“A son is a poor substitute for a lover.” – Norman Bates

“Psycho” has some of the most powerful subtext of any film. Made only more potent by the fact that the words incest or necrophilia are never spoken aloud but we know that they occurred.

Norman’s method of murder and choice of victim are telling of who he is and what he’s doing. The psychiatrist at the end is only half-right. Norman didn’t kill Marion just because the “mother” side was jealous of her. That may have been part of it, but it certainly wasn’t the only factor. I believe that the initiator was Marion’s unthinkable suggestion to get rid of mother. An idea that needed a violent act in order to crush it within Norman’s psyche.

There’s a scene that makes no sense in “Psycho” unless the above is at least partially true. It’s the one where Arbogast is probing Norman about Marion’s whereabouts. At this point the man thinks that Norman might have been duped by the girl and says: “You’re not a fool are you Norman?” Norman reacts in a strange way. He blurts out a diatribe against women that ends with “…she may have fooled me, but she didn’t fool my mother.”

How did Marion fool Norman? Was it because he thought of her as an interloper? First, she attracts him sexually. She is the temptress. Then, she slips the ridiculous notion to get rid of mother. She is the God Dionysus come to bring chaos in his structured existence. Was that it?

But why would that set him off? Was it because this is terribly familiar? Didn’t mother do the same to Norman at one time? Didn’t she attract him sexually then bring chaos into the relationship by bringing in another man? Norman killed her because she was “abandoning” him. Mother killed Marion because she thought this woman was trying to get Norman to abandon her.

This idea means that the Norman we see at the end is, in fact, the true Norman, the one without the mask. Norman had become Mother a long time ago. Sometimes Mother thought she was Norman and sometimes she thought she was herself, but Norman was always Mother. Stealing her corpse and stuffing it wasn’t enough, he had to give her his soul.

All this is so labyrinthine that you could write a whole book analyzing it. This kind of complexity was heady stuff in 1960. Remember, in those days most movie murderers looked shady and vaguely effeminate. They looked wrong. They looked like killers. When they killed, the motive was always money or revenge. But our Norman looked like his name implied, Norma(l). He was handsome and soft-spoken. He was polite and courteous. He didn’t seem to have anything wrong with him.

How little we knew at the time what a harbinger of true madmen he would be.


Alfred Hitchcock (Original): What can you say about a man so famous that the term “Hitchcockian” has entered common language? It’s even in some dictionaries. How’s that for an everlasting legacy? From 1948’s Rope until 1964’s Marnie he was on a hot streak that few directors have equaled. Almost every one of his films at this time was a hit; that’s twelve movies in a row (Not including a TV series that lasted almost ten years). How many has Spielberg had in his entire career again?

Gus Van Sant (Remake): The man has unjustly been vilified because of the remake. Fans felt that he had taken a giant dump on a classic and critics didn’t think the movie stood out enough from the original to even warrant a review.

To be fair, some criticism is deserved. There is an inherent problem with an identical remake. Technically speaking, anyone could do it since 90% is lifted from the 1960 version. Having any trouble with a scene? Just pop in the tape of the Hitchcock version, figure out what he did, and then do the same. Not exactly brain surgery.

Still, the man has talent. “Good Will Hunting”, “Drugstore Cowboy”, “To Die For”… Not flaky material. It’s just a shame that you’ll never see what he’s capable of while watching “Psycho”. He’s relegated himself to the role of fan.


Joseph Stefano (Original/Remake): Based on the novel by Robert Bloch, this is a rare case where the screenplay ends up being written with more depth than the book. The character of Norman, for instance, was changed from an unpleasant, balding middle-aged man trying to weasel out of a murder his mother committed to a soft spoken, handsome, shy, young mama’s boy who wants to protect his beloved mother even though he thinks what she did was despicable.

Stefano knew that unless you sympathized with Norman, the movie would be a chore to watch. Not to mention that it dilutes the red herring. In the movie, you can believe that mother committed the crimes until the very end. In the book, Norman is obviously capable of such a heinous act so the ending comes as less of a shock.


Even if someone has never watched Psycho or heard of Hitchcock, they’ll know what that damn house looks like. The image of the original structure with Mother Bates in the upstairs window is forever imprinted in the collective consciousness. It’s like the Amityville House; it’s almost a character in and of itself.

Sadly, Van Sant doesn’t even try to equal it. The Bates place in the remake is just a house. It has neither the menace nor the personality of the original. It’s creepy, but not alive. It doesn’t loom, it just kind of… sits there.

The shower scenes compared in part three of PSYCHO VS. PSYCHO>>>

Posted on December 1, 2004 in Features by

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