Well this was a pleasant surprise! And it shouldn't be considering the huge success of A&E's modern interpretation of the 'Psycho' mythology with their hit series 'Bates Motel.' Long before Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga slipped into the roles of Norman and Norma Bates, there was another TV pilot titled 'The Bates Motel' from 1987 and after years of floating in obscurity and only being available on the bootleg market, it's finally been given a quiet DVD release via Universal's "Vault Series".
A brief history - after the low box office returns on 'Psycho III' back in 1986, Universal was looking for a new way to further exploit their property and they thought that TV might be the answer. The biggest mistake? Not staying with the continuity set up by the films. Instead, in this version, Norman Bates had died in the mental institution and left his house and motel property to Alex West (played by 'Harold & Maude's Bud Cort). His goal, with the help of a pretty drifter named Willie (played by 'Tank Girl's Lori Petty), is to fix up and re-open the Bates Motel and turn it into a respectable business. However, there are plenty of people who aren't happy about that prospect, in particular Tom Fuller (Gregg Henry), a sleazy Realtor that wants the property for himself. And then there's the first group of guests including a young Jason Bateman who all seem... well, off. There's a weird supernatural element to it that I don't want to give away here, but another issue was that this pilot never decided exactly what it wanted to be. Was this meant to be a 'Twilight Zone'-esque series where odd supernatural things happen at the motel? Or was it meant to be as comical as it comes off? (Lori Petty shows up in a chicken costume.) The tone is never fully consistent or realized.
Regardless, it exists and it is an odd entry into the now infamous 'Psycho' franchise, if anything because it fits into what's been established like a square peg. Couldn't get worse, right? Oh wait. 1998. Gus Van Sant's 'Psycho' remake. Opps. Still, for the curious, there's an interesting cast of great character actors. Also of note, while Norman Bates is barely in it except for photographs and a tiny bit of footage at the beginning to tie it into the original, he's played here by Kurt Paul, who was Anthony Perkins double on the 'Psycho' sequels and also played "Mother" in 'Psycho II' & 'Psycho III', as well as Raymond Linette in 'Psycho IV: The Beginning.' Mind you, it's not very good. You may or may not be able to judge for yourself with a quick search on You Tube, but if you're a hardcore completest and you've always wanted to add this to your collection, you now can as Amazon is offering the DVD for sale.