I t’s one of the scariest scenes in the history of cinema – a beautiful blonde motel guest taking a shower screams in terror as she’s stabbed to death by an unseen killer. The film, of course, was Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 nerve-jangler Psycho, and the killer turned out to be Norman Bates, the polite but odd owner of the motel that the victim, Marion Crane, had made the mistake of checking in to. Norman, in spite of his bonhomie, was suffering serious mental illness and kept his mother’s corpse in his eerie house on the hill.
But what caused Norman’s descent into madness and was his mother really to blame, as he claimed? These are the questions at the heart of a new TV prequel, Bates Motel, which introduces us to a 17-year-old Norman years before Marion – played by Janet Leigh – met her end. Fascinatingly, we also see his mother Norma alive and well and get to meet his half-brother.
Young Norman is played by English actor Freddie Highmore, 21, best known for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, who says, ‘The show explores what made Norman psycho. Was he destined to become a serial killer, was it his mother, was it moving to a dodgy little town full of strange characters?
‘Norma and Norman negatively impact on each other, but can’t live without each other. They’re soul partners. Perhaps partners in crime, too.’
At the start of the Emmy-nominated series, mother and son are seen arriving in a new town after Norman finds his father dead. Hoping for a fresh start, Norman throws himself into school and is popular with his female classmates. But his jealous mother – played by Vera Farmiga, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in Up In The Air – gets ever more controlling, barring Norman from going out and emotionally blackmailing him into helping decorate their new guest house. When tragedy strikes and deputy sheriff Zack Shelby comes knocking, the relationship takes a worrying turn. Eventually, charming and empathetic Norman will develop the split personality, so chillingly portrayed by Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
The film offered Freddie lots of research material but Norma was a blank canvas for Vera. She says, ‘I actually think she’s an amazing mother. I’d have handled things very differently, but she’s just doing what she thinks is right as a protector. So it’s a love story, exploring that dynamic kind of love between a mother and a son.’
With the series already a hit in the US and series two in production, Bates Motel is definitely worth a visit. Bates Motel is on Thursdays at 9pm on Universal Channel
NORMAN BATES (Freddie Highmore) Quiet, handsome and sweet-natured, Norman is a hit with the local girls and enjoys settling into his new home town. But is he really all he appears to be? NORMA BATES (Vera Farmiga) A grieving widow devoted to her son, Norma’s not ready to let Norman have the freedom he craves – and a shocking incident makes her even less keen to cut the apron strings.