Screenplay by Joseph Stefano
Based on the novel by Robert Bloch
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Janet Leigh
A thirty-something secretary steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, and subsequently encounters a young motel proprietor too long under the domination of his mother.
Here we are 53 years after the release of Psycho, and this film is still as relevant as ever. I’ve seen this film at least a dozen times if not more. The thing that had me interested in a 13th viewing was the A & E hit series, Bates Motel, a contemporary addition to the Hitchcock classic. If you haven’t been watching the show, it’s time to start. Led by the insanely talented Freddie Highmore (Norman) and Vera Farmiga (Norma), this pair of actors may have been intimidated to take on such deep-rooted roles, but you’ll never know it from watching. They consistently add new back story to the origin story Hitchcock directed with such finesse all those years ago. Let’s face it, not many people reading the article haven’t seen this film. If you’re one of the new generation of horror fans hooked by the show and haven’t seem the film: stop reading now and rent or buy the film. Just buy it – you’ll want to see it again. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT watch the shot for shot remake with Vince Vaughn, instead – watch the 1960 original.
We’ve all wondered what exactly happened to Norman Bates to make him the way he was. Simply saying “mother issues” seems a bit low in the hierarchy. That’s like saying Jason Vorhees wasn’t “fond” of water. In the film, Marion Crane (Leigh) splits town with $40K worth of stolen cash and makes a run for it. The Arizona resident travels west, eventually outrunning a nosy cop, and finds the Bates Motel an acceptable place to sleep for the night. She’s already bought a new car with her wad of cash. Things look calm enough for sleep, then she meets the smiling Norman Bates. Norman is the proprietor of roadside motel and as pleasant as a peach when the two meet. Anthony Perkins was a perfect casting for the film, and his polite, but privately obsessed behavior made his role the stuff of legend.
Norman tells Marion that he lives in the house behind the motel, the classic Psycho house resting languidly atop a hill on the Universal back lot, a home with more character than a generous amount of living breathing actors. His gentle demeanor temporarily calms this woman on the run. He checks her in, of course she signs a fake name, then gets her set in the room closest to the office. His hand hovers of a couple of other room keys before he grabs the #1 key. He makes a quick stop at his home before inviting Marion to have dinner with him. She hears the voice of Norman’s “mother”, and all of her controlling diatribe about women in general. Norman apologizes, of course, and they decide to have their dinner in the hotel’s parlor. From this point on, Marion’s minutes are numbered since Norman’s “mother” stabs Marion to death in the most iconic shower murder scene ever filmed. You should watch the new film starring Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock, for a glimpse into what work went into creating this 1960 masterpiece. You can read my review right here.
Serious spoiler alert. We all know that Norman was dressing up as his long-dead mother and he even went so far as to dig up his mother’s body. He goes to great pains to preserve her body, but what mythology does the show expose us to that the film didn’t? Let’s take a quick look and you decide if this series has been a bane of boon.
1. Norman was most definitely mentally ill.
Shocking, I know. Call it “nature vs nurture”, but this kid is crazy. The show makes you wonder if he always had it or was his home life a perfect set up for his illness all along?
2. Norma is most definitely a murderer.
In the film, she’s a corpse/skeleton in a wig and dress, but her influence is there none the less. The show has done a wonderful job of fleshing out this rich mythology.
3. Norman has a half-brother named, Dylan.
Of course, Dylan, is the exact opposite of Norman and hates their mother. When he shows up out of the blue, it’s clear that bad blood exists. Dylan seems to know a little about Norma’s past, especially the time pertaining to the death of his father. Norma got a handsome insurance check, with part of it funding she purchases of the hotel.
This quick look is far from comprehensive – just a growing curiosity on my part. I would suggest watching Bates Motel from the beginning. You can check out a review of the pilot episode First You Dream, Then You Die, here. I planned on watching Psycho once the series ended, but can’t wait any longer. It could go five seasons for all I know.
Bates Motel airs Monday’s at 9PM EST on A & E. If you haven’t seen Psycho, there’s your starting point.