PSYCHO PATHS: Norman Bates and Beyond (Part I)

by Jake on October 16, 2012

PsychoRobert Bloch’s novel ‘Psycho’ (1959) introduced us to the Bates Motel, its proprietor, Norman and his mother – and some major issues! Those familiar with the Hitchcock film should put this novel on their reading list, because although it may be essentially the same story, the character of Norman Bates is quite different from Norman as portrayed by Anthony Perkins.

The plot is pretty familiar to most people: Mary Crane (Marion in the movies) impulsively steals 40 thousand dollars from her employer and goes on the run, planning to use the money to pay off the debts of her lover, Sam Loomis, so that they can be married. She makes a wrong turn and finally ends up at the Bates Motel, where business is far from booming. Norman Bates sets her up with a room for the night, although his mother strongly disapproves – all is not well in the Bates household! Norman grew up under the overprotective watch of a puritanical and psychologically abusive mother, and has never managed to cut the apron strings. At least that’s how Mary Crane sees it. They talk briefly, then each go their not so separate ways: Mary to her motel room to takes shower and Norman to a convenient peephole where he can watch her undress. Naughty boy, Norman! Naughty boys get punished!

Well, Mother ain’t having none of this, you understand, some floozy airing out her giblets around Norman. So while Mary showers, Mother walks in and proceeds to do some serious murderizin’. In the movie, Hitchcock handles this scene brilliantly, the editing, music and performances combining in such a way that you don’t see anything happen directly – it’s all taking place in between what Hitch shows you. In the book, Mother cuts off her head. Oh, well, either-or.

In fact, the book is a great deal more violent and sexual than the film. Part of this was the censorship boards in force at the time, but a great deal of the difference can be attributed to the individual styles of Bloch and Hitchcock. Robert Bloch often wrote in a pulp-fiction style that reveled in these kinds of outrageous details, particularly in the early part of his career, while Alfred Hitchcock often preferred to suggest rather than show, letting the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks. It doesn’t hurt that the movie’s screenwriter, Joseph DeStefano, worked largely on television scripts (particularly ‘The Outer Limits).

So Mother has left quite a mess and poor Norman has to clean it up. Then people start looking for the missing lady, things get complicated, turns out Norman’s mother has been dead all along and – wait, what? Yeah. I’m pretty sure everyone knows this particular plot twist. In the end, Norman suffers a complete breakdown, becoming fully and completely consumed by “Mother” and is institutionalized.

The end!

Well, no. Certainly, the movie is much more well-known than the novels – yes, NOVELS. It could be said that the slasher film owes its existence to Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. Anthony Perkins was a revelation as Norman Bates, while Janet Leigh was great – and so hot her bra changes color on its own, apparently, since it was white at the beginning of the film and black right before the shower scene.

Sadly, the ‘Mood Bra’ never caught on.

When a movie has this profound an impact, a sequel is inevitable, so it’s no surprise that after only 23 years, we got ‘Psycho II’.

Hold on a minute.

Yeah, TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER.

In the meantime, Robert Bloch had his own ideas for what to do with Norman. And by “in the meantime”, we mean anything but.

Psycho 2The novel ‘Psycho 2′ came out in 1982, also 23 years after the first. Weird, right? Despite being released only one year prior to the movie ‘Psycho II’, the novel is unrelated. If you think you’re confused now, just wait; it gets worse.

So the book ‘Psycho 2′ is about a movie being made based on the story of Norman Bates. The real Norman dresses up as a nun and tries to escape from his whacko ward. I say ‘tries’ but he actually does manage to escape. However, a fire causes everyone to think he’s dead. Well, he isn’t, and he’s got some killing to do as he heads to Hollywood.

The book is Bloch’s satire of slasher films, which were at their peak in the late 70′s and early 80′s. The rise of the slasher genre also contributed a great deal to the movie sequels, which we will get to momentarily.

1990 brought us ‘Psycho House’, the third and final Bloch entry in the series. The Psycho House is, of course, the Bates family hone overlooking the Bates Motel. ‘Psycho House’ should not be confused with the 1987 TV movie ‘Bates Motel’ nor the upcoming ‘Bates Motel’ series. Although if you do get confused, well, I can’t blame you.

In ‘Psycho House’, Norman Bates has been dead for ten years. The Bates Motel has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction – yes, you read that right. Oddly enough, murders start happening! Who’da thunk it?

Let’s move away from the printed page and look at the Psycho film series. We’ve covered the fact that the Hitchcock film and the original novel are essentially the same story, so let’s move on.

1983: Norman Bates is finally cured and is released from the institution. He returns to the family home and tries to live a normal life but, wouldn’t you know it, people start disappearing or turning up deader than usual. Plus, Norman is receiving messages and phone calls from someone claiming to be his dearly departed Mother.
This does not end well.

Critics were mixed on ‘Psycho II’. While it is certainly true that this is no Hitchcock film, I myself think it is a great sequel nonetheless. Perkins is very sympathetic as poor Norman – you really feel for him in this movie! Also, Vera Miles returns as Marion Crane’s sister Lila, who apparently took up where Marion left off and married Sam Loomis between movies. The violence is much more extreme than in the first film, more in keeping with the style of 80′s slasher cinema, but the performances are great and ‘Psycho II’ is a very satisfying follow-up to Hitch’s masterpiece.

Unfortunately, then they made another one…

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