The notorious, mentally unbalanced killer from Psycho, Norman Bates, has been resurrected – or should I say, “re-enacted” – in a new TV series, which has just started showing on UK screens. The series is called Bates Motel and chronicles Norman’s early years prior to his slaughter of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the shower.
But will this series live up to the sheer brilliance and breathtaking horror of the original movie and its sequels? And will the new actor who plays this younger Norman prove to be just as iconic and unforgettable as Anthony Perkins? Well, that will remain to be seen. However, for me, being an ardent fan of the original movies, there is only one person who can play Norman Bates, and that is Anthony Perkins. He really made that role his own, and he is certainly going to be a hard fact to follow. So let us take a look at the original Psycho movie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960, and recall how Perkins portrayal of the demented Norman Bates made that film such a classic.
The story starts off pretty ordinarily enough, with no hint whatsoever of the mind-blowing suspense and horror to follow. Marion Crane and her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) argue over their future together. Marion wants to get married, but Sam can’t afford it. Consequently, she steals forty thousand dollars from the office where she works, and flees into the night. On the second night of her journey to Sam’s hometown, it rains heavily and persistently, obscuring the windscreen of Marion’s car. Then the neon lights of the Bates Motel loom up through the rain-spattered glass (one of my favourite scenes in the whole movie). In the background of the motel stands an old house on a hill. Deciding to stop by at the motel for the night, Marion is greeted by the proprietor, a young and rather handsome young man by the name of Norman Bates. Ushering her inside out of the pouring rain, Norman initially proves to be a rather hospitable soul, chatting with her over sandwiches and milk in the motel’s parlour. However, the more the conversation goes on, the more Marion gets the impression that, in addition to being an ardent taxidermist, this apparently reserved, if a little touchy, young man is dominated by his ageing mother (he suddenly snaps at Marion when she suggests he would be better putting his mother in an “institution”).
Thus the scene is set for what is going to be one of the most spine-chilling, unforgettable stories in horror movie history, and one that spawned a whole series of so-called “slasher films”. Perkins is just fantastic in every single scene in which he appears, and does a remarkable job in bringing to life Robert Bloch’s psychotic character, constantly tottering between reality and fantasy, one minute being himself, and the next being his mother (whom we never see actually alive), dressing up in her clothes and harbouring a terrifying urge to kill – an urge which is vented in the most horrific manner imaginable, as he slaughters Janet Leigh in that notorious shower scene.
The fact that in the original novel by Robert Bloch, Bates physically is nothing like the young and handsome version presented by Perkins, but is a fat, balding, middle-aged, bespectacled man doesn’t matter a jot in the movie, for the face of Perkins has become so synonymous with the whole Psycho franchise that when you think of Psycho, you immediately think of Anthony Perkins as THE Norman Bates, the one we have all got used to and have come to accept as the definitive one, the one that nobody can possibly emulate. The same analogy could be said of Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, or Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man, or Christopher Lee as Dracula. When an actor truly excels in a particular role, and when that actor becomes the main one forever associated with that part, then whether they like being typecast or not, they know full well that whatever fresh face steps into their shoes has a big standard to live up to. Sometimes – very rarely though – these new actors manage to pull it off; other times, unfortunately, they don’t.
In regard to the new Bates motel TV series, I am fairly sure that the actor who has stepped into the shoes of Anthony Perkins will do his best to live up the high calibre and standard set by Perkins. If he successfully pulls it off, then indubitably he will have done the original Psycho movies great justice. Psycho set a new peak in horror cinema, one that has been emulated many times but has rarely been equalled. I look forward, with great interest, to seeing how this new take on the character of Norman Bates compares.