Category Archives: Literature

4. Final Analysis of Psycho

Norman Bates, the “Psycho”, is a product of our times.

Essentially, that’s what Robert Bloch’s trilogy is all about.

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I’ll admit it. They are, basically, mystery novels. The plot circulates around a serial killer. Bloody acts of violence occur. Sounds like nothing like you haven’t heard before. In Psycho, the fact that Norman Bates actually is the murderer is revealed after the plot twist ending. When the novel was first published it may have come as a surprise to many readers, but after decades of popularity, we all know this. In Psycho II, we are getting uncertain whether Norman Bates is the one actually carrying on with the murders. The confusion is getting even stronger in Psycho House. Here, the mystery is definitely not solved until the last ten or twenty pages.

However, after reading the trilogy for the first time, I feel they are so much more than a series of mystery novels. In 1959, Robert Bloch created a complex serial killer with a demented personality, a result of years of abuse and torment. Alfred Hitchcock immortalized him in hos blockbuster movie. Since then, Bates has received a life on his own in all kinds of media. Unfortunately, the novel sequels has fallen into obscurity. I feel it is a damned shame.

In the novels, the greed and the hypocrisy in society are central themes. In the first book, it is hinted that the uncaring world of mental hospitals and doctors are something to be avoided; sickness doesn’t make you responsible for your actions, no matter how brutal. In the sequels, Bloch is focusing on human greed and almost compulsive lust for money and fame. Media, and the possibility for success which it advocates, can transform a person into something ugly, diminishing all sense for morality.

And in the center: Norman Bates.

Just like in reality, he is a product. When he starts his murders he is a mystery, but after his incarceration he becomes an institution. He becomes a macabre inspiration for people wishing for quick fame. Even in the fictional world, he creates a franchise that gloats over people’s suffering and death. He helps to create an even more selfish society, filled with greedy and unmoral people.

Robert Bloch doesn’t even present alternatives, or gives us any hope. In the ending of Psycho House, one character even argues that evil is the dominating factor around us. The world of the Psycho novels is a dark one to explore. And I am fascinated by it. And if you get the opportunity to read this trilogy, I hope you will too. Robert Bloch deserves that kind of attention.

“The idea in PSYCHO, and in many of my so-called ‘psychological thrillers’ is a simple and obvious one: Don’t take candy from stranger.”– Interview with Robert Bloch by Randall D. Larson

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3. Psycho House (The Last Novel)

This is the point where it’s meaningless to even mention the third movie. No similarities, the plot developments are completely separate, and they are focusing on totally different themes. Psycho House from 1990 stand on its own.

The story is set almost ten years after the events of Psycho II. Writer Amy Haines is going to write a book about Norman Bates. Her research takes her to the town Fairvale, the place of the original murders. Here, the Bates Motel and the mother’s house has become a tourist attraction, a recreation of the murder scenes, complete with automatic knife-wielding wax figures. Days before the opening day, a teenage girl is found murdered at the site…

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The name Norman Bates has become even more notorious, with a sense of awe and mystery surrounding it. When the murders starts in Fairvale once more, questions arise about Norman Bate’s legacy. With everything that has happened in the previous books, the events in Psycho House explores even further the impact infamous serial killers have in this society. It explores the danger of killer copycats, the hostilities in this dark world, peoples’ craving for media attention, and the fear of the past. It’s not so much about Norman Bates the person, but Norman Bates the legend, and the society that keeps people like him “alive” in media, popular culture, and profit-making institutions. The man responsible for the tourist attraction muses in the book:

“Theme parks”, that’s what they call such places now. With the right kind of luck it could end up with something like Disneyland or Universal Tours. And the big money wasn’t just from admissions. The real name of the game was concessions. Jesus, think how much you could take in just from the beer franchise alone!

This cynical quote illustrates the presentation of greed that circulates in this book. Even the main character Amy Haines strives for profit and money, although she does have the intention of presenting facts and clear up any misconceptions in the Bates case.

To sum it up, Psycho House finishes the trilogy with a murder mystery, set in a town wrapped in fear and greed, followed by the legacy of a legendary murderer. A dark world is presented to us by Robert Bloch, but portrayed in a cynical manner, with a witty writing style and a curious character gallery.

Not the closure I would expect.

But an intriguing one.

2. Psycho II (The Novel)

psycho iiNow, here is where the books and the movies go in two totally different directions. They have almost nothing in common. So since it’s the novels I’m focusing on, here’s the story of Psycho II:

Norman bates has been locked up for twenty years in the State Hospital. He is free from his obsession with his mother, but that haven’t stopped his murderous impulses. After a visit from a nun, he escapes and the murders start again. In the middle of all the events, his psychiatrist Claiborne finds out that Hollywood is in progress of making a movie based on the murders twenty years ago, and believes that Bates will go there next…

In 1982, Robert Bloch had written Psycho II before a movie sequel was even planned, according to an interview with the author. When presenting the novel to Universal Pictures as a sign of courtesy, they rejected it with loathing.

And what could possibly upset Hollywood?

Psycho II is a critique of the movie business and their tendency to gloat over tragedies for the sake of profit. Much of the plot takes place at the studio, where Claiborne tries to make the director and the producers stall the project, or better, abandon it. Of course, most of the crew think it’s not feasible just because of a “possibility” that Bates could arrive at the scene. There are also questions about money, artistic license, and human stupidity in general. While some characters are decent, throughout the novel, people are driven by money or personal gain, while some has a very pessimistic view on the world in general. In some aspects, it’s a much more disheartened book than the first one.

Also, while the movie Psycho II dwells on the complexity of the character Norman Bates and his will to live a different life, the book concentrates on the idea of Norman Bates as a legend. In the novel, since Bate’s incarceration, he has received the same status as Charles Manson, Ed Gein, and Ted Bundy, hence the movie project. Some of the characters justify the movie by saying that the world has the right to know the truth about Norman Bates. He has already become a legend in his own right, and that’s what Robert Bloch explored in this sequel. As a final statement, I quote the character Vizzini:

“Kindness is a luxury afforded only in time of prosperity. The world isn’t prosperous any more and we will see worse. There will be more people like Norman Bates, the son of a bitch. His mother was a bitch and he is a child of our times.”

1. Psycho (The Novel)

How am I going to review Psycho without revealing spoilers? It’s almost impossible. Thanks to the author Robert Bloch, the character Norman Bates has become a household name, and most people know the big “twist” at the ending, so trying to avoid too much information will be difficult.

But I consider it a challenge. So let’s start with a small recap:

The book starts out with a woman named Mary Crane, who steals money from her employer, in order to help her boyfriend pay off his debts so they can get married. She ends up in the town Fairvale and the Bates Motel, owned by the shy and peculiar Norman Bates, who lives there with his sick mother. When Mary is brutally murdered in the shower in her motel room, it starts a series of events…

psycho normanIn the novel, Norman Bates appears in the very first chapter. He is described as a man with “a plump face”, sandy hair and “rimless glasses.” He is seen reading a book about ritualistic human sacrifice in the Inca Empire. His appearance in the movie, however, is that of a young, handsome man with a nice, almost boyish smile. While Bates, in the novel, is presented almost as a caricature of the lonely, asocial, suspicious-looking oddball, the movie presents him as a seemingly ordinary citizen: the type of man you would never suspect being guilty of any crime. And this is a central theme of this novel.

psycho ed geinThe book is inspired by the real-life body snatcher and murderer Ed Gein, notorious for digging up graves and fashion trophies of their skin and bones. There are some similarities between Gein and Bates, such as obsession with the mother, compulsive behavior, and the notion that people are not always what they seem. In his hometown Plainfield, Gein was considered a harmless and trustworthy man, although a little peculiar. No one could ever imagine a seemingly ordinary man like him could commit such atrocities in such a small town. In Psycho, Norman Bates is almost a sympathetic character in the beginning, until the plot thickens when Mary’s boyfriend and sister arrives at the scene. The impression Robert Bloch gives the readers is that Bates doesn’t like what is happening; he tries to cover the tracks, but the readers kind of understands his reasons, which stills leaves a sense of sympathy, but also a small sense of confusion. What is really happening?

The novel is constructed with subtle hints and clues, and the slow pacing makes it a thrilling experience. Robert Bloch’s witty writing style adds a subtle amusement among all the dark elements. For it is foremost a journey through the portal of a sick mind. It is a study of the notion that all men can carry secrets, and that people can commit hellish events anywhere, without anyone to suspect it.

And it’s happening.

Everyday.

The Legend of the Psycho

Two years which are important in the world of horror fiction are the following:

1959 and 1960

Do they mean anything to you? What comes to your mind? Dalai Lama escapes to India? Salvatore Quasimodo won the Nobel Prize for literature? John F. Kennedy defeats Nixon? The death of Clark Gable?

I know, it has nothing to do with horror entertainment. Anyway, let me tell you what comes to my mind:

First, (1959) is the publication of the horror novel Psycho by Robert Bloch.

And last (1960), is the opening of the movie Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock.

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Each of them started a legendary franchise of horror. Psycho is one of the most recognizable titles in the world of horror entertainment. The “murder in the shower scene” became iconic and a memorable scene in the history of cinema. The antagonist, Norman Bates, became synonymous with the notion of “evil” not lurking in dark cellars or nightmare forests, but in your own “safe” neighborhood. The movie in particular spawned spin-offs like three sequels, the failed 1987 TV-pilot Bates Motel, and the 2012 television series with the same title. To mention a few.

Due to the numerous inconsistencies in the movie franchise, I was never too fond of the movie sequels, and therefore haven’t watched them enough times to give them justified reviews. The novels, on the other hand, has interested me greatly since I read them all (for those who doesn’t know, it’s a trilogy).

Therefore, in the next three posts I will analyze the three novels, and lastly give an overview of my thoughts of this novel series, with some comparison with the movies.

So, let’s dwell, together, in the brilliant mind of Robert Bloch,

and the disturbing mind of Norman Bates.

“But who are you to say a person should be put away? I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.” – Norman Bates, Psycho, Robert Bloch

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The Best Book of Horror?

I hate questions like that.

“What is your favorite movie?” “Who is your favorite author?” “What is your favorite food?” Questions that often are impossible to answer, or does have an answer but needs a complex explanation. They are limited and doesn’t do the topic justice.

That’s why I love to ask them.

And the answer to the question is not something I can deliver with ease. I have read a lot of horror fiction in my days, often in different sub-genres or categories. So in order to answer that question, I would have to give separate answers depending on what genre we’re talking about, or even make a “top five list” so I won’t miss something out.

I can, however, tell you one book that had a huge impact on me:

Pennywiseshockedexpression

Stephen King’s It

Except for The Dark Tower series, I consider It to be King’s greatest novel. This is a study of horror, how anyone’s individual fears can influence your way of life… and how people choose to forget certain episodes of their lives, because the memories are too painful. It’s also a beautiful tale of true friendship and powerful bonds that neither different paths of life or memory can erase. And of course, the representation of man’s individual fears in this novel is the grotesque Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who forever will be an argument why you should be afraid of clowns and their false, mocking smiles. This creature is the focalpoint of the story, but interestingly, he is most often hidden in the background. The story is as much about the horrific creature as it is about the group of friends, their bond to eachother, and the confrontation with their own painful unresolved problems and memories.

Of course, there are many more books I could write about (and I will), but this was the first one I had in mind for the beginning of my blog…

…And yes, I know, it’s a slow start.

But the summer is almost at an end, and the darkness of autumn will soon be upon us…