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Toronto Star (27/Jun/1986) - Norman makes the Bates Motel worth visiting



Norman makes the Bates Motel worth visiting

"Could you tell me if there's an inexpensive place to spend the night around here?" the runaway nun (Diana Scarwid) inquires. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), owner and manager of the Bates Motel, perks up his eyes, ears, nose and mouth with that trademark mixture of high camp and low horror, and Psycho III (at the Canada Square and Varsity) is off and kidding around.

By now Norman, like King Kong or Frankenstein's monster, is the pop cultural artifact you love to hate, and Perkins knows it. He has replaced the air of boyish menace that he brought to Alfred Hitchcock's original Psycho, with a sly sense of parody.

Every time he opens his mouth he is winking at the audience. Which, I guess, is the only way to play it. By now we are all in on the joke: Norman thinks he's his mother, and if Psycho II let him get away with being what amounted to a good guy, Psycho III, which Perkins also directed, has no such intentions.

Besides, at this point Norman can get away with anything. Psycho itself remains the cheap haircut in the beauty salon of American cinema, a kind of cosmic black joke of the consciousness. Who could have guessed that a little black and white scare show, shot hurriedly and on the cheap, and generally despised by the critics of the time, would endure as not only Hitchcock's best known work, but also as one of the most imitated movies ever made?

Given Psycho's history, it is not wise to get too worked up by the excesses of this third installment. After all, Psycho is a movie that works to get you worked up.

Having said all this, Psycho III still manages on occasion to make you uneasy. You can't help but think that we are at the point in movie history where the only thing left is for someone to be murdered while going to the bathroom. Before you can say Bates Motel, someone, sure enough, is murdered while going to the bathroom. We have already had the famous shower scene. Is this to be the famous toilet bowl scene? One doubts it.

Perkins, when he isn't forcing you to avert your eyes from some of the most graphic violence since the last Friday The 13th movie, does all right as a director. He has a campy sense not only of the movie's history (he knows everyone has seen the original), but also of it's innate tackiness — the movie is in color, but everything, even the people, looks as though it could use a coat of paint (Perkins says you would never give a big budget to a Psycho film, and bless him, he's absolutely right).

There is a plot, concocted by screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, that involves the aforementioned runaway nun and a demon eyed, unemployed rock singer (Jeff Fahey, who was in Silverado). The nun looks suspiciously like the late Marian Crane, and is in possession of enough loose screws that she is actually attracted to Norman. However, true love and Norman Bates travel separate roads. Mom, hunkered into the gothic horror of a house on a hill, is never going to allow her boy to have sex.

The rock singer ends up working the desk at the Bates Motel. "I can't be stayin' around too long," he advises. "No one ever does," Norman replies. There is, to complicate things unnecessarily, a nosy journalist (Roberta Maxwell from CBC television's Airwaves) who doesn't believe Norman, released from the bug house after 20 years, has been transformed into a sweetly responsible member of the community. But all this is so much window dressing.

The main attraction here is Perkins as Norman Bates. He was still in his 20s and a rather callow juvenile lead when Hitchcock tapped him in 1960 for Norman. Approaching three decades later, the boyishness has hardened into gaunt quirkiness. The hollow black eyes dance right off the screen at you. And nobody twitches a mouth or a facial muscle with as much effectiveness as Perkins does. He may be the first actor in the history of movies, in fact, whose facial muscles are deserving of an Academy Award nomination. Even when the murders are too brutal, and the plot has run (usually momentarily) off on the wrong track, Perkins the director has the good sense to train his camera on Perkins the actor. In Pyscho III, one facial tic is worth a thousand words — and the price of admission.