Will The Real Norman Bates Please Stab Up?

Most of us are familiar with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic suspense film about a timid serial killer who “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” but have you ever read Robert Bloch’s dark novel by the same name which inspired the legendary screen gem?

First released in 1959, the Psycho story really began in November 1957. Robert Bloch was living in the small town of Weyauwega, Wisconsin, approximately 35 miles from Plainfield, Wisconsin — a place where a horrific scene was about to be exposed.

It was there that police were beginning to search the farm of lifelong resident, shy handyman, and somewhat odd character Ed Gein after a local woman was reported missing. A thin-air hunch led officers to Gein and his farm, but they were not prepared for the complete horror of what they found.

Not only was the missing woman found dead in his shed, but body parts from at least 15 other women were located on his property. Further inspection of his home uncovered dishes, furniture, lamps, clothes, and other items made from human skin and bone. Even more demented, they discovered a “female jumpsuit” Gein had made for himself from human skin.

As the magnitude of the crimes unfolded, officials learned that Gein had been stealing the bodies of female corpses from fresh graves for years, including his own mother, who was a dominating, religious woman in life. Eventually, Gein was convicted of murdering two women and declared insane.

Upon hearing about the nearby news, Robert Bloch became intrigued with the thought that in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, this quiet neighbor down the road turned out to be a monster who was never suspected of “killing a fly” or anything else. Better yet, it gave Bloch an idea — an idea that turned into the story of a loner named Norman Bates who ran the quiet and peaceful Bates Motel.

Psycho is a quick read, roughly 200 pages, and is cleverly written. Like the movie, it doesn’t give away until the last pages whether Norman Bates’ mother is really dead or alive. This would have made reading Psycho at the time of its initial release a fun, suspenseful ride.

As far as comparing the book to the movie, there are many similarities between the two, but there are also several differences. In the novel, Norman Bates does not look like the thin, brooding Anthony Perkins. He is middle-aged, overweight, and wears glasses. This gives the written story a slightly different dimension than the movie, but it works well for Bloch’s twisted tale.

Besides Psycho, Bloch wrote more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories, many screenplays and more during his long career. Two of his other books include Psycho II and Psycho House, but neither one was well received or had the sinister appeal of the original Psycho.

Additionally, Bloch wrote for several television shows including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I Spy, and Night Gallery. He also wrote three episodes of the original Star Trek series. Bloch died in 1994 after a battle with cancer.

If you would like to read Psycho, it is available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library. Also available is The Bad Seed by William March, another classic and disturbing novel about a child serial killer that was written during the same era as Psycho. Both are great selections if you are looking for a creepy read during this spooky Halloween season.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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