Color, 1986, 93 mins.

Directed by Anthony Perkins

Starring Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin / Written by Charles Edward Pogue / Music by Carter Burwell / Cinematography by Bruce Surtees

Format: DVD - Goodtimes (MSRP $19.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital 4.0

Following the surprise box office and critical success of Psycho II, a film no one thought could be done, Universal set the wheels in motion for a third installment. While Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin had done an efficient job helming the sequel, Anthony Perkins, a man who knew the ins and outs of Norman Bates better than anyone else, took charge of the next film. For a number of reasons, audiences and critics were puzzled and underwhelmed by the results, but in retrospect, Psycho III is by far the most audacious and striking follow up to the classic 1960 film.

"There is no God!" howls the anguished voice of Maureen Coyle, a young nun, in the moody pre-credits sequence. Poised at the top of a mission bell tower, she plans to commit suicide by leaping to her death. Meanwhile, a group of nuns gather behind her and plead for her to reconsider. One of the sisters accosts Maureen and winds up falling through the wooden railing, several stories down to her death (a nice homage to Vertigo). Banished into the desert with only a suitcase in hand, Maureen catches a ride with Duane (Jeff Fahey, in a good sleazy role for once), a lowlife driving to California with dreams of becoming a musician. When Duane gets a little too friendly, Maureen bolts off into the night. Duane arrives at the Bates Motel, where Norman (Perkins) takes him on as a cashier and assistant. Meanwhile, Norman goes to the local diner at which he worked in the previous film and has an impromptu chat with Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), a reporter investigating the repurcussions of Norman's release from the sanitarium. During their interview, Norman notices Maureen walking into the diner -- and she bears a striking resemblance to someone from the first film whose initials were also M.C. Norman allows Maureen to stay in Cabin No. 1 for free; however, when his old instincts kick in and he bursts in on Maureen in the bathtub, he gets a nasty surprise.

To reveal more of the plot would be unthinkable, but Psycho III offers a number of startling twists and turns which remain consistent with the Norman Bates persona established in the prior films while introducing a number of intriguing, damaged new characters. Norman's pitiful attempts at establishing a romance with Maureen are extremely well handled, right down to the unexpected use of that Cupid statue in Mother's house. While the studio insisted on adding some gory violence to a couple of sideline murder sequences as well as a more open ending, Perkins handled the demands with bravura, even including an unexpected homage to Dario Argento's Tenebrae in the phone booth scene. Sensitively acted and laced with a fine dose of black humor, the film really deserves a much better reputation than it currently enjoys, though a small cult following has justifiably been building over the years. While the relentlessly dark, uncompromising aspects of this film certainly won't appeal to everyone, the utter critical dismissal of this film is bewildering; for example, Leonard Maltin claims it plays Norman "strictly for laughs," as drastic a misreading of the film as one could imagine. Technical aspects of the film are remarkable, especially considering Perkins' lack of previous experience as a director; the dark, beautiful chiaroscuro photography puctuated with colorful flashes of saturated neon lighting is a complete departure from the hard edged look of the other Psycho films. Best of all, Carter Burwell's magnificent, terrifying, and haunting score (written right after his work on Blood Simple) adds immensely to the skewed atmosphere of putrefecation and tortured love; MCA sorely needs to give it an overdue release on CD. On the downside, viewers must have seen the other two films in order to make sense of several major story points, and even so, Maxwell's frantic climactic explanation (sort of like Simon Oakland's psychiatric speech in the first film, only a lot more hysterical) remains a little hard to follow.

Goodtimes' DVD finally presents Psycho III in its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Filmed with a hard matte, the film has looked terrible on every other home video version, with only the opening credits letterboxed. In contrast to the dull laserdisc, the DVD looks much more colorful and detailed, while the improved composition restores several intriguing camera setups missing since its brief theatrical release. The standard Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been greatly improved, with clearer separation and deeper bass. Image quality is just a tad on the dark side, not really a bad thing considering the look of the film. The compression job looks fine, much more than can be said for Goodtimes' edition of Psycho II. Also includes the original U.S. trailer.

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