So Psycho is sixty years old today, and as it’s one of my all time favourite films, I’m doing a huge celebration. I’ve already looked at the making of the film, and now, is time to look at the Psycho franchise… all of it. A quick, obligatory SPOILER warning right here, as I’m going to go through each film, including the endings and then offer my view. Plus I’m not just covering the films here, I’m doing the films, the TV shows, spin offs, and the books… everything. This is going to be a big one! Any and everything Psycho I can find will be covered in detail. So, you have been warned… SPOILERS ahead! I repeat, this is going to be a big one. You’d better go grab a glass of milk and sandwich.
First up, the movies…
Originally released sixty years ago today on the 16th of June, 1960. The film tells the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a young and attractive real-estate secretary from Arizona who steals $40,000 (over $350,000 in today’s money) from a client of her boss. Her aim is to use the money to start a new life with her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who lives in California. Marion sets out on the long twelve hour, seven-hundred and fifty mile drive from Arizona to California, stopping off to trade in her car with Arizona plates for a second-hand California plate car. Then gets back on the road for California and Sam.
During a heavy rain storm at night, Marion pulls into the Bates Motel with the idea to spend the night and leave to see Sam fresh-faced in the morning. At the motel, she meets proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). After Marion checks into the Motel, Norman offers to make a light meal for her up at his house behind the motel. But an argument kicks off between Norman and his mother, Norma, so Norman instead suggests they eat in the parlor at the back of the motel office. Here, Marion learns that Norman’s mother is mentally ill and how she can’t live without Norman’s help. The two chat and Marion begins to feel guilt over her stealing the money.
Now in her motel room, Marion decides to take the $40,000 back the next morning instead of running away with Sam. She hides the cash in a newspaper which she leaves on the nightstand before taking a shower. Que one of the most famous scenes in cinema history and Marion is stabbed to death in the shower by Norman’s enraged mother. Norman discovers the grisly crime scene and sets about cleaning it up to protect his mother. After carefully wrapping Marion’s body in the shower curtain, he puts the body in the trunk of Marion’s car. Ensuring Norman has covered everything, he also puts all of Marion’s possessions in the car… including the newspaper with the stolen $40,000 hidden in it (unbeknownst to him).
Norman then drives the car, body, money and all to a swamp at the back of the motel and pushes the car into it. Norman stands there nibbling away on candy corn as he watches the car and Marion’s body sink into the swamp. Everything has been taken care of and Norma Bates’ heinous crime has been covered up.
A week passes and Lila Crane (Vera Miles), Marion’s sister arrives at Sam’s place in California looking for her sibling. Sam, of course, has no idea where Marion has gone and he had no idea that she was on her way to come and see him a week ago. This is when private investigator, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) turns up asking questions about Marion and the missing $40,000 to both Lila and Sam. After some local investigation, Milton learns that Marion checked into the Bates Motel last week… under a different name. He also learns that Norman has his elderly and ill mother staying in the house. So Milton gets on the phone to update Lila and Sam on what he has learned and says he will try to talk to Norman’s mother before heading back. Milton decides to let himself into the house and tries to talk to Mrs Bates for any info on what happened to Marion. As he is climbing the stairs and nearing the top, mother makes another appearance, and so does her knife as she stabs the private investigator and he falls down the stairs to his death.
After not hearing back from Milton Arbogast, Lila and Sam go to the local sheriff to tell him about all that has been going on. They tell the sheriff that Norman and his mother must have had something to do with the disappearance of Marion and possibly why Milton has not checked in with them. The sheriff is quick to dismiss their theory because Norman’s mother has been dead for the last decade. The sheriff suggests that Milton must have lied to Lila and Sam about Marion and that maybe he plans on chasing Marion to get hold of the stolen $40,000 himself. Neither Lila or Sam are convinced by the theory and decide to check out the motel themselves. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila sneaks up to the house wanting to talk to the said to be dead Norma Bates. Norman becomes suspicious, knocks Sam out and goes up to the house himself. Lila makes her way into the fruit cellar and discovers Norma Bates sitting in a chair… and yes, she is very much dead. Leading to one of the biggest twist endings ever, as it is revealed that Norman Bates dug up his dead mother, preserved her as best he could via taxidermy and developed a very disturbing relationship with her corpse. He would often dress up as his own mother, hold conversations with her and of course… kill as his own mother.
So Norman is arrested over the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast as well as the murders of two other women previously killed off screen. Now, ‘mother’ has taken over Norman completely as she sits there in her cell knowing people are watching her, as she decides to prove that she’s no killer by not harming a fly…
There really is very little that I can say about Psycho that hasn’t already been written a thousand times over. It’s one of the greatest films ever to be made. It’s writing is sharp, the pacing is terrific, the direction is astounding and the music is etched into my memory forever. Then of course, there is the acting. Janet Leigh is mesmerising as the young secretary who has a moment of weakness and steals $40,000. A stupid mistake that will lead to her bloody and brutal death. Then you have Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and an instant classic film character was born. His charm and personality really help to sell the sheltered and shy Norman. A troubled young man who’s life has been destroyed by the death of his mother. Alfred Hitchcock made some amazing pictures in his career, but none of them came close to the genius of Psycho. With how much he had to sacrifice to get the film made, you can really feel his passion on the screen.
Released just a short twenty-three years after the original in 1983. Psycho II is set twenty-two years after the events of the first film in 1982. Norman Bates is released from the mental institution he has spent the last two decades in, now having being ‘cured’ of his insanity. He now accepts that his mother is dead. However, some people are not happy that Norman is being released, one such person is Lila Loomis, Marion’s sister who eventually married Sam Loomis, Marion’s boyfriend from the first film… and she thinks Norman is insane? With some help from his psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), Norman settles back into his home at Bates Motel.
The motel is now being managed by Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), that’s one less thing for Norman to worry about. So he sets about getting back to a normal life, he lands himself a job at a local diner. An older lady, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) is one of the few people around who believes Norman is cured and should be forgiven, in fact it was Emma who landed Norman the job at the diner. After work, Norman meets waitress Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who is having boyfriend troubles. Mary has been thrown out of her boyfriend’s place and has no where to stay. So Norman offers up a room back at his motel, FOC… free of charge. Back at the motel, Norman learns that his new manager, Warren has been renting out rooms to drug users and prostitutes. An angered Norman sacks Warren and sets about getting Bates Motel back up to scratch by running it himself. A young and pretty female staying, Norman running the motel? History is beginning to repeat itself.
Soon after, Norman begins to receive phone calls and notes from mother, just as things were going so well for him too. After being sacked, an upset Warren Toomey picks a fight with Norman and he (Norman) suspects that it is Warren who has been making the calls and leaving the notes in order to try to drive Norman back to his old ways. However, as Warren is packing to leave the motel for good, he his stabbed and killed by a mysterious figure in a dress. It seems that mother is back. Sympathising with Norman, Mary decides to stay at the house in a guest room permanently and help Norman get the motel back into shape. As Norman starts renovating his motel, he begins to hear voices coming from the house and even sees mother standing in the window of her room. He goes up to the house to investigate, enters mother’s room and finds it untouched from twenty-two years ago, nothing out of place as if it’s still being used by her. Norman hears another noise that lures him up to the attic, and he is locked in. Meanwhile, downstairs, two teenagers break into Norman’s house and go into the fruit cellar to do what teenagers do… smoke dope and knock boots. Realising someone is in the house, the teenagers try to escape, only the boy is stabbed to death. The girl gets away and tells the police. Mary comes home to find Norman locked in the attic and lets him out, they go back to mother’s room to find it in a state of disuse, not like it was before. Norman begins to think he’s going insane. The sheriff arrives and questions both Norman and Mary about the killing of the boy, Mary says they were both out at the time for a walk. Norman begins to worry that it was him who killed the boy, that mother is starting to take over again. But Mary reminds him that he was locked in the attic, so he couldn’t have killed the boy. Someone did.
Mary calms Norman down and insists he is innocent, she then goes down to the motel to try to find a bottle of booze to make an Irish coffee. Waiting in the parlor of the motel is Lila Loomis and it turns out that Mary is her daughter. It was Lila and Mary who had been making the phone calls, leaving the notes and messing around with mother’s room, dressing as mother, etc. Between them they were trying to convince Norman he was going crazy again and force him to kill, in an attempt to get him re-committed to the mental institution. An act of vengeance on Lila’s part for the death of her sister. However, Mary has genuinely become friends with Norman and honestly believes he couldn’t have killed anyone, she thinks there is someone else involved, someone else who killed the the boy. Dr. Bill Raymond learns that Mary is Lila Lommis’ daughter and tells Norman all about it and their plan to try to drive him insane. Norman only half believes it and is convinced that someone else is involved. If Lila and Mary were only trying to goad Norman into killing but he never did… then who is the real killer? Norman suggests that it could be his ‘real mother’, whatever that means. Mary tells Norman that she wants nothing to do with the whole ruse anymore, that she wants to help Norman and not harm him. Lila however is a different story, she still wants Norman re-committed.
Lila Loomis is in the fruit cellar and she tries to retrieve her hidden mother costume that she has been using to fool Norman. But a mysterious figure steps out of the shadows and kills Lila, so she couldn’t have been the killer either. The police dredge the swamp at the back of the motel and find Warren Toomey’s car and his body inside it. Just how Norman hid the bodies in the first film. Mary tells Norman he should run away otherwise he’d be arrested and taken back to the mental institution. Just then, the phone rings and Norman answers it, it’s mother. Norman begins to talk to his mother, so Mary listens in on another phone and there is no other voice, but Norman keeps talking to mother regardless. Norman begins to debate with mother about killing Mary, so Mary runs off to the fruit cellar to get the mother disguise, complete with a large kitchen knife, to convince Norman that mother can’t be on the phone if she is standing in front of him. Dr. Raymond turns up and grabs Mary dressed as mother, believing she is the killer and trying to send Norman insane again. Mary and Dr. Raymond struggle and the good doctor is killed by Mary when she accidentally plunges the knife into his chest. In Norman’s unstable state, he sees Mary/mother standing over the dead body of Dr. Raymond and believes that she is back. Norman finally snaps and tries to kill Mary/mother to stop her once and for all. Mary runs away to the fruit cellar and finds the body of Lila. Now Mary thinks that it was Norman who killed Lila, so she raises the knife in self-defense. The police turn up, see Mary seemingly trying to kill Norman and assume she is the killer. Mary is shot dead by the police. So everything is wrapped up… except for the fact that neither Norman or Mary were the real killer of course.
Later, the old lady from the diner, Emma Spool turns up at Norman’s home and Norman had been expecting ‘someone’ too. She tells Norman that she is his real mother, that Norma Bates was her sister. Emma says how she gave Norman to Norma as an infant because she had been institutionalised. It was Emma Spool who was the killer, she was upset that people were picking on and trying to harm her son. So in response, Norman smashes her over the head with a shovel and kills her. Norman then carries the body upstairs to mother’s room and begins talking to her and her to him, as she barks at Norman to open the motel. The whole cycle starts anew and mother has taken over Norman once more.
You know, for a sequel to an all time classic and released over two decades since the original, this really isn’t too bad. In fact, it has some truly great moments. The whole plot of trying to fool Norman that mother is back is really well done. The tricks both Lila and Mary play on him are cruel, but they work. There are some great throwbacks to the first film (the opening is fantastic). But the ending, the last fifteen minutes or so are a bit, well crap. The whole retconning of Norman’s back story to make this random old lady who is only in the film for thirty seconds his real mother really annoyed me and seemed pretty desperate. It’s also lazy rehash of the first film but in reverse. In Psycho, it’s Norman Bates who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s an old lady. In Psycho II, it’s an old lady who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s Norman Bates. A really good main plot, but just falls flat in the end. But from a directing point of view, this is a very competent film. With Hitchcock dying in 1980, that means he had nothing to do with this one. Still director, Richard Franklin does a damn good job and still maintains a lot of Hitch’s quirks. This feels like a Psycho sequel and not just a cheap cash-in (last few minutes aside). Plus the fact that both Vera Miles as Lila Loomis and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates returned adds a level of genuineness. Oh yeah, despite his death, Hitchcock still has a cameo in the film too.
So in 1986, the next film in the franchise was released. Yes Anthony Perkins is back as Norman Bates, but he also takes on the role of director too. This one takes place a month after the events of Psycho II in 1982. So Norman has got the motel up and running once more, his ‘real’ mother, Emma Spool from Psycho II has now taken the place of his adopted mother, Norma, from the original Psycho… that role being a corpse. Oh and Norman is bat-shit crazy again, talking to his dead mother (Emma) and her talking to him… which is really him talking to himself. So with that confusing recap out of the way, on with the plot…
Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a young and mentally unstable nun attempts to kill herself by jumping from the bell tower of the convent. Instead, she accidentally knocks one of her fellow nuns to her death, and so Maureen is kicked out of the convent and renounces her nunship. Out in the hot California sun, Maureen is offered a car ride by sleazy musician, Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who is very protective of his guitar. After pulling over to get some rest, Duane puts the moves on Maureen and she freaks out. Duane kicks her out of the car and leaves her to her own devices. Duane pulls into the Bates Motel and meets Norman. Only instead of staying as a guest, Duane is offered the job as Norman’s assistant to help run the motel. Meanwhile journalist, Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is writing an article on newly released serial killers. Tracy believes that Norman is killing again (he is) and wants to talk to him about his life and supposed rehabilitation. Tracy interviews Norman in the diner (from Psycho II), but he becomes distracted when Maureen walks in. She is young, blonde and pretty… very much like Marion Crane… oh and Maureen is also carrying a suitcase with her initials… MC. Norman has a flashback to him/mother murdering Marion in the shower. Maureen is looking for somewhere to stay and of course, the Bates Motel has vacancies.
So Maureen ends up checking into the Bates Motel and crosses paths with sleazy Duane once more. Mother is angered that another young woman is staying in the hotel and goes off to kill her in the shower, just as with Marion Crane twenty-two years previously. Only Maureen has saved mother the job by slitting her own wrists. Norman is shocked out of the mother persona and attempts to save the dying girl, while the delirious Maureen mistakes the knife wielding mother as the Virgin Mary holding a crucifix. So Norman rushes Maureen to the hospital and says she can stay the the motel as long as she needs… FOC of course. The night and Duane picks up Red, a woman in a bar. The two head back to Bates Motel for a bit of the old mattress mambo. When Red says she wants more than just a one night stand, Duane kicks her out of his motel room. Leaving Red to make her own way home, she tries to call for a cab at a near by phone box… only for mother to stab her to death.
The next morning and a group of football fans, who are in town to watch the big game, check into Bates Motel. While elsewhere, Tracy still looking for information on Norman for her article and gains access into Emma Spool’s apartment, who by now in the timeline has been missing for several weeks. Digging around, Tracy finds a magazine with the phone number for Bates Motel written on it over and over and over again. So Tracy works out there must be a connection between the missing Emma Spool and the motel. Back the the motel, the football fans are getting a little rowdy from partying. But one guest, Patsy Boyle, the only sober one of the lot, is murdered by mother while trying to find a toilet to use. Norman soon discovers the body and hides it in the motel’s ice machine outside of the office.
The next morning and the sheriff turns up to ask Norman about the missing girl, Patsy, from last night… while trying to cool down with some ice from the ice machine that hides her body. Tracy tells Maureen all about Norman’s disturbing past. A very scared Maureen decides to not stay at the motel, but instead stay with Father Brian who looked over her at the hospital. At the house, Norman learns that his mother’s body is missing. He finds a note from Duane saying that she is in cabin twelve, so Norman heads out to get his mother back. Duane tries to blackmail Norman into giving him money, otherwise he’ll go to the police and tell them all about the whole dead mother thing. Norman and Duane get into a fight, which Norman wins by beating Duane unconscious with his own guitar. Norman puts both the bodies of Pasty and the unconscious Duane into Duane’s car and uses his tried and tested method of disposing of them in the swamp. However, Duane regains consciousness and attacks Norman while he’s driving. The car ends up in the swamp as Norman escapes, but Duane is not so lucky and drowns. Tracy talks to the owner of the diner and learns that Emma Spool used to work there for the previous owner. So Tracy tracks the now very elderly ex-owner down to an assisted living facility and learns that Emma was institutionalised for murder.
Maureen manages to convince herself that Norman is no harm to her and hurries back to the motel to declare her love for him. As the two share a tender moment together at the top of the stairs, Norman hears mother shout at him about having a girl in the house. This startles Norman who, accidentally, knocks Maureen off balance and she falls down the stairs, killing her. An enraged Norman says he will get mother for this. This is when Tracy enters the house and finds Maureen dead and sees Norman dressed as mother holding a large knife. She tries to reason with Norman and explains what she has learned about Emma Spool. It turns out that Emma actually his aunt and in love with his father, but he decided to marry her sister, Norma instead. As an act of revenge and when Norman was just a baby, Emma kidnapped him and killed his father. After being caught, Norman was returned to his real mother, Norma while Emma was institutionalised for killing Norman’s father. Normans seems to listen and break free form the mother persona. Tracy finds Emma Spool’s corpse in mother’s bedroom and as Norman takes of the mother dress, he hears her order him to kill Tracy. Norman raises the knife, but instead of attacking Tracy, he stabs and cuts up Emma Spools body instead. Norman is most definitely insane and the sheriff turns up to arrest Norman. After the sheriff tells Norman they will lock him up forever, he replies, “But I’ll be free…I’ll finally be free.”, as Norman is taken away.
This one is very typical eighties slasher movie territory. It lacks the suspense and taughtness of the previous two flicks and favors simple jump scares and blood instead. Of course Anthony Perkins is still great as Norman Bates, a character he was seemingly born to play. His role as director is pretty decent too and he throws in quite a few nods and references to the other films, but his direction lacks the subtly of the previous two flicks. The story is just a bit bland and uninspired, well it is the third flick. There are no real surprises, we know from the off that Norman is crazy again, we know mother is controlling him once more, so there’s no real mystery as to who is doing the killing. Yet when the murders do happen, they are disguised as if to try and hide who’s behind them, the face is hidden in shadows or you only see the hand holding the knife… but we already now it’s Norman. It’s all a bit pointless really. The retconning of Emma Spool being Norman’s real mother is reconnected itself to make Norma his real mother again. This makes a lot more sense to Norman’s backstory, but it seems awfully convoluted. Emma Spool should never have been made Norman’s mother to begin with to be honest. Overall, Psycho III is a decent horror flick, it’s just that aside from having Norman Bates in it… it’s not very Psycho. It lacks surprises, it lacks punch, it lacks suspense.
So this one is a bit of a curiosity. It’s an official spin-off from the main franchise and released in 1987. Oh yeah, it’s also the only film from the original franchise where Anthony Perkins doesn’t play Norman Bates. Plus this was a made for TV movie with the idea for it to kick-start a Bates Motel TV show… that never happened. The film is set after the events of Psycho and tells an alternate history, not connected to the films. It focuses on Alex West (Bud Cort), who is admitted to an asylum after he killed his abusive stepfather. While in the asylum, Alex befriends Norman Bates (Kurt Paul). Years later and Norman dies, Alex learns that Norman has left him the Bates Motel and house in his will. When released from the asylum, Alex sets about re-opening the motel.
Long and very boring story short. Some bank manger tries to stop Alex from re-opening the motel by scaring him in a very poor Scooby Doo kind of way. Alex gets some help renovating the motel. There’s something about a suicidal divorcee, a portal to an alternate dimension (seriously) and some other terrible plot points I really couldn’t care about. The film ends with Alex setting up for the motel to receive more guests and the start of a TV show that never begun.
Seriously, this is utter shit. First, you don’t recast Norman Bates… never mind kill him off in a Psycho film. Second, you don’t force in supernatural elements in a Psycho film either. There’s some bullshit about an alternate dimension and lost souls of teenagers being trapped, etc. The acting is atrocious, way beyond terrible. The directing is a mess and the story is nonsensical that plays up for inane laughs. Just don’t waste your time on this one, not even for curiosity sake. But it can be found on YouTube… if you dare… to be bored and angered. Norman Bates himself only has literal seconds of screen time too.
Psycho IV: The Beginning
Released in 1990, this sequel/prequel is another made for TV movie that brings back Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates as well as writer of the original Psycho, Joseph Stefano. On the surface, this flick has a lot going for it. Flat out ignoring the terrible, previous Bates Motel monstrosity and bringing back the original’s writer too. Anyway, a radio show is having a talk on matricide, hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) and accompanied by Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost). They receive a call from someone called Ed… Ed is actually a rehabilitated Norman Bates using a fake name (Ed Gein?). Ed begins to tell his story of matricide, how he killed his own mother. The film jumps around the timeline telling Norman’s past from the 1940s and 50s through flashbacks as Norman discusses his life over the phone.
So, when Norman was six years old, his father died leaving him alone with his mother, Norma (Olivia Hussey). Norma’s mental health begins to decline as she seemingly suffers from schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. She starts to dominate and punish Norman for any and everything, no matter how trivial. She teases and torments Norman, then punishes him when he reacts. The two are happy living together alone in relative isolation. Then in 1949, Norma get’s herself a lover, Chet Rudolph (Thomas Schuster). Chet is an oafish brute who bullies and terrorises Norman (Henry Thomas), while Norma does nothing about it. Business at the motel begins to suffer due to a new interstate being built near by.
Chet continues his bullying of Norman until he can take no more. Driven by anger and jealousy that Chet had now become his mother’s main focus of affection. Norman kills both of them by lacing some ice-tea with poison. After the funerals, Norman steals Norma’s corpse and preserves it via taxidermy. Over time, Norman begins to develop a split personality and becomes mother in an attempt to suppress his guilt of murdering his own mom. Norman begins to dress in his mother’s clothes and talk to himself in her voice. Mother takes over and Norman kills two young women who try to seduce Norman. The two girls Norman is guilty of killing off screen, in the events of the first flick.
Back in the present day at the radio station and Dr. Richmond works out that this ‘Ed’ guy is actually Norman Bates. Norman begins to worry that he could kill again. He married a psychiatrist named Connie (Donna Mitchell) and Norman reveals that Connie is pregnant with his child. Norman says that he never wanted a baby out of fear that it will be born like him, insane. He tells radio host Fran that he fears mother could repossess him, killing Connie and the baby. The chase is on to try and track Norman down to stop him from killing his wife and unborn child.
When Connie returns home from work, Norman takes her to the old Bates Motel and house. He does try to kill her with a knife, but Connie does her best to try and convince Norman that he chose to go insane, that mother does not control him and that their child will not be born like him, that there is always a choice. As Norman realises the truth, they he can chose not to be mother, he drops the knife. He then sets the house on fire to destroy it once and for all. Just barely escaping, Norman says that his is now free. Then there’s a pretty pointless stinger ending with a fade to black and a baby crying.
This flick really is a mixed bag. First things first, writer, Joseph Stefano has gone on record as saying that this film is a direct sequel to the original Psycho. A film that ignores every other sequel. There is no mention of the whole Emma Spool stuff from Psycho II and III. So none of the previous events happened in relation to this film. Looking at this film with that in mind, this is an interesting picture. I really liked the idea of a prequel looking at the younger Norman Bates and seeing exactly what happened between him and his mother. Henry Thomas does a decent job as the younger Norman Bates too. I honestly think that if this had just been a prequel, it could’ve really worked. It’s the whole framing and story with the radio show and older Norman that just does not work for me, which is a shame as again, Anthony Perkins is fantastic. I guess this is worth a look, just don’t expect anything amazing. Plus, there’s a couple of fun cameos to spot. First one is famed director John Landis and the second is Kurt Paul. Now, who is Kurt Paul you ask? Well he was Anthony Perkins’ stunt double in Psycho II and III… oh and he played Norman Bates in that atrocity that was Bates Motel.
I guess it had to happen didn’t it? Yes Psycho was remade. Directed by Gus Van Sant, maybe remake is not really the correct term to use. This is a shot for shot re-enactment of the original Psycho film. Given this, it’s not really worth me going into the plot, because it’s the exact same plot just moved into a more contemporary setting. The characters are the same, the dialogue is the same (save a few modernisations), everything is the same, except more modern. Instead of stealing $40,000 in the original, Marion steals $400,000 in this version, etc. This is less a remake and more an experiment in recreating a classic movie. This film was slated when it was released and is still very much hated among Psycho fans. I’m a Psycho fan, so what do I think?
I just don’t have the hatred toward this film like others do. Is it as good as the original? Of course not, it’s not even close. Nothing will ever be as great as the original Psycho. But as a film in of itself, it’s a good horror/thriller. There are no surprises here if you already know the original as the plots are identical. But I fail to see how that is a problem when the plot is so damn good. Sure, Gus Van Sant is no Alfred Hitchcock, but his experiment is still a fun one and you can’t help but wonder what Hitch might have done differently if he had a bigger budget and fewer restraints for his version. The acting is decent and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates is believable. Anne Heche’s take on Marion Crane works. Julianne Moore as Lila Crane comes across as a little more ballsy in this version and a lot less 1960s clueless female. Virgo Mortensen as Sam Loomis is enjoyable and William H. Macy as Milton Arbogast is actually bloody great. That’s about it really, there’s little more to say. Yes of course I much prefer Hitch’s version and that will always be my choice between the two films. But I really don’t mind this remake at all. It’s kind of nice to watch just to see how close it is as a re-enactment and just where things have been altered too.
And so, with all the films covered, next the books…
Written by Robert Bloch and released in 1959. Just as with the film remake, I don’t need to dwell on the plot as they’re the same between book and film. There are a few minor changes. The book kicks off with an introduction to Norman and his mother right from page one. Marion is Mary in the novel and she’s also not in it for much either. The book is more violent. As an example, Marion in the film is just stabbed in the shower, in the book, Mary is beheaded. Norman isn’t the good-looking, young man he is in the film. Here he’s middle aged, over weight, sexually perverted and drinks a lot. Arbogast’s death is different. Then there are some minor differences with the structure of the story. But all told, the novel and movie are virtually identical otherwise.
I just got through re-reading Psycho last week and I still enjoy it very much. It’s a short book and you could get through it in one sitting easily enough. Bloch’s wording seems a bit outdated in 2020 (it is sixty-one years old), but Psycho is still a fantastic read. If you know the film, then there are no surprises here as the plots of both are the same. Still, a very worth while read though.
Okay, so this one needs a little explanation before I get into the plot… and I need to get into the plot. So when Hollywood came up with the idea to make a sequel to the movie, Robert Bloch offered his services as the writer. He pitched his idea… which was quickly dismissed. Instead, the studio wanted to make their own picture. And 1983’s Psycho II is what we got. A film I really quite enjoyed. But after being shunned by Hollywood, Bloch became annoyed, so he decided to expand on his pitch for a movie and write a sequel to his novel instead, which he finished and published before the film was released. Yup, this book, Psycho II is very different to the film Psycho II… very different…
So the story picks up twenty years after the events of the first book. Norman has been locked away in a mental asylum and been treated by his psychiatrist, Dr Adam Claiborne. Two nuns stop by for a visit and to talk to some of the patients. One of the nuns chats to Norman, under the chaperone of Dr Claiborne. However, the doctor is requested on the phone and leaves Norman and the nun alone. Of course Norman does what he does best, he murders the nun by strangling her with her own rosary beads. Now disguised as the nun, Norman makes his escape along with the other nun in their van. Shorty after, Norman murders the other nun with a tire iron and leaves her body in the back of the van… after raping the corpse. Along the way, Norman picks up a hitchhiker, kills him and sets fire the the van in an attempt to throw the police off his trail. The police eventually find the burnt out van and work out that the body in the back is of the other nun while the charred remains in the front must belong to Norman. So as far as the police know, Norman is dead. But Dr Claiborne isn’t so sure, he thinks Norman is still out there.
Due to a serious accident involving a bus and several dead civilians, there would be a delay on autopsy of the body in the to confirm who he is. Meanwhile, Norman has tracked down Sam and Lilia Loomis and killed them both. He also finds a newspaper reporting on a story that Hollywood are planning on making a movie based on the events told in the first book… yes this is getting a bit meta. The Hollywood movie is going to be called Crazy Lady and is set to begin filming soon. So that’s where Norman heads next, to Hollywood to stop the production of the film in his own special way. The producer of the film contacts Dr Claiborne about background info on the whole Norman Bates case to help with the film. Dr Claiborne heads to Hollywood himself under the guise of a technical consultant when really, he wants to try to stop Norman, who the police think is dead and not in Hollywood trying to kill anyone.
Now in Hollywood, Dr Claiborne is introduced to the cast and crew, including the director, Vizzini who Dr Claiborne thinks looks just like Norman Bates. So Dr Claiborne tries to warn anyone who will listen that he thinks Norman in in Hollywood and is trying to kill the people making the movie, Crazy Lady. No one really believes him… until the producer of the flick is found decapitated. Yes, it seems that Norman Bates has been busy. Now things are getting serious, plus Dr Claiborne learns of Vizzini’s disturbing past, that as a boy, he witnessed his mother being raped and killed. It seems that the director of the film has more in common with Norman Bates than just looking like him, and Dr Claiborne seriously begins to question the director’s sanity. Turns out the good doctor is right too as Vizzini arranges to meet with he actress playing the Mary Crane role at the movie studio to ‘rehearse’ the shower scene. Two crazies running around the set of the movie is bad news.
So at the movie studio Vizzini and his lead actress are all alone, and he tries to rape and murder her. She fights back and at the same time, Dr Claiborne is told about the meeting between Vizzini and the actress. Seriously worried the director is insane, Dr Claiborne rushes to the studio while keeping an eye out for Norman Bates. Except Norman Bates is dead. Yes, that charred body in the van was actually Norman Bates all along. The hitchhiker Norman picked up was found and questioned by the police. He killed Norman in self-defense when Norman tried to kill him. The Hitchhiker then set fire to the van to hide any evidence. So If Norman Bates is dead, that that must mean that it was the director of the film, Vizzini who was the real killer. Gone insane after the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother raped and killed and was trying to drum up some free publicity for his Crazy Lady flick.
Dr Claiborne makes it to the studio just in time. The actress manages to kick Vizzini away as he tries to rape her on the set of the shower scene. Vizzini stumbles backward into the shower curtain, where he lets out a scream and re-emerges with a stab wound in the back and drops dead on the floor. The real killer tries to kill the Mary Crane actress, only for the police to show up and shoot them. The killer falls to the floor and he is revealed to be Dr Claiborne. Surviving the shooting, Dr Claiborne is committed to the same asylum that Norman Bates was. Yes, the real killer had been Norman’s very own doctor all along. Norman died in the van early on and Dr Claiborne just kind of snapped when he realised Norman was dead. After being his psychiatrist for twenty years, some of Norman had rubbed off onto Dr Claiborne.
So there you have it, the alternate Psycho II, very, very different to the film version. You can see perhaps why the movie studio initially turned down Robert Bloch’s sequel idea, because it really was a bit petty and a dig at horror films and Hollywood in general. When you read Psycho II, you can definitely see a certain level of resentment from Bloch. But is the book any good? Yes and no. The twist is a good one and one not really spoiled early on. Killing of Norman in the opening chapters is certainly ballsy and Bloch does a good job of keeping the subterfuge up. But, there are issues. At times, it feels over-written and overtly meandering. Psycho II is just not as well paced and snappy as the first novel. Plus, while Norman was a bit of a creep in the first book… raping a dead nun in this? I just seems very off to me, as if Bloch was trying to shock for the sake of trying to shock. It never felt organic really. As mentioned, you can feel a sense of petty resentment toward Hollywood and film-making too. It feels like Bloch never really got over having his idea turned down for a sequel movie. There’s quite a few completely unnecessary chapters that could’ve easily been cut to help with the pacing. There’s one chapter that has the lead actor of the film within the book going to a gay bar to research the fact the Norman Bates dressed as his mother. But Norman dressing as his mother had nothing to do with being gay. It was a pointless chapter that added nothing to the plot, plus the gay bar featured big Hollywood actor look-a-likes… why? I think with a bit of editing and a not so bitter attitude toward Hollywood and this could’ve been amazing. But as it is, it’s a decent enough read, a little long winded and thin on actual plot. Nowhere near as great as the first book, but still worth a read with a good ending.
For a while, I thought that was all the Psycho books, but there were a couple more.
Robert Bloch is back with his third book in the Psycho franchise, released in 1990. Again, a new story not connected to the films, but serves as a sequel to Bloch’s Psycho II. Set ten years after the events of the Psycho II novel. The plot revolves around how the Bates Motel has been turned into a tourist attraction, based on the infamy of it’s history and Norman Bates’ story. Amy Haines, a plucky writer looking to pen a novel based on the Bates Motel turns up to get some background information and a little inspiration for her book. A teenage girl is found stabbed to death at the infamous house and Amy decides to investigate who is behind the murder. The town is full of suspects and whenever Amy questions someone, they turn up dead soon after. Someone is out there trying to keep the mythology of Norman Bates alive… but who?
Robert Bloch’s Psycho: Sanitarium
Despite his name in the title, Robert Bloch did not write this one… on account that he died in 1994 and this novel was released as recently as 2017. In the writer’s chair for this one is Chet Williamson. So this book is both a sequel to the original Psycho and a prequel to Psycho II. Telling to story of Norman Bates’ incarceration in the mental asylum. Norman Bates is gone, taken over by the murderous mother persona following the events of the first novel. Dr. Felix Reed works closely with Norman to try and bring him out from under the shadow of mother. It is rumored that the asylum itself is haunted and when a series of murders begin to happen, the place is not short of suspects, including Norman himself who still has a few dark secrets yet to be revealed.
Now to be honest, I’ve not actually read either of these books, not yet anyway. Which is why I’ve not offered my opinion on them. But I’ve done some snooping around and the general consensus is that Psycho House wasn’t very good at all. A far cry from Bloch’s previous Psycho books, that comes off as a pretty lazy ‘whodunit?’ kind of thing. But Psycho: Sanitarium is said to be great. Despite not being written by original author, Robert Bloch, the novel does maintain the style set up in the first book and even goes on to elaborate and even extend on certain plot points set up in Psycho. All told, it seems like Chet Williamson has put together a worthy sequel to the original book after so many years.
So now the movies and books are out of the way, that just leaves TV…
Interestingly enough, and before I really get into this show. The other Bates Motel, the TV movie from 1987 was meant to kick-start a TV show called Bates Motel. Only due to the poor and very much deserved low reception of that TV movie, the show itself was cancelled before it got started. Then just a short twenty-six years later and Bates Motel the TV show finally existed… only this show was nothing to do with the TV movie of the same name. So this show is a prequel of sorts telling the story of young Norman Bates and his mother. Only it’s not a prequel to the films or the books. It’s a kind of an all new re-telling of the history in a more contemporaneity setting. I’m not going to go over each and every episode as that would take way too long, so just a quick summary of each season instead I think.
Season One: After the death of Norma Bates’ (Vera Farmiga) husband, she buys a motel and sets about beginning a new life with her son, Norman (Freddie Highmore). When the former owner of the motel breaks into the house and attacks Norma, she fights back and stabs him to death. With the help of Norman, Norma hides the body and covers up the killing. The town sheriff, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) begins to sniff around after the missing person, Norma and Norman do their best to keep their secret.
Season Two: Norman’s teacher is murdered and suspicions begin to build around the Bates family. Norman’s estranged brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot) starts asking questions about their family history. While Norma begins to worry about Norman’s state of mind.
Season Three: Norman’s mental health begins to get worse and worse, yet he denies that anything is wrong. Norma increasingly becomes worried about what is happening to her son and grows increasingly more concerned about just what he may be capable of. While Alex Romero’s suspicions on the Bates’ continues.
Season Four: Norma fights to find some professional help for Norman’s state of mind. Norman’s grip on reality begins to slide more and more. Unable to pay for expensive treatment, Norma agrees to marry Alex Romero for financial support to help her son. An enraged Norman learns about the wedding and attempts a murder/suicide of his mother and himself. Norma dies, but Norman survives.
Season Five: Norma has been dead for two years and Norman is alone to run the motel. Out in public, and Norman seems to be coping well, but it’s when he’s behind closed doors when he loses his grip on reality. He begins talking to his dead mother and her to him. A beautiful young woman called Marion Crane books in for a stay at Bates Motel… but just how will Norman Bates react?
So I did start watching this show and made it to about halfway through season three… then I just got bored. Now, I’m not saying it’s not a good show, the problem is me. I just can’t get into these long winded American TV shows. I just found this whole thing crammed with filler and fluff to pad everything out. Yes I know the history of Norman Bates and his mother isn’t really a deep one… and that’s the issue I had with this show. Five seasons, each season with ten episodes at around fifty minutes each. It was just too much. If this had been a three seasons, six to eight episodes each, then I probably would have held my interest more. There’s the main story of Norman losing his grip on reality and his relationship with his mother… that was great. Both Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma being utterly fantastic. But then there’s all this guff going on with Norman’s brother, drug dealing, love triangles, etc. I just didn’t care about to be honest. From what I watched, I really did enjoy this show, but I soon got bored and just didn’t bother with season four and five. And as far as I understand, season five is where the plot catches up with the whole main plot of the first film. But just to be clear, this isn’t a prequel to the film series or the books. It’s a re-telling of the whole Norman/Norma history and when the show does get to the meat of Marion Crane turning up at the motel, it does things very, very differently. If your a Psycho fan, then this is well worth checking out.
Okay, so there is one final thing to take a quick look at… a Psycho video game. Yes, a video game…
Oh yeah, there was a Psycho game. Developed by Starsoft Development Laboratories, published by Box Office, Inc. and released in 1988. Psycho saw a multi-platform release on the home computers including the C64, Amiga and Atari ST.
The game was an action/adventure type thing that uses a verb interface, telling a new story ‘inspired’ by the film series. You play as a detective hired to find a missing curator of a museum. I’ll let the back of the box cover the plot…
Precious jewels and an unwitting curator have been hoisted from the Metropolitan Showcase of Art. Tracing the crime to the menacing Bates Motel, you are the only detective willing to take the case…
Travel to the Bates Motel to unravel this strange mystery. Enter both the Motel and the forbidden house on the hill to search for clues. Keep your eyes alert and your back to the wall as you encounter the psychotic Norman Bates and his curiously silent mother. Prove yourself worthy of the title, Master Detective, as you plot your escape with the stolen jewels, captive curator… and your skin intact!
Just a couple of things I want to quickly cover with that description. You never go to the motel at all, the whole game takes place in the Bates’ home. Plus Norman/mother don’t make much of an appearance either, only twice in fact. Your biggest enemies in the game are not the main character(s) but dogs and ghosts.
It’s one of those search everything kind of things with a few little puzzles thrown in to annoy you. Kind of like one of those classic Lucasarts adventure games… only not as polished or as well written and designed. The Amiga and Atari ST versions both feature some fairly nice (for the time) digitised images taken from the first film and the presentation is pretty good. But the game itself is a slow, cumbersome mess. Even so, if you know what you are doing, the game can be finished in five minutes or so. I mean, here’s a complete walk-through for the game from start to finish…
Look in mailbox to find and read a letter. Open the door of the house go inside. Find a vase, dig and search it to find and take a key. Go through the middle door of the foyer to the kitchen and open the dumbwaiter. Use the dumbwaiter to go up, take the gun and ammo you’ll find. Go down in the dumbwaiter to the second floor and open the bathroom door to the right and take the caffeine pills. Down in the dumbwaiter again to the gardener’s room and search the pile of coal for a key. Open the door on the left to find the missing curator. Back to the dumbwaiter and up to the second floor again. This time, go into the master bedroom on the far left. Open and search the closet for some medicine. Back down in the dumbwaiter and use the medicine on the curator, hell give you a combination. To dumbwaiter again and go back to the bathroom on the second floor. Shoot ‘mother’ with the gun. Go upstairs to third floor, then through the door on the left and open the attic. Shoot ‘mother’ again. Open the safe with the combination you got from the curator, take the jewels and leave out the front door you came in by. Done.
There you go, the entire game covered in a single paragraph. Psycho wasn’t very well reviewed when it was released. Nor should it have been, it’s horrible.
And so, that’s everything Psycho related. From the original novel in 1959, through the movies, other books, a TV show and even a little known video game. Psycho has been a pretty long and successful franchise. A franchise that has spanned from 1959 – 2017, fifty-eight years of Norman Bates and his mother.
I hope there’s still more Psycho to come too. Personally, I’d love to see another remake more in line with the novel. I didn’t hate the 1998 remake as many others did, but I will always say that doing a shot for shot re-enactment, with a modern day twist was very much redundant. So I would very much like to see someone else interpret Robert Bloch’s novel their own way and make a new version of the story. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books that I’ve missed up to now, as bad or as great as they may be. I just love me some Psycho.
Okay, so one final Psycho thing to go over for it’s sixtieth birthday. I explore and try to explain why the teaser trailer Alfred Hitchcock created for the film is the greatest movie trailer ever made.