Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PSYCHO III (1986) Collector's Edition

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, John Fahey
Director: Anthony Hopkins
Tagline: Norman Bates is back to normal. But Mother's off her rocker again. 

Psycho III begins with a nun (Diana Scarwid) screaming "There is no God!" and one might assume this is a commentary on yet another sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) but you would be mistaken. In fact the first sequel to the iconic film is actually a pretty fantastic watch despite the odds and Universal soon began filming a second sequel with Anthony Perkins in the directing chair and a script by Charles Edward Pogue (Cronenberg's The Fly) based on characters created by Robert Bloch, but not on Bloch's own sequel novelization.

Anyway, back to the film we have the Nun (Diana Scarwid, Rumble Fish) suffering through a spiritual crisis attempting suicide at the top of a bell tower, this whole scenario smacked of the finale to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), and while she is unsuccessful in her bid for death she does accidentally send the Mother Superior plummeting to her own demise... oops. Packing her suitcase she leaves the Nunnery and wanders the desert until she is picked-up by wandering musician Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey, Planet Terror) who attempts to have his way with the pretty lady but when she puts up s fuss, pissed off he kicks her to the curb during a torrential down pour in the middle of the desert.

As fate would have it the two both end up at Bates Motel where Duane is offered an assistant manager position by Norman which we viewers know was left vacant in pt.2, Dennis Franz's character taking a knife across the face. It's a nice touch when Duane tells Norman he doesn't plan to stay in the position long to which Bates replies "No one ever does". The Nun, whose name is Maureen, catches the attention of Norman back at the greasy spoon diner from the previous film, she bares a striking resemblance to Norman's most famous victim, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and even shares the same initials "M.C." which Norman spots on her luggage, disturbed by the strange encounter Norman flees the diner only to find that Maureen has taken a room at the Motel, in the very same room as Marion Crane.

From here the film draws several parallels to the first film as Norman expectantly begins to lose his mind and does Mother's bidding, in fact when he peeps Maureen in the shower through his favorite spy-hole Mother attempts to repeat certain events we are well familiar with but when the shower curtain is pulled back to deliver the fatal blow the young woman has already slit her own wrists, in her odd state of mind Maureen envisions the Virgin Mary holding a cross instead of Norman in drag with a butcher's knife. At this point Norman snaps back to reality and saves Maureen's life, afterward a relationship ensues but Mother's none too pleased with this turn of events, stirring things up even more is tabloid reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell, The Changeling) who arrives to investigate the disappearance of an elderly waitress from the diner, those who saw the first sequel know quite well what happened to her, and so too does Tracy. 

This is a pretty sleazy entry, it's a bit darker tonally, it's more sexually exploitative and the kills are a bit more gruesome, I really enjoyed all these elements. Not sure what I was expecting from Perkins turns as director (his first of just two) but it feels assured. Much as with the previous sequel the deaths here are very slasher-esque, one woman seated on a toilet unexpectedly has her throat slashed, it's great stuff with lots of blood, as is a payphone booth kill of a young slut played by Juliette Cummings of Slumber Party Massacre, neat. Another murder features someone getting their head smashed in with a guitar, a nightmarish follow-up sequence ensues as Norman attempts to dispose of the body but instead ends up in the swamp himself, I really do love the amped-up slasher tendencies that the sequels bring to the franchise. 

Perkins is fantastic as Bates, Fahey in an interview on the disc talks about how uncanny it was to work with Perkins who would snap into character in a split second, it's quite obvious the character was near and dear to the actor and it shows in his nuanced performances as both the troubled son and vengeful mother, one fantastic touch is during a particularly brutal scene Mother takes a second to straighten a crooked picture on the staircase, it's a small moment but I loved it. Fahey is fantastic as the sleazy musician Duane, he exudes a dangerous and sexy charm, and is the perfect replacement for Toomey (Franz) from the first sequel, plus Scarwid is admirable as the spiritually troubled nun as is Maxwell as the nosy reporter, another fun sequel that rises to the challenge with a great cast who bring their a-game. 

Of course, there are the prerequisite nods to the first film including bringing out the iconic black and white shower scene yet again, a skewed re-creation of that very same scene and a tragic version of the staircase death. There's also an underlying sense of dark comedy at play, check out the ice machine scene, it's a very sly film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a slasher fan there's just not much I didn't like about the film, this is fun stuff, sure it's a bit cheap when compared to Hitchcock's original but when taken on it's own merits in context of the period I thinks it's pretty great, it's not a classic horror thriller, but it's a fun sleazy slasher. 

Blu-ray: Scream Factory bring Psycho III (1983) to Blu-ray with an MPEG4-AVC encode and it looks quite nice on par with what we saw with Psycho II with a nice layer of fine film grain and strong colors, the blacks look just great which is good for us, this is a very dark film. sourced from a great looking print I am quite happy with what we get in the video department, a very pleasing 1080p hi-def image with good contrast. 

The DTS-HD Master Audio options include both the original stereo mix and a newly minted 5.1 and it's a very nice surround audio presentation with some nice use of the surrounds. Dialogue, Carter Burwell's score plus sound effects are clean and well-balanced, it's a very nice audio presentation that offers both the original stereo and a 5.1 mix that makes nice use of the surround system. 

This set features a few more extras than what we found on the Psycho II disc beginning with a commentary with Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue moderated by Michael Felscher of Red Shirt Pictures and it's a great anecdotal commentary, even speaking poorly of Holland's script for Psycho 2, his reasoning doesn't quite wash as his own script strays from the original quite a bit. There about 42 minutes worth of interviews with actors Jeff Fahey and Katt Shea and Special Make-Up Effects Creator Michael who fondly recalls his time at Universal and returning to work on this sequel, also interview is 80's scream queen Brinke Stevens who was a body double for Diana Scarwid on this film. The Jeff Fahey interview is great, this was an early and important role for the up and coming star, he has many great memories of the cast and his time on-set. 

Scream Factory doesn't offer reversible artwork this time around but we do get a slipcover featuring the theatrical artwork of Norman offering a room key shaped like a dagger. 

Special Features:
- New Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue
- Watch The Guitar – New interview with Actor Jeff Fahey (16:49)
- Patsy’s Last Night – New interview with Actress Katt Shea (8:40)
- Mother’s Maker – interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Michael Westmore (11:12)
- Body Double – interview with Brinke Stevens (5:14)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:54) 

- Still gallery (8:17) 

Verdict: Psycho III (1986) is a fun character study of Norman Bates with some effectively grisly 80's slasher style tendencies, it has a dark vein of humor that I appreciated and some inspired nods to the original film, plus some entertaining exploitative elements, which might turn off some but I loved it. I give this a high recommend to 80's slasher fans, if you haven't watched either of the sequels I would dare say they're required viewing, if not you're missing out. Scream Factory offer up the film with a great hi-def presentation and some value-added extras, what's not to like?  3.5 Outta 5