Over half a century ago, the most venerated filmmaker of all time took a break from his big budget Technicolor crowd-pleasers to take his television crew on the road and produce a black and white slash-fest based on a notorious serial killer for under a million dollars. Against all odds and expectations, this little film that everyone told him not to make became the most iconic and legendary piece of cinema he would ever create, Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. Additionally and unwittingly, Mr. Hitchcock also developed the template for what would later be known as the “slasher” film. A morally ambiguous protagonist, a creepy-yet-familiar locale, a dash of nudity, a healthy helping of violence and a twist ending that would shock and fascinate audiences and critics for generations to come.
Several sequels, a remake and two TV specials later, Psycho is in the forefront of the public imagination once again. The biographical film Hitchcock reignited the obsession with the film itself, and the buzz around the new TV series Bates Motel has jumpstarted the fascination with the story of Norman Bates, his twisted and murderous mother, and his creepy motel.
Wisely waiting 15 years since Gus Van Sant’s bold film school experiment of a failed remake, A&E is back to the well with it’s smart, reverent and effective reboot Bates Motel. Norman finds himself in a far sexier century, surrounded by extremely forward girls that sit on his lap, take pictures on his phone and invite him to house parties. But he’s still the same shy boy from the 50s and 60s, with modest sweaters and a mop of goofy hair. Every woman in the story, from his schoolmates to his school teacher and of course his mother seems hell bent on touching poor Norman. They are all women of today, and Norman is a decidedly repressed child of yesteryear. It works great.
The Bates Motel itself is also a fish out of water in modern times. The world has grown up, but the roadside motor lodge is a time capsule from the 1950s, filled with the same furniture from 50 years ago and all the mystery-filled nooks and crannies of its halls recreated with loving detail. When the location is revealed in the cold opening, this Psycho fan literally giggled with glee to be back where my obsession began.
The house on the hill where the horror unfolded, a creepy California Gothic on the Universal, backlot was my first exposure to the legend of Norman Bates. In 3rd grade, around when my obsession with classic films began, I begged my parents all year to take me to Universal Studios. I was dying to see King Kong in action and and drive past the legendary Hill Valley clock tower. But when the tram lumbered across the backlot, that strange house with its eerie motel captured my imagination.
As the years bore on, I explored the Hitchcock catalogue and through his lens, learned all the best tricks of the cinematic trade. When the digital camera revolution broke through and it became possible for me to make my first movie, it was a loving homage to Hitchcock’s famous film, a gross-out parody entitled Pervert.
Needless to say, I’m delighted to be back on the Bates property. I’m not sure where this new series will take us, but already I can tell it’s the best incarnation of the story we’ve had in years. Most of the sequels have been an embarrassment, Norman’s previous forays into television were short-lived to say the least and the remake is one of the most reviled films of all time (although I do have a strangely soft spot in my heart for it). Norman and his mother have come home, and their deadly motel is back in business. So enjoy the show, and make sure to lock the door before you take a shower.