The Slasher horror-movie genre started with him—at the exact moment he yanked back that famous shower curtain. He is one of a handful of characters that forever changed film audiences’ expectations. He is Norman Bates and during the 53 years since he first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s shock-thriller masterpiece, Psycho, film audiences still can’t get him off of our minds.
A new Norman for a new age: Freddie Highmore shines as a young Norman Bates in A&E’s Bates Motel.
“How well we remember Norman Bates,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert. “Tens of thousands of movie characters have come and gone…and yet he still remains so vivid in the memory, such a sharp image among all the others that have gone out of focus.”
And now Norman’s back, in a wildly imaginative franchise reboot of sorts called Bates Motel.
Back to Before the Beginning
The new A&E series is earning rave reviews for giving us the Norman Bates story from a different vantage point—of teenage Norman before he grows up to be…well, different. In another smart move, the show is set in the present—which somehow gives the series more teeth than if it had been set in the 1950s.
Although only a few episodes of the show have aired, there’s already a buzz surrounding the show. In Bates Motel, high-schooler Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), buy a rundown roadside motel in a scenic yet odd town on the Pacific coast. (The series is one of many shows filmed in British Columbia these days.)
“A boy’s mother is his best friend.” Vera Farmiga kills as Norma Bates, the “Mother” we only thought we knew.
While Norman and “Mother” have been trying to repair and renovate the motel, some local town folk haven’t been very welcoming—which resulted in the show’s first killing. Now new characters are being introduced, like a potential girlfriend for Norman (not to mention a long-lost stepbrother). And then there’s that pesky local sheriff, who just can’t stop noseying around the motel…and meddling in the Bates family’s activities.
A&E’s Bates Motel is just getting cranked up, but it’s already showing signs of starting to attract a growing fan base like AMC’s The Walking Dead before it. We’re already hooked.
Norman Bates, originally played with nervous precision by Anthony Perkins, took filmgoers by surprise when Hitchcock’s Psycho stormed into theaters. Film audiences weren’t used to villains who seemed like genuinely nice people—that is, until their murderous psychology compelled them to kill again. Prior to Psycho, screen villains acted villainous most of the time.
Tony Perkins as mad, bad Norman Bates. Notice the image of teeth superimposed on Norman’s mouth, which is the beginning of a skull image that Hitchcock will place over Norman’s face, in a creepy final touch.
Some stray trivia you may not know about Norman Bates:
• When Perkins took the role that would make him globally famous, director Hitchcock refused to instruct the young actor in how exactly to play the part. “Hitch” left it to Perkins to develop the character himself, which he did to perfection. Prime example: Norman’s nervous munching of candy corn.
• There was a real person that inspired Robert Bloch to write his suspense thriller, Psycho. The killer was named Ed Gein, and he served as the prototype for Norman Bates and Dr. Hannibal Lector (from The Silence of the Lambs). However, his actual crimes were far too shocking to portray in movies, although at least two later films were directly based on Gein’s life.
• There have been five “Psycho” films, including the original classic. One of the more interesting sequels was Psycho 3, which was directed by Perkins himself.
• The original outdoor facades for the Bates house and the Bates Motel were originally constructed on a back lot at Universal Studios, in a money-saving move. Now, more than 50 years later, the famous film location is still preserved as a favorite part of the Universal Studios Hollywood Tour.
Hitchcock’s Psycho was a daring work of modern art that broke rules and took chances—and resulted in an artistic triumph and commercial smash. Hitchcock shot the film with the production crew from his television show, and ran the entire budget on a shoestring. His creative ingenuity paid off in huge dividends on the screen and at the box office.
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The next Hitchcock could be studying film at DMA this summer. In fact, the next Hitchcock could be…you! Now how’s that for a shocking twist? Hitch would be proud…