Having examined, investigated and completely broken down the ins and outs of the entire 'Psycho' franchise for my documentary project 'The Psycho Legacy,' I’ve managed to become pretty well versed in the mythology and time-line of all the events as they take place within the universe set up by Sir Alfred Hitchcock in his 1960 adaptation of the Robert Bloch novel 'Psycho' right through to the final prequel/sequel of that particular franchise with 'Psycho IV: The Beginning.'
One of my initial concerns with A&E’s original announcement regarding their prequel show 'Bates Motel' was that my knowledge of the movies was going to spoil all the details of how the events leading up to the first 'Psycho' had transpired. But alas, what the writers and producers of the show wisely opted to do instead was set the re-imagining in the present day. So as a fan, I became instantly intrigued and excited because after the pilot episode premiered, I truly had no idea where they were going with this. For those unfamiliar with the original films, I thought it’d be fun to break down the 5 biggest changes from the original 'Psycho' mythology to this new reinterpretation of Norman Bates and his mother Norma on 'Bates Motel.' Granted, the following break-down contains major spoilers to the 'Psycho' film series, but not necessarily to the current show. Any comments or observations I make about the show are purely speculative at this point as we’ve only just crossed the half way mark for Season One. So what’s different?
Norma Louise Bates Is A Murderer – Very little is known about Norma Bates from the original 'Psycho,' but all the gaps of her and Norman’s relationship are filled in by the time we get to 'Psycho IV: The Beginning,' a definitive backstory from screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who adapted the book for Hitchcock’s film. And the biggest difference already right from the get-go is that the 'Bates Motel's version of Norma (Vera Farmiga) is most certainly a murderer. Half way through the first episode, after being sexually assaulted and insulted by the sleazy previous proprietor of the motel Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown), Norma gets a little knife happy and goes "psycho" on her attacker. But in the original films, Norma (as portrayed by 'Romeo & Juliet's Olivia Hussey) was never a murderer. Sure, she was crazy in the sense that her mood swings, overt jealousy and incestuous relationship with Norman drove him to become what he becomes, but it was only in Norman’s mind after he killed his mother that he begins to see her as an uncontrollable murderer that grows insanely jealous anytime he encounters a young girl that he finds attractive. In the movies, Mother aka Norma Bates never killed anyone.
Norman Bates Is Most Definitely Mentally Ill – One of the interesting debates of the original 'Psycho' franchise was tackled pretty head-on in 'Psycho IV: The Beginning'... Was Norman a crazed killer because of the way he was treated by his mother growing up? Or was it something inherent in him since birth? In other words, nature versus nurture. For the movie version, although they left it open for audience interpretation, it definitely seems like it may have been a bit of both. But on the show, Norman Bates is most definitely mentally ill as they’ve slowly started revealing in the opening moments of Episode 4 "Trust Me" when we learn that Mother didn’t actually instruct Norman to break into Deputy Shelby’s place to retrieve Keith Summer’s belt. Instead, he had a hallucination that his mother told him to do it. Norma later explains that this happens sometimes and Norman "sees things that aren’t really there." If he’s already having visions of his mother telling him to do things, then he’s clearly had a mental problem long before he commits matricide, which will inevitably have to be the end-game for the show.
The Motel Came Long Before Mother's Boyfriend Did – Another one of the liberties taken with the new show is the way in which Norma and Norman obtain the infamous motel and house. Even the movies have a fuzzy time-line when it comes to exactly when they obtained the property. In the original 1960 'Psycho,' Norman makes reference to a man that convinced his mother to build the motel on their property before they both died. We later find out that (again, major spoiler) it's Norman who kills both his mother and her lover out of jealousy. In 'Psycho IV: The Beginning,' the house is there, as is the motel which Norman’s father allegedly built (?) and the boyfriend mentioned in the original 'Psycho' "Chet" is actually a bartender that hooks up with Norma and decides to move in with them to take over running the pre-existing motel before Norman murders them both. In the show, it’s the surprising and sudden death of Norman’s father that prompts Norma to buy the property in this small Oregon town (also a change in location from the original Fairvale, California) in an attempt to start over. Little does she know of the house & motel’s dark history, or that the town itself has a sinister underlining past. It seems in the show version, the Bates inherit the negative mojo evident in their new residence as opposed to being the cause of it.
Norman Has A Half Brother, Dylan Massett – Norman’s story as told in the original 'Psycho' takes place in 1960, which means he spent a good chunk of the 50's completely on his own at the motel and before that, him and Mother lived alone "as if there were no one else in the world" through the 40's. Part of why Norman becomes the crazed killer in the film series is his lack of interaction with other people besides his mother. The new show introduces Norman's half-brother Dylan, a character created specifically for this interpretation. Dylan's arrival by the second episode seemed like trouble, but as the season has progressed, it’s been interesting to see the dynamic between the two brothers develop. The movie version of Norman Bates makes you wonder would he have become who he is if he just had someone else there to steer him clear of his inner darkness? Dylan is that someone in this version. And while Dylan has obviously had a troubled history that teetered on criminal activity, he clearly doesn’t want his brother to follow in his footsteps, nor does he want him to continue to be dominated by their mother. Considering Norman’s brother is a brand new character, it’s anyone’s guess how their relationship will unfold. Norman Bates is in part loosely based on real life killer Ed Gein, who allegedly killed his own brother Henry after an argument involving their mother, something Norman already tried in the 2nd episode. Could fact inspire fiction on 'Bates Motel'? Only time will tell.
Norman Bates Has Apparently Always Had "Game" – There’s a scene in the original 'Psycho' between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the office parlor where you can’t help but wonder if perhaps Marion is a bit smitten by her nervously shy and gracious host. There’s definitely chemistry between the two and it’s obvious that Norman likes Marion immediately too, which is just a testament to the wonderful acting on display by both Perkins and Leigh. "Mother" doesn’t approve of this so naturally this doesn’t end well. But even after that, in the sequels Norman seemed to always elicit the sympathies and affections of his female leading lady. In 'Psycho II,' it’s Mary (Meg Tilly) the young waitress at the diner that forms a relationship with him. In 'Psycho III,' he gets a chance at redemption with the Marion look-a-like Maureen Coil (Diana Scarwid). Hell, by 'Psycho IV,' he was married to his psychiatrist (former super-model Donna Mitchel)! Point being, Norman’s been pretty lucky with the ladies but only after he became a full-fledged psycho. (Proving yet again that pretty gals like a bad-boy?) Right now on 'Bates Motel,' within weeks of moving into town, Norman’s new best friend Emma (Olivia Cooke) has hopelessly fallen in love with him and they’ve even shared a kiss or two. But now, Norman’s also hooked up with Bradley (Nicola Peltz), the equivalent of the most popular girl at school by this small town’s standards. Norman hasn’t heard from Bradley since they did the "deed" 2 episodes back. Was it just a hook up? Does she not really care about Norman in that way? Or even worse, is Norman imagining his entire relationship with Bradley? I mean, we just found out that he tends to see things that aren’t there. But how would that explain Bradley’s text message to "come over"? Curious to see how this relationship plays out. Granted, he’s got Emma who is the wiser, cuter choice in my humble opinion.
You can catch up on all 5 episodes of 'Bates Motel' via the official A&E website. 'The Psycho Legacy' documentary which covers the making of the original 4 'Psycho' movies is available now on a 2 DVD set courtesy of Shout! Factory. Check out the trailer below!