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Score: PSYCHO III (1986) - Carter Burwell

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PSYCHO III (1986) – Music Composed By Carter Burwell - Intrada Records 2-CD set


I still remember when I watched Psycho III for the first time in the late 80’s after having loved Psycho II.

One of the aspects I liked the most on Psycho II was Goldsmith’s score. It captured in its theme both the sense of innocence and tragedy associated with the Norman Bates character and I loved how it was distorted gradually as Norman is losing his sanity. I also liked the way the famous murder theme was employed sparsely but effectivelly during the murders, together with the electronic slashing knife sounds.  When I rented Psycho III I had great expectations (as a “Video Guide” I had at the time rated the movie as “the best, funnier and most inventive of the Psycho sequels”).


However, upon first watching I was disappointed by the film. The unsympathetic characters, the “over the top” acting by Perkins, the depressing tone and lack of suspense were some of the factors for me not liking the film, but probably my main disappointment was the strange music score. I was not familiar with Carter Burwell and the sparce score with those weird percussion tracks and the lack of the murder theme for the murders (that seemed like watching Jaws without the shark theme) made me initially dislike the score.


Sometime later, having re-watched the first Psycho, I watched part III again and, not having the same high expectations I had before first viewing, I was able to enjoy it for its dark sense of humor, the stylish direction by Anthony Perkins (with several interesting scene transitions and camera movements, use of color, moody cinematography) and, suddenly, the very unique score composed by Burwell ‘clicked’. In fact I became obsessed with obtaining the soundtrack album and was able to acquire an used LP in the early 90s.


But I was disappointed by the LP – as it contained a lot of the source tracks and few of the actual score. It at least had some score highlights like “Maureen In The Desert” (the great Main Title music), “Mother?”, “Bad Boys and Body Bags” and “Revenge Of A Thankless Child’. But I was very annoyed that “Before And After Shower” only had the first minute of the track for Norman To Maureen In Bath and for it missing the track for Maureen returning to the house at the end of the movie among others. I also noted at the time that the LP mix was very different to the film versions, specially on “Bad Boys And Body Bags” (with the chanting voices almost inaudible in the LP).


Over the years waiting for this score to be released on CD it became one of my grails and the lack of comments on a potential release by the labels on the various film score forums made me worried that there might exist some issue preventing the score to be released. So, on June 2020, I was very happy watching a live interview with Carter Burwell when he revealed that the Psycho III score was “about to be released” as a special 2-CD edition. Then, on January 2021, Intrada finally released the score for the first time on CD, 35 years after the film’s release.


Now, having listened to the CD multiple times, I can make some comments on the presentation on a track-by-track basis.


CD 1 – Film Soundtrack:

1)      Nunnery – This track with religious female chorus plays during the “Vertigo” inspired prologue of the movie as nun Maureen (Diana Scarwid) in a faith crisis climbs a tower to commit suicide. Another nun trying to help Maureen falls to her death as the chorus screams dramatically. This track was previously released on the LP as the first part of “Sisters/Catherine Mary” that opened side 2, but here it has a clean ending that can be heard for the first time, as there was a crossfade in the album joining this track with “Catherine Mary”.


2)      Main Title – The opening titles present the main theme of the movie (previously released on the LP as “Maureen In The Desert”). This is a great melancholic theme associated with Maureen that is used a few times during the movie both as underscore and as source music (“Piano Theme”, “Warm As Cry For Help”). In the movie when the titles appear in gigantic red letters at 0’18” a huge bell/gong sound is used. In this track a low bell/gong sound can still be heard at this same moment, but not as loud/dramatic as it is in the movie. I imagine that they recorded an insert for the movie that is not included here. For my personal iTunes album I mixed the loud gong sound from the movie itself (and used this unaltered version, without the loud gong, for the End Titles).

In this track it can be perceived how different the mix of the film score is compared to the album version – in this mix the percussion (which in this case includes some rattle sounds that can be associated with the desert setting and bells) can be heard much louder than in the album version – the album mix had the percussion more in the background and much more reverb resulting in a somewhat more “polished” sound - but I prefer this mix for being able to hear better the percussion effects, closer to the mix used in the film (even if a bit too dry).

Sample of Main Title with the "title stinger" added: 


3)      Catherine Mary – The first of the many “pop” songs used as source music. This track plays in Duke’s (Jeff Fahey) car stereo when he gives Maureen a lift. This version includes aprox. 40 seconds of previously unreleased music at the end of the track that were trimmed in the album. I personally prefer to move source music such as this track to the end of the program but here it is placed in the chronological order of the movie.


4)      Dirty Street – Another of the “pop” songs that plays while Duke makes his move on Maureen in the car. It is an odd rap song. It is curious that, while the previous track was trimmed for the album, this one was extended with looping on the LP, this version being shorter than the album version. Again I personally prefer to program this kind of source cue after the end of score the program.


5)      Emma Flashback – This is the first previously unreleased score track. It is a creepy percussion track that plays as Norman is stuffing birds that he poisons in his garden and has a flashback of the scene with Ms. Spool in the end of Psycho II (using some bells and a thunder sound for the shovel scene, which was left unscored in Psycho II). I love the percussion effects of this track specially as of 1’08” (when it looks like Norman will strangle the bird that survived the poison). It is interesting that the last 34 seconds of this track are a repeat of the synth backing used as of 1’00” of this same track, but without the percussion effects on top.


6)      Duke Meets Norm – A previously unreleased short track that plays when Duke arrives at the Bates Motel and is tempted to steal money from the open cash desk. This track consists of synth stabs that will latter be used for the scene of Normal spying on Maureen undressing to go to the shower. It can be considered a kind of “temptation” theme for these scenes.


7)      Maureen Exits Truck – A short previously unreleased track, a female chorus for the scene where Norman sees Maureen for the first time while she exits a truck near the same diner where Norman worked in Psycho II. In the following scene Maureen enters the diner and Norman sees a resemblance between her and Marion Crane with a flashback of the shower scene scored with music from a broken record looping (the broken record music is not included in the soundtrack and probably was something added by the sound editor and not composed by Burwell)


8)      Piano Theme (film version) – Back home Norman plays the main title in the piano and suddenly stops when he sees Maureen arriving at the Bates Motel. This is the film version which includes Norman humming the theme while playing – it is not very clear from the liner notes if it is Anthony Perkins humming (it does sound like him) or Carter Burwell. In any case I preferred to swap this version for the alternate version (without the humming) that opens disc 2 in my iTunes album.


9)      House, Mom Intro – This previously unreleased track merges two tracks (according to the Cue Assembly on the booklet). The first part is a short intro for the scene where Maureen approaches the Motel and sees Duke’s car and the second is the choral music for Norman discussing with Mother that Marion Crane is back.

In the film the chorus is a bit dialed down after the beginning of the track, probably to accommodate better the dialogue, and it allow us to hear better the interesting percussion effects in this track (which are more buried in this mix, with the chorus louder). The last portion of this track is a crescendo sound for Maureen remembering the accident at the tower as she sees a Bible in her room.


10)   Duke In Bar (Warm As A Cry For Help) – The “pop” version of the main titles that plays as source music from a jukebox while Duke meets the reporter Tracy (Roberta Maxwell) in a bar.


11)   Norman Watches T.V. – This is a very strange unused “source music” that would be used as score for the film that is playing on the T.V. while Norman is in the Bates Motel. It is a low piano/percussion track that is a bit repetitive until it fades out, which I preferred to move to the end of the program (as I did with the other source tracks)  


12)   Norman To Maureen In Bath – This is the full version of the track for Norman watching Maureen undressing and then “mother” entering the bathroom intending to kill her. The scene ends with a very good moment in the movie, on which a weakened Maureen, losing blood on another suicide attempt, sees “mother” as the Virgin Mary (and the chorus changes from threatening to religious).
This sequence uses the “temptation” stabbing synths used in “Duke Meets Norm” and it is interesting to note that the track in the film score program includes the chanting from the very beginning, while in the film the chanting only starts later, after the first 35 seconds when Norman starts watching Maureen through the peephole. The album version “Before And After Shower” corresponds to the music as it plays in the movie (without chanting in the beginning and I prefer the album/film version with the buildup before the chanting starts). But the album cuts the music at 1’10”, so, for my iTunes version, I preferred to mix the first 1,10” from the album version and then using the previously unreleased portion as of 1’10” from this track. The issue here is that the mix in the film tracks is very dry (the percussion has some natural reverb but the synths are very dry/thin in this mix specially compared to the very wet/reverby album mix) to match the ending of this track to the album’s first part I had to add some reverb to it using a sound editor software.


13)   Norman In Maureen’s Hospital Room – This is the full version of the second part of the LP track “Before And After Shower”. The LP track was trimmed by 1 minute. At first I even thought that this was a different track as the LP mix is so different. Here, besides the extra minute, the xylophone/piano can be heard more in the mix (and the mix is also much more dry than the LP version). In the film the music is mixed so low that it is almost inaudible (maybe a post-production result on the issue mentioned in the booklet of Anthony Perkins wanting Burwell to avoid any romantic music for Norman/Maureen) and it was great to finally be able to listen to this full track.


14)   Scream Of Love (film version) – After a short stinger used both before this track and after (that remains unreleased) for a scene where Norman meets Ruthie, this is the film version for the sax source music that plays while Duke makes out with the girl. It was the track Burwell chose to transform in a “pop” song to promote the movie as was demanded by Universal. The album included the “pop” version but not this film version which was previously unreleased.

The stinger used twice in the film (for the scene Ruthie falls and is scared by Norman and for when Duke trows her out of his room) is not included in this release: 



15)   Ruthie’s Murder – For the first murder in the film – in a phone booth mimicking the shower scene – Burwell uses a percussion-based approach with metallic stabbing sounds (that are more acoustic than the synth stabbing sounds Goldsmith used in Psycho II) and gives the scene a brutal and odd feel with the lack of the murder theme for a scene that is so similar to the shower scene.


16)   Maureen And Shrink – A previously unreleased track that is based on the main title. Like the track Maureen In Hospital this track was mixed very low in the film and can be fully heard here for the first time.


17)   Norman And Tracy On Steps – Norman returns to the Motel after picking Maureen in the hospital and finds Tracy climbing the stairs to his house. He demands her to leave in a threating way while this short track plays (only the last part of this moody suspense track is used in film).


18)   Tracy In Emma’s Apt. – This track plays as Tracy investigates Ms. Spool apartment and finds a note with the Bates Motel phone. It introduces the theme that will be used in “Swamp”. This was one of the unreleased tracks I had missed on the LP, it is a great prelude to the “Swamp” track later in the film.


19)   Norman And Mom Argue Over Maureen – After Norman and Maureen return from a date (and dance to a source piano music that is not included in the album, certainly not composed by Burwell) this creepy percussion-based track plays, with metallic and water bell sounds, as Norman discusses with mother.


20)   Bathroom Murder – After one minute with sparce percussion effects the second murder happens scored with repeating synth effects that vaguely remind the murder theme from Psycho (not sure if it was intentional to quote the murder theme, as this track still sounds very different to it). The track progresses with more percussion effects for Norman finding the body and then Maureen waking in the next day and seeing a police car from her window.


21)   Mom’s Missing – A very good dramatic track for Maureen leaving Norman and Norman searching for his missing Mother. This track was previously released on the LP titled “Mother?” but again the mix here is very different, with the percussion effects higher in the mix (as they are in the film). In the movie there’s a stinger at 1’46” for Norman seeing a note from Mother that is mixed much louder than it is in this track (again possibly an overlay not included here) - here's a sample with the stinger louder at 0'08" 


22)   Rest Home (Electroshock Waiting Room) – the full version of this source track that plays while Tracy visits a Rest Home to talk with the previous owner of the diner where Ms. Spool worked. This track was slighted shortened at the LP and is also used in an edited form as the second part of the End Credits (and I preferred to move it to the End Credits).


23)   Swamp – named “Bad Boys and Body Bags” in the LP, this is a score highlight for Norman cleaning the mess at the Motel and going to the swamp to dispose the bodies. It uses the same theme used at Tracy In Emma’s Apt. and the scene also cuts to Tracy investigating on Ms. Spool in a library. The mix here is very different to the LP mix with the voices as of 1’35” much louder (as they are in the film, while the LP version has the voices almost inaudible - and much more reverb).  


24)   Maureen Comes To Norman, Tracy, Norman And Mom – This long track has three very different sections and I think should have been separated in three different tracks in the album. The first 2’54” minutes were my most wanted previously unreleased music from the film, with the haunting music that plays as Maureen returns to the house at the end. Then, there’s a 2’27” section with sparse percussion effects for Tracy searching for Maureen and the final 2’54” minutes are the music that was titled “Revenge Of A Thankless Child” in the LP for the final confrontation.


25)   Norman Arrested – As Norman is taken back to the madhouse this previously unreleased track plays. I do not know if it was intentional but this music reminds me a lot of the music composed by Goldsmith for the ending of Psycho II – maybe it was used as temp track? Or maybe Burwell did it intentionally (or it is just a coincidence).


26)   End Credits – This track starts with a full reprise of the Main Titles “Maureen In The Desert” crossfaded with “Electroshock Waiting Room”, but at the end of the later there’s a jarring edit (which is how the music also plays in the film). Due to this jarring edit, instead of using this track I preferred to use the Main Title track (but without the gong overlay I had added in the main titles) and after the Main Title track I programmed the full version of “Rest Home (Electroshock Waiting Room)”.


 CD2 Extras + album

1)      Piano Theme (alternate) – this alternate is similar to the main title as played onscreen on piano by Norman but without the humming. I preferred to include this track in the main program instead of the film version with the humming.


2)      Scream Of Love Version C – This version is similar to the album version of the track but adds some dance beats


3)      Scream Of Love Psycho Mix – An odd version that has some whispering sounds with the backing beats of the song but excludes the main sax melody.


4)      Scream Of Love Psycho Dance Mix – Similar to the previous version but including the electric guitar and the sax melody


5)      Scream Of Love Psycho Dub Mix – Similar to the previous version but extended with looping effects, more dance beats and a low electric guitar section


6)      Scream Of Love (Alternate No. 1) – The version that was selected for the album (but with less reverb than the album)


7)      Scream Of Love (Alternate No. 2) – A slightly extended version similar to the album version with added beat sounds.


1986 MCA Soundtrack Album:

8)      Scream Of Love – the same as the Alternate No. 1 but with more reverb


9)      Maureen In The Desert – The Main Titles with a different mix with the percussion effects lower and more reverb


10)   Dirty Street – The “rap” song extended with looped sections


11)   Before And After The Shower – Starts with the first minute of the film version of “Norman To Maureen In Bath” (without chanting at the beginning) then moves to a trimmed version of “Norman In Maureen’s Hospital Room” but mixed very differently (with much more reverb)


12)   Warm As A Cry For Help – The same as the film version with an earlier fade out


13)   Sisters/Catherine Mary – Merges the first score track ("Nunnery") for the prologue with a trimmed version of the source song Catherine Mary


14)   Mother? – The same as “Mom’s Missing” with a different mix (percussion lower and more reverb).


15)   Bad Boys And Body Bags – The same as “Swamp” but with a different mix (much more reverb and the chanting almost inaudible). I got used with this version from the LP, with the chorus lower some details are more apparent in this track.


16)   Revenge Of A Thankless Child – The last portion of “Tracy, Norman and Mom” with a slightly different mix.


17)   Electroshock Waiting Room – A slightly trimmed version of the track that plays as source on the “Rest Home” and is used as the final part of the End Credits.


My preferred programing of the film score relocating the source tracks to the end of the main program as follows:

1; 2; 5; 6; 7; D2-1; 9; 12; 13; 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 23; 24; 25; 2; 22 – source 3; 4; 10; 11; 14.  


Intrada’s 2-CD set is a fantastic release with the score almost complete (only missing: a short stinger [for Ruthie being scared by Norman while trying to open the ice box], two overlays [the title gong and the note stinger] and two source tracks probably not composed by Burwell [broken record for the shower scene flashback and the piano as Norman dances with Maureen during their date]).


The sound is crisp and clear, maybe a bit on the dry side (which can sound at times a bit thin specially when compared with the wet/reverby mix of the album tracks), maybe some minor reverb could have been added to the film tracks.


The set includes a 24-page booklet, with great liner notes by Scott Bettencourt on the film's production, the scoring by Carter Burwell and its reception plus some new comments from Carter Burwell and Doug's Tech Talk. I also liked a lot what Intrada did for the main cover, with a slightly edited version of the poster to fit the house and Norman in the square frame (even if some artifacts from the editing are visible in the image – the mirrowed section of the stairs and some visible cutting near Norman's ear - especially in the hi-res version on Intrada’s site - but not that much in the actual printed booklet). The back cover using the “red” DVD art as a basis with the title in white also looks very good (that image was used by Universal as the DVD cover of Part III, although it is actually an image from Psycho II).


I’m very pleased with the release of this very unique score, that does not sound like any other I can think off and even if I consider the Psycho I and II scores to be better, 5-star scores, this is still a solid 4-star score to me.

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PSYCHO III (1986) – Music Composed By Carter Burwell - Intrada Records 2-CD set   I still remember when I watched Psycho III for the first time in the late 80’s after having loved Psycho II.

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