After reading Rosemary’s Baby I felt good about my reading pace. I decided to continue my trend and read something short and sweet. If I knocked off two books from the list quickly I’d be all the more likely to follow through. So I chose the 175 page Psycho, the book with the size 18 font and the gigantic margins. Now before I jump into it let me tell you I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s version well over 10 times and I love it, but the issue is that I’ve seen it over 10 times….. So I was prepared for this book to be a chore. After reading this my only thoughts were that egg…and my face…..were in alignment….
I LOVED IT!
Let me explain why
Normally I don’t review this right away, this is always left till last and I focus on the main character first. But in this case he was both, the thing was you didn’t know it! I mean I knew it because I know the story of Psycho like the back of my hand, but you don’t understand the real story until you read this book. In the movie you never really see his mother until the final scene, and when you hear her speak it’s usually during an exterior shot of the house. This book however made her a full out character that Norman would frequently interact with and since it was from his perspective you were none the wiser! If I had no idea what the story of Psycho was I’d legitimately think she was a real character. The entire time Norman is portrayed as a nervous wreck of a man with no confidence and who has been defeated after years of verbal and physical abuse by his mother. Mary – the woman from the infamous shower scene – describes how when he helps her with his coat he’s trembling so violently because he’s never actually touched a woman. So as you read this you see him as a sympathetic character. As the killings go on you see his frantic attempts of trying to cover them up so then the police don’t arrest his mother and take them away. You don’t see the cold calculated killer, you see a man reacting the way a person should when they kill someone in the heat of passion and panic afterwards. His whole mentality and explanation for his split personality is so incredibly accurate to modern psychology and criminology theory that it’s astounding to me that an author took such a dry theory and explained it perfectly in a terrifying book. The psychologist describes his personality as threefold, one – a little boy who’s overly attached to his mother, two – his mother who’s overbearing and verbally abusive and three – was his normal personality, the one most people saw. As soon as they described each personality you realize you could go back and pin point when each character emerged and when they were triggered. Overall he was literally the most accurate slasher villain I’ve ever read in my entire life……ps. I graduated from Criminology and took countless criminal psychology courses in University so I’m always a bit critical on realistic and unrealistic slasher villains.
The three main characters in this novel were incredibly well written and were given interesting back stories. The only problem was, NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOU!! I was so incredibly interested in Norman Bates’ storyline that I hated everytime it switched back over to two heroes perspective. Sure I was rooting for them because Norman Bates is actually terrifying, but I wanted to see this from his perspective, not theirs. A good chunk of their perspective was waiting in the back of a hardware store waiting for the police or the detective to call. The only real time they’re involved in the main action is the climax, at which point 90% of it is in Bates’ perspective. They were good, I can’t rip on them too much, they served their purpose of interesting heroes.
As I stated earlier, the scenes where Mrs. Bates killed Mary and the detective were actually terrifying. It did a fantastic job of building up the horror for a quick brutal kill that left a lot to the imagination. If you read it you’ll notice that the shower death scene is about ¾’s of a page and the detective’s death scene is about one paragraph. But they were effective, somewhat cryptic and wonderfully written. The climax was so much fun also as the entire time you’re thinking that Sam, who’s trapped in Norman’s Motel office with him is in danger. But before Norman subdues him he points out that Lila (the sister of Mary – from the shower scene) never drove off to the Police Station but rather she drove up to the Bates house and he can see her car from here. At that point you know that no one else is on their way and she’s completely isolated in a house with a ruthless killer – well you think she is, you’re still not sure at this point. And as I said before, even though I knew what was going to happen the final page was still terrifying. Lila finds Mrs. Bates, turns her in her chair and hears her talking to her. Then Norman is at the foot of the stairs and ready to attack before Sam runs down and subdues him. They then hear Mrs. Bates screaming at the top of her lungs and realize that the sound is coming from Norman. The chapter ends here and it’s finally on this last sentence that you realize – if you’re in the 1% of the population who doesn’t know this story – that Norman was impersonating his mother and he’s responsible for the murders. Even though I knew what was coming I was still tense and nervous and took an extended break from my desk at work to finish this chapter.
Let me start off my stating I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The version with Vince Vaughn? Not so much. But the thing that both movies seemed to miss out on was Norman’s perspective. The horror of the book hinged on this, so much of the story if told from his memories, interactions with his “still alive” mother and his fear when he discovers the bodies his mother has slain. In the movie, when I first watched it, I didn’t know you were even supposed to suspect his mother! I just thought it was common knowledge that Norman was the villain. He’s portrayed as evil/suspicious right from the get go and you really miss out on his interactions with his mother. And understandably so, you can’t really show them because if you did you’d see him voicing both parts and talking to a mummified person. The movie is still scary but scary as slasher film. The novel is scary but scary as a psychological thriller, which I always argue is much harder to do. It was still a good translation though don’t get me wrong, however I have to complain about one thing. Norman Bates is described as a balding, sandy haired, overweight and shy man. So naturally they cast a skinny, gangly, dark haired man with no receding hair line…..in both versions. In the novel he’s described as so incredibly shy, shaky and nervous due to his isolated upbringing and quite often he’s very vulnerable in the novel. In the film versions he’s portayed as creepy, calm, cold and calculating. I think perhaps because they didn’t want to humanize a serial killer but at the same time isn’t a killer who’s human on so many levels more scary? What I mean is, it makes you say to yourself “I knew someone like that! I never thought they could be a killer! They were so harmless….but what if they are evil!?” Whereas if you ever met someone like his movie portrayal you’d say “well he’s scary I’m not going near him!” Overall though it was incredibly faithful which is not something I can say for all the books/movies on this list *cough* The Shining….
Read it. If you love horror, read it. If you love the movie, read it. If you’re a Criminology Major, read it. If you’re a Criminology Professor and need an example to illustrate several theories, make your students read it. Even if you’ve seen the movie countless times like I have you’ll still like it, unlike Rosemary’s Baby it doesn’t feel quite so dated. If slashers aren’t your thing this is till good as it’s such as good psychological thriller. But if you’re looking for a book that moves a mile a minute then maybe this isn’t for you. Overall I loved it and it definitely moves into the list of books I’d read again.