(Please Let) Norman Bates, Rest in Peace

Psycho (1960)
Psycho (1960)
I liked Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho as much (and perhaps even a bit more) than the next person. When I watched it again a few years back I found that it didn’t pack quite as much of a punch as it had all those years earlier when I first saw it, but it was still worth watching to admire Hitchcock’s skill in creating it.

As I recall I didn’t find the idea of Psycho II (1983) particularly appealing but I watched it a time or two way back when and seemed to remember that it was okay. Okay, as in okay for the sequel to a masterpiece by one of cinema’s great directors, made as the standard cash grab a few years after said director had passed on. The plot of this first sequel finds the esteemed Mr. Bates (improbably) released from an institution twenty-some years down the road and trying to make a fresh start, but of course things don’t go so well.

This led to Psycho III (1986), as these things so often do. Anthony Perkins was still on board as Norman Bates and this time around he’d also taken over in the director’s seat. For the life of me I can’t remember if I saw this one, but given my penchant for watching every bit of horror and slasher-related cinema that came down the pike in those days I’m guessing that I did. Although it obviously didn’t make much of an impact.

Those who excel in math would guess that the next incarnation in the series was Psycho IV but that’s correct only if you ignore Bates Motel (1987). I never saw it but I suspect that it would be easy to ignore. Apparently this forgettable TV movie pilot for a planned series finds Norman Bates dead and the infamous motel and house willed to a former roommate who tries to get the business up and running again, with dismal results.

Psycho IV (1990)
Psycho IV (1990)
Which did lead to Psycho IV (1990), with its subtitle The Beginning. If you’re quick on the draw you might have correctly guessed that this was a prequel of sorts that tries to clue the viewer in as to how Norman became what he was—as if that wasn’t made relatively clear in Hitchcock’s original. Sequel three finds Perkins again taking on the key role (though not directing), along with that E.T. kid Henry Thomas, who plays young Norman.

Perkins died at a relatively young age, in 1992, so there was no question of him reprising the role for the thoroughly redundant Psycho remake that rolled out in 1998. The main role was played by Vince Vaughan and the movie was directed (after a fashion) by Gus Van Sant, who’s a perfectly good director otherwise. I say “after a fashion” because so many references to this dopey exercise seem to contain the term “shot-by-shot remake.”

Which leads one to wonder what the point was. While sequels to the original Psycho aren’t my idea of a grand idea at least they attempted in their charmingly lame way to break some new ground. Not so for the remake, which (arguably) couldn’t have improved on the original no matter how good it was. Not that I would know since I never watched it. If the choice is between watching a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho or rewatching the original that’s an easy choice.

Just as I never got around to watching the remake of Halloween that Rob Zombie directed in 2007. Or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that came out in 2003. We could debate whether the original versions of each movie merit the term masterpiece but I’d say they were pretty close. So again I’d have to wonder what a remake could possibly bring to the table, other than some black ink for a studio’s bottom line.

As for the Psycho saga, it’s not over yet, mind you. Word on the street is that in late 2012 we’ll see Anthony Hopkins take on the role of none other than Alfred Hitchcock himself, in a movie that’s rather appropriately titled Hitchcock. It’s said to be based to some degree on the nonfiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, by Stephen Rebello.

To which I say, ho-hum (although the book sounds like it might be worth a look). Hopkins is a fine actor but I have no desire to see him do Hitchcock in a biopic. I’m mostly against biopics to start with, especially since in this case it’s a look at a movie director who already had a very clearly defined public persona.

But it’s still not over yet, mind you, not if another Psycho-related project actually comes to pass. More than a quarter of a century after the idea was last shelved, A&E has decided to resurrect the concept of a TV series called Bates Motel. This was originally conceived as a miniseries but later morphed into a proper TV series, which is scheduled to debut in 2013. Which is apparently another crack at a prequel thing which will examine the unusual relationship between Norman and—who else?—his mother.

None of which sounds intriguing enough to sustain an ongoing plotline but what do I know? This might turn out to be the kind of riveting television that gets people buzzing but it’s more likely that it won’t. Ultimately it might just be time for all parties concerned to admit that this horse is dead and to agree to stop bludgeoning it.


William I. Lengeman III is a freelance journalist with a fondness for gourmet tea and traditional mysteries. He writes about the former at Tea Guy Speaks and the latter at Traditional Mysteries.

Read all of William I. Lengeman III’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Lori Myers

    I’m with you! Let it go, already. Stop messing with a classic.

  2. Dorothy Hayes

    Psycho was a phenomenon. Movie goers were told not to reveal the story and we all obeyed. This was a first, as far as I know, in movie history. I can still relive the shocking and horrifying moment when Allen Bates dressed as his mother attacks with a huge knife in his raised fist, or the decrepit dead mother in the rocking chair scene, not to mention the shower scene. I want these scenes left untouched. Knowing more about Mrs. Bates and her relationship with her son, you are so right, is of no interest to me. It might take away some of the magic that comes with not knowing. As writers, we create characters and we go through the writing process to have art successfully imitate life. We don’t want to break the Hitchcock spell with a prequel.

    [b]Murder at the P&Z[/b] by Dorothy H. Hayes will be published in May.

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