The Real Psycho


“Psycho” started life in 1959 as a novel written by Robert Bloch. The book followed several normal people descent into crime. Mary Crane, is faced with temptation she cannot resist; she steals money to speed her marriage to a penniless young man and then attempts to flee both the city and her conscience. However, conscience and poetic justice meet her at the run down Bates Motel in the form of a psychopathic “woman” with a knife. What follows is family concern and investigation: Mary’s loyal sister and Mary’s fiance attempt to piece together what happened. They discover a horrifying truth in the Bates Motel and that Mrs. Bates is dead and has been for sometime, and her son is murdering in her name. Norman Bates is a dutiful mama’s boy, soothing his mother’s outrage while wearing her gown, her wig, and wielding a butcher’s knife.

“Psycho”, like Bloch’s first novel “The Scarf”, tackles topics of deviant sexuality as well as mania in creating oddly sympathetic murderers. Robert Bloch fashioned the psychological horror genre. These works deal with well drawn psychological studies of broken minds. In “The Scarf” his murderer protagonist had an attraction to his red scarf. In “Firebug”, Bloch detailed a pyromaniac’s mind. In “Psycho”, he dealt with both multiple personality disorder and transvestism. When Norman Bates readies himself to kill, he is not just putting on one of his Halloween costumes. He adopts his mother’s persona as well as her wardrobe. He uses her voice. She is a separate personality in his mind driving his body to brutal acts.

The novel captured quite a bit of attention on publication. However, it reached a much wider audiences due to its infamous 1968 film adaptation, written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In addition to Janet Leigh as the doomed Mary, the film stars the unforgettable Anthony Perkins as Norman. The movie was another hit in Hitchcock’s macabre oeuvre.

The film includes one of the most famous murder sequences in cinema. Mary’s brutal stabbing death in the shower took five days to shoot. Seventy camera angles contribute to the 3-minute scene. The footage is cut so the audience never sees the knife enter the skin or any nudity. However, viewer imaginations have often filled in the blanks to such a degree that many people swear they saw either nudity or gory violence.

“Psycho” proved so popular, director Gus van Sant directed a shot-by-shot remake in 1998. The result left audiences scratching their heads as to the motivation behind remaking a classic film. However, it did return granny dress Halloween outfits to costume shops. It also brought Bloch’s original novel back to bookstore shelves, allowing a new generation to experience the master’s prose.

Though it ranks among the most unlikely Halloween outfits ever sold, Norman Bates’ nightdress and wig make infrequent appearances at masquerade and fancy dress parties. The piece has become unforgettable among men’s Halloween costumes. It is forever ingrained in the public’s imagination.