Director: Anthony Perkins
Writer: Charles Edward Pogue
Release Year: 1986
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
The film opens with novice nun Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) accidentally causing the death of another nun in a scene swiped from . She decides to leave the order and catches a ride with general-purpose sleazebag Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). After being left alone on the road, she finds her way to an out-of-the-way motel run by an interesting man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)….
Aside from the prologue, this film picks up from the end of with all the idiocy that film inserted still intact. Where the previous sequel tried as hard as possible to keep true to the tension and thrills that Hitchcock had made such good use of in the original, this one has a lighter touch. There are knowing references to the original as well as Hitchcock’s other works (like as mentioned above). This film has a good time with it as when Maureen apologizes to Norman for leaving the bathroom a mess after her suicide attempt and he says “I’ve seen it worse”. Maybe it was Perkins’ work on with Ken Russell a few years earlier that led him to this approach, but regardless of why it is a major step up from the previous sequel.
The plot of this film parallels the original in many ways. Maureen Coyle has the same initials as Marion Crane, Diana Scarwid bears a resemblance to Janet Leigh, and she is on the run from her past misdeeds, and, like Marion Crane, Norman provides her with some redemption (before he kills her). Maureen’s accidental killing of the nun hangs heavily over her, more than the theft did for Marion Crane, and so she decides to make this motel the last place she ever sees. After she slashes her wrists in the bathtub and Norman comes in dressed as ‘mother’ their minds are both shocked, she thinks that mother is a vision of Mary while Norman is brought to his senses long enough to get her some help.
This redemption theme, which was present in the original film, plays out here in an extended and much more bitter fashion than Hitchcock went for. These two people could potentially save each other as Norman was able to resist mother’s influence against this poor girl while she is sensitive (or naïve) enough to believe that she can fix Norman. What is not clear, however, is how seriously the script takes the concept of redemption: it seems to be almost an ironic parody here. Just as it appears that Maureen is able to accept Norman for who he is and love him, something that he’s never experienced, she falls to her death (much like Arbogast in the original) with the coup de grâce delivered by the arrow of a statue of cupid; that is, death by love.
There are a couple of other notable set-pieces in this film. When Norman has to watch as Sheriff John Hunt (Hugh Gillin) obliviously sucks on some ice coated in the blood of one of mother’s victims is a moment of tense comedy. Norman realizes that he could be caught at any second, but it plays out like a scene from a situation comedy, the jarring contrast is rather fun. Another worthwhile bit is the scene in which Norman attempts to dispose of Duane Duke’s seemingly-dead body in the swamp. Duke awakens and objects to being drowned like an unwanted cat and so they fight as the car sinks into the swamp. Norman who does the killing this time—in defense of his mother—as he holds Duke’s head underwater with his foot, then struggles to escape from the dark water.
None of these scenes would have been as powerful without the cinematography, superior to the previous sequel. Bruce Surtees, who also lensed , , , and really does some fine work here. Every shot is framed beautifully and light and shadow are used as well as in any classic film noir, the scene at the top of the stairs when Maureen comes to Norman is a perfect example as Norman looks like nothing so much as a dark shape leaving his identity (Norman or mother) uncertain before he steps forward. Compared to the lackadaisical work on the previous sequel—which is odd considering that Dean Cundey, who is normally very good, worked on that one—this film is gorgeous. Oddly, the same is true of the score, Jerry Goldsmith‘s work on the previous film is not as good as Carter Burwell‘s work on this sequel.
We are treated to more nudity than in both previous films put together and better special effects makeup than the previous sequel offered. This film seems much more frantic than the previous two as Norman-as-mother kills women who are too sexually active and almost at random. The reason for this seeming randomness is that Norman is resisting mother’s commands to kill this time because Maureen means too much to him after he saves her life. This means that mother-as-Norman is frustrated at his attraction to another woman and takes out her rage on anyone handy. The role of moralistic woman is instead taken by Roberta Maxwell as Tracy Venable who, like Lila Loomis in the previous film, tries to bring Norman to some kind of justice and, again like Lila Loomis in the first film, manages to come across Norman in his home and survive.
There is an element of fatalism to the whole sordid affair as Norman sees his worst fear, Maureen Coyle as the pseudo-Marion Crane, wander back into his life. Seeing her look and her suitcase during their initial meeting at the diner disturbs him quite a bit. When Norman finds that Maureen is staying at the motel, in cabin 1, he knows that forces have conspired against him. Finally, the attraction that he feels for her brings out mother, but mother gets stymied the first time. Not the second time though, mother startles Norman enough so that he knocks her down the stairs, killing her. This time, Norman’s disobedience means that mother has to punish him by having him kill Maureen rather than doing it herself.