It was fascinating to realize that I had never read Robert Bloch’s book, Psycho. The Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name was so iconic, that Hitchcock basically owned Psycho as far as everyone was concerned. So, it was with a surprising amount of trepidation that I picked up the book – I think I subconsciously expected a “movie adaptation”.
Of course, that was silly. Robert Bloch’s novel of a warped, psycho-killer/grave robber with mommy issues – frankly based on the crimes of the recently arrested warped, psycho-killer/grave robber, Ed Gein – Psycho was the book that started it all. Without Bloch’s masterful depiction of Norman Bates as Ed Gein we would probably never have had either The Silence of the Lambs or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and the world would be saner, but sadder for it.
As far as this book goes, I thought it was pretty well written. Although I did notice a few dreaded “filter words” in the beginning, Bloch either got his shit together very quickly and went deep third person POV for the rest of the book, or else I got so involved in the story I no longer noticed. It’s good either way. The only time I felt pulled out of the story, really, was in the beginning, when the author started dropping hints that Norman Bates was a fat, white psycho.
Anthony Perkins, as the movie version of Norman Bates, was tall, dark and handsome. So my brain rebelled at Bloch’s description at first, but after a while I got over it.
It’s hard to realize how much of a shock and surprise the Bates character was back when the story was first written. Serial killers were not only unknown, but anything psycho-sexual was considered too shocking for the average person to even hear about. Ah, the Fifties.
Anyway, thanks to Hitchcock’s movie, I had completely forgotten there were other characters in the story besides Norman Bates, his mother, and that girl in the shower.
Speaking of the shower – it’s funny, but I remember thinking, Gee, I wonder how Bloch handles that shower scene in his book. Imagine my surprise when he doesn’t handle it at all! The whole bloody, famous murder of Mary Crane (Janet Leigh) occurred while Bates was in an unconscious fugue state so there are no details. What the actual fuck? Thank God we had the equally talented, equally warped Mr. Hitchcock around to remedy that shit.
The author did go to the trouble of creating an actual story to go with his groundbreaking serial killer, incidentally. The girl in the shower stole a whopping $40,000 and ran off with it in an attempt to save her honorable, but stodgy fiancé from his indentured servitude in a hardware store. There’s also an insurance detective hot on her trail, an easy-going sheriff, and Mary Crane’s younger sister, Lila. Lila, I have to say, was quite the surprise. She was smart, brave, and a woman of action. Even when surrounded by a bunch of men who kept telling her, basically, Sweetie, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little here; she kept pushing, kept demanding that somebody find her sister. Come to think of it, Mary Crane was an unusual female character, too. She was just as smart as Lila – who she put through college while supporting her dying mom – and she took a big chance when she took that cash. I kind of wish she’d never stopped at that out-of-the-way motel.
Anyway, Psycho: The Novel – it’s the original psycho-killer story that all the ones that came after are based on. Read it.