Imagine you are taking a shower, stopping for the night at a motel just off of the highway. A figure comes in, but you do not know who it is. The curtains are yanked open and you see a large man holding a knife… If this scene sounds familiar, chances are you know or have seen the American horror classic, Psycho. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960, the story of Psycho follows the story of Marion Crane and her encounter with Norman Bates at the Bates Motel.
The film Psycho was based on the thriller novel written by Robert Bloch just the year before in 1959. The book and movie inspired several sequels, including but not limited to Psycho II (book and movie), Psycho III (movie), and Psycho House. Spinoffs have also been created, the more notable ones including the Bates Motel television series and film. The Bates Motel television series serves as a prequel to the Psycho series, telling the story of Norman and his mother Norma.
Some may think that the character of Norman Bates was created solely by author Robert Bloch, but he was, in fact, loosely inspired by the man and tales of serial killer Ed Gein.
Ed Gein, known also as the Butcher of Plainfield, was a killer and body snatcher around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin. He is most famous for creating household objects from body parts of people he killed or dug up from graveyards. When authorities investigated his property and discovered the extent of his actions, they quickly took action.
A main similarity between Gein and character Norman Bates is their attachment to their mothers. Anyone who has seen Bates Motel knows the unique relationship Norman and Noma shared, a relationship ultimately explaining Norman’s later actions. Gein’s mother also passed away, prompting him to begin creating a human suit to allow him to physically “become” his mother. This desperate act of preservation on Gein’s part is seen – not in its exact form – in Norman’s behavior. However, it wasn’t just Gein that inspired Psycho. The small town setting and the psychological torture of having a killer live just next door informed the atmosphere Bloch wanted to create for his novel.
Though Ed Gein’s story was an infamous one, and some parts of the mystique can be seen in many popular horror films and books, Psycho was the first and most popular version of his tale.