funny stuff with her.

But the sense of hope doesn’t last long or come easy. Norman freaks out when he sees that Duke gave Maureen cabin #1, and he thinks the M.C. initials on her suitcase mean that Marion’s back from the dead. Our hopes that Mother’s gone are quickly dashed as Norman has an argument with Emma Spoole’s corpse, which is now seated by her bedroom window.

“I’ll always be with you, Norman. Always.” As it goes in the Psycho movies, this sounds more menacing and threatening than anything else.

Norman’s going to fight back against Mother this time, though. He refuses to kill Maureen and promises he’ll stop Mother from taking over him as before.

For an aspiring rock musician, Duke has some odd taste in the synth-heavy 1980s instrumental stuff he plays on the jukebox in the bar he stops in. Norman’s meanwhile alone with his thoughts of murder and the screams that only he can hear. He goes back to watching through the hole in the wall once again, as Maureen gets undressed and showers. Or at least it looks like she’s about to take a shower.

Turns out, Maureen’s slashed her wrists in a hot bath that’s turned red with blood by the time Norman-as-Mother pulls back the shower curtain. Instead of killing her, he saves her. Mother lost this time. Maureen’s so out of it that she has a vision of him as Mary the Mother of Jesus, and she mistakes the knife for a crucifix. Even more of a tie-in to this movie’s theme of redemption. Maureen believes she’s been redeemed from her spiritual crisis and her attempts at suicide. In another way, she’s going to serve as Norman’s shot at redemption.

“Do you know who saved you?”

Norman gets Maureen to the hospital, where he hears how the despair for her was overwhelming but she’s still grateful for what he did. Norman then gets to throw it in Mother’s face that Maureen didn’t die. Back at the motel, Duke’s brought home a one-night stand who later comes back out to struggle with the locked ice machine. She meets Norman as a result, and he tells her that the arguing from the house was just the TV turned up loud.

Duke sure hasn’t wasted any time changing up his room decor, either. The night of passion is short-lived, and yes–Duke is in fact a shitheel in the romance department. Who changes their unside-out sweater in a phone booth when she has nothing on underneath? This proves to be a stupid move as Mother gets rid of her.

Predictably we get the “Oh god, Mother! Blood!” line from Norman. I think that could be switched up a little because it’s par for the course when Norman blacks out and Mother takes over. Just sayin’.

Duke leaves his cabin #12 the next morning to find Norman scrubbing down the phone booth. Meanwhile, Maureen talks to a priest/psychiatrist about what drove her to suicide. She couldn’t go through with becoming a nun due to normal “cravings for the flesh.” Norman then brings her home to the motel as the Fairvale homecoming crowd tries to get them both to come to a football party.

Maureen sees that Norman’s had her conservative dresses cleaned, which is pretty sweet. He also makes an attempt at a complement: “You’d look swell in that one tonight.”

Tracy meanwhile digs through Emma Spoole’s old apartment before finding the Bates Motel’s phone number written on a magazine cover. Not the best idea to crank-call Norman, after what happened in the last movie.

Norman taking Maureen on a date is one of my favorite parts of this movie. He still doesn’t really get that mentioning his mother over and over is not exactly the most romantic thing to do, but at least he’s trying. Trying to make some attempt at a normal relationship with a normal–if rather troubled–woman.

They get back to the motel in the midst of yet another rain storm, and Maureen catches a lightning-flash glance of Mother in the house’s upstairs window. She blames it on the wine and invites Norman back into her room. They end up falling asleep without having sex, and Norman goes back to the house before Maureen wakes up.

“Will you leave me alone, Mother?!”

He made a couple of steps forward, but he still can’t escape Mother. Norman struggles harder than we’ve seen before, as he refuses to give Mother the knife and refuses to give into her demands to kill Maureen. He insists Maureen go back to her room and lock the door–protecting her from himself.

Norman-as-Mother goes and kills another girl instead, another one of the drunken partiers from the motel. He returns from the black-out and has to hide the corpse from the rest of the motel guests–in a rather compromising position.

Maureen wakes up the next day to sirens as the sheriff and Tracy come looking for the missing girl. Norman also gets more upset than in the past about being the first one the cops think of when someone goes missing. He runs up to Mother’s room, but Mother inexplicably isn’t there. Someone’s corpse is stashed in the ice machine, and it’s pretty gross to see the sheriff taking bloody ice cubes out while ranting at Tracy to “lay off the Nancy Drew horseshit.”

Another twist: Maureen vouches for Norman, saying he was with her all night. She knows the truth about him now, and it’s rather sad how she leaves to go stay with the priest, as Norman waves good-bye.

Norman’s not the only insane one here, possibly less insane than Duke turns out to be. Duke’s gotten the very stupid idea to grab Mother’s corpse and take her down to cabin #12. The first shot we see of the corpse face: freaky as hell! And Duke’s expression is arguably even freakier.

Duke wants to blackmail Norman, which is an extremely idiotic move. No one messes with the Bates family like this. Duke ends up getting a lamp smashed over his head, after which Norman runs his hand over the nude magazine cut-outs while talking about how Mother can’t help what she does–creepy to the nth degree!

Tracy meanwhile tracks down the former diner owner who might have more information on Emma Spoole. He’s pretty senile though, so not much headway there. As usual, Norman cleans up the mess back at the motel, with two corpses to get rid of before he can come back for Mother. Duke still isn’t dead though, attacking Norman on the way to the swamp. Another fairly dumb move, as they all end up in the water and sinking fast in the car.

Norman gets out and has to swim through a tangle of weeds, as well as more corpses at the bottom. This is one experience that actually makes him scream, another first. Maureen’s meanwhile returned to the Bates house, telling Norman that she understands him, that he’s good even though he took a life.

Mother screams Norman’s name, startling them both and causing Maureen to fall down the stairs. Her head gets impaled on a cupid statue arrow. Darkly fitting for this kind of love the two of them might have had. Norman cries and screams in rage at Mother. He’s no longer complacent with her, and he swears, “I’ll get you for this, Mother!”

A tragic twist that really was an accident this time. I didn’t want Maureen to die. Possibly Norman’s last chance at some kind of redemption just died with her.

In a weirdly beautiful set-up, Norman hangs on to Maureen’s body, placing her on the sofa like most people would with a casket, lighting candles everywhere.

Tracy finally gets exactly why she should’ve stopped poking around for answers. She gets into the Bates house and sees both Maureen and Mother. This is the first time we see Norman speak right on camera in Mother’s voice, along with being dressed as Mother. More of the very creepy taken to another level. Tracy screams out the truth at Norman–that Emma Spoole was crazy and not his real mother, though she had delusions she was.

We think Norman’s going to stab Tracy, but he doesn’t. He snaps out of being Mother and starts stabbing Mother’s corpse in a rage instead, spilling sawdust everywhere. The voice in his head finally withers and dies out.

Norman’s going to be locked up again, possibly forever. But it’s okay…because he’ll be free, free from Mother. Or so he says. The final chilling shot has him stroking Mother’s dismembered arm in his lap. We also get a look at him that seems frighteningly similar to the parting shot of him at the end of “The Immutable Truth.”

I like Psycho III more than II. It’s got some depth, some good storyline and some thought-provoking underlying themes. It also has plenty of frightening/gross/disturbing moments that make it a pretty good horror movie all on its own. Some of it hasn’t aged that well, but it still gets the job done.

The music score for Psycho III is by Carter Burtwell, who’s done a ton of scores for a lot of different movies. To me, the score in Psycho III is a creepy reminder of another freaky head-trip of a mid-1980s movie called Crimes of Passion, which Anthony Perkins also played a crazy-to-the-hilt character in. I won’t spoil it for you; go look it up on IMBD if you’re really curious.

My final word on Psycho III: “So I don’t have the guts, huh?”