The Series Project: Psycho (Part 1)
A warning. Almost every single paragraph of this installment of The Series Project will contain a major spoiler. Over the next two weeks, I will openly talk about every single plot twist in all six of the Psycho movies. If you want the twists to remain a secret, and don't know about Psycho, Norman Bates, or the infamous Bates Motel, then I encourage you to go watch the bloody movie and get back to this article at a future time. I do however, feel comfortable talking openly about all the plot details in Psycho for one simple reason:
There is a new TV show that just started airing on A&E called “Bates Motel,” which chronicles the many wacky incest-laced misadventures of the proto-murderer Norman Bates, a character who originally appeared in the 1958 novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, and who was made popular by the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock feature film based on it. The TV show is predicated on what we already know of Norman: that he became jealous of/outraged by his mother's sexual affairs, subsequently murdered her, and spent many years fostering a split personality in a creepy old mansion right next to a remote California motel, where he would stab people to death while dressed as his dead mother. Since this show is predicated entirely on the now well-known twist in Alfred Hitchcock's famous film, I feel that advertising has beat me to the punch. If billboards and TV spots and obnoxious AMC Firstlook trailerettes are going to give away everything, then I think it's okay for me to do so as well.
So yes, to be upfront and blunt about it, Norman Bates is his mother, and he kills other people while wearing a wig and a dress. I think we all know this, of course, but I'm never sure where to draw the line on a film as old as this. If they don't know the big plot twist in Psycho, I would rather a young person watch the film and discover it on their own. But how openly can I discuss a film so well-known as this? Can I give away everything? Should I remain guarded? For the purposes of this installment of The Series Project, I will talk about everything. Heck, I already gave away the first film. I'm going to go all the way, and give away everything. This is not me being a jerk. This is me giving a salute to holistic critical integrity.
Can you believe that there are six films based on Robert Bloch's famous novel? Sure, we all know the 1960 original, but few know about (or at least have seen) the three theatrical sequels to the film, released all the way up until 1990. There was also the notorious shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998 directed by Gus Van Sant, and the little-acknowledged 1987 TV movie Bates Motel, starring Bud Cort. The TV movie was intended as a pilot to a new series, and eschews the continuity of the series a lot, but is still, I feel, part of the canon. This week, I'm going to be covering the 1960 original, and the first two theatrical sequels, released in the 1980s. Next week, I'll talk about Bates Motel, Psycho IV: The Beginning, and the Van Sant remake. I fully intend to watch both the original and the supposed shot-by-shot remake simultaneously on a second TV.
The setup: All six films are about Norman Bates in some capacity. In some of the films, he is a creepy serial killer. In others he is a sympathetic man bound by his compulsions. Each of the films has its moments of levity used to varying degrees of effectiveness. The central twist of the series is that we don't meet Norman until nearly halfway through the first film, as he will be the one to murder Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), the sexy blonde on the run from the law, and the person we assumed to be the film's main character. Norman is a neurotic who behaves like a decent and awkward innocent, but who occasionally goes a little mad, speaks in his dead mother's voice, and dons a dress to go a-stabbin'. Over the course of the sequels, we will learn that Norman has a compulsion to continue doing these things, no matter how much therapy he receives, and how much redemption is offered in the arms of women.
No more beating about the shower.