Anthony Perkins still remembers the afternoon sun slanting into Alfred Hitchcock’s Paramount office the day Hitch told him a story about a girl who stole some money, visited a rundown motel, and met the taxidermist proprietor. Perkins liked the “underplayed” script, but it wasn’t until Hitchcock told the story—“and he could tell a yarn very well”—that Perkins decided to take the role that has since become his most famous.
Perkins was in Seattle recently on a publicity tour for Psycho III, the latest installment in the saga of Norman Bates, the largely hapless motel-keeper who suffers from the cinema’s most celebrated mother complex. This time out, Perkins directed the film, too—his feature debut.
Norman has stayed with Perkins, even though the actor has played a broad range of roles, on film and stage, throughout his career. At times the identification was annoying. “I just got a little fed up,” Perkins says. “I found it hard to believe people couldn’t remember any other films I’d ever done.”
To get the chance to direct Psycho III (II was directed by Australian Richard Franklin) Perkins made an irresistible pitch to the moneymen. “I said, ‘Look, who are you going to get? These are my terms for acting in the movie, and I would throw in the directing for free.’”
Universal Pictures took the deal, and in fact Perkins proves himself exactly the right choice as director. He sprinkles in just enough Hitchcockian homages—a few lines of dialogue, a few camera angles. The opening sequence, in a bell tower, is a nod to Vertigo. Frenzy and The Birds are also acknowledged.
Perkins was faithful to Hitchcock’s rule against overt violence. Just as the knife never touched Janet Leigh’s body in the shower sequence in Psycho, so the violence is mostly suggested in Psycho III, although a good amount of blood is spilled.
And the novice director eschewed special effects: “We didn’t have any wires, no exaggeration of effects. We didn’t depend on any of that. We wanted to be as naïve and undeveloped about our action sequences as possible.”
Besides, “You can’t overdo what’s been done,” Perkins says, citing John Carpenter’s The Thing as the point-of-no-return for gross-out effects.
Psycho III received a wildly enthusiastic response from a full house at the Seattle International Film Festival in May. Perkins seemed genuinely pleased by the reception, and he was thrilled by the informal film criticism offered by his limousine driver, who likened the movie to grand opera in its dramatic movements and tone.
Perkins would like to direct again. In fact, he turned down one potential job to follow through on the Psycho III publicity campaign. He felt that, after spending a year on the film, he couldn’t abandon it early: “There’s altogether too much entertainment in the world,” he says, “and the more awareness people have that there is something called Psycho III, the better.”
As for directing, Perkins says, “It’s a great job. Andy Warhol was wrong”—referring to Warhol’s prediction that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes—“in the future, everybody will want to direct a film. It’s inimitable. I recommend it.”
He says he looks for the emotional potency of a movie: “I’m not much of a head-type. I don’t want to mix my entertainment with being lectures; I like movies that get people to feel things rather than think things. I would look for a script that gets the blood moving.”
As long as the Psycho series survives, it’s safe to predict that the latter qualification will be met—in a couple of different ways.
First published in The Herald, July 1986
A cherished memory, this interview, and what isn’t included in this article was all the great stuff we talked about in the course of a thoughtful hour. The man was jittery, as expected, and articulate. (One random memory: He talked about Orson Welles scolding Claude Chabrol on the set of Ten Days Wonder because Chabrol wasn’t lighting the actors in a flattering enough way: “You’ve got to take care of the actors!”) My review of Psycho III is here (I say in my postscript there that I would never watch the movie again, but I did, for a lecture about the afterlife of Psycho; and yeah, it was a bit of a letdown, although the limo driver with the grand-opera comment was not far off the mark.)