This is a look at Robert Bloch’s literary character that started the slasher genre. We all know the cinematic version of Norman Bates and his misadventures in later sequels, but Bloch’s literary Psycho trilogy is rarely mentioned in slasher circles.
The Norman Bates in Bloch’s 1959 novel is a heavy drinking, middle-aged man with three different personalities. First is little Norman, a mean child who hates women and anyone who tries to take away Mother. The second personality is Norma, the mother who protects little Norman by killing those who upset little Norman. Third is Normal Norman, a facade used to make folks think Norman is an intelligent, normal man. Bloch paints Bates as an overweight bookworm with a surly disposition. There are also a few sly hints that Norman dabbles in the dark arts. Nothing is made clear but his library is full of books on the occult and pagan cultures. It’s a thin thread but it does connect the first book with Psycho House, the last entry in the series.
Bloch’s Psycho II picks up twenty-three years after the first novel. This Norman Bates is free from multiple personalities but no less dangerous. Reading Norman’s thoughts can be a bit unnerving, it’s like looking into the mind of a wild, caged animal. Norman escapes from the asylum and heads for Hollywood to stop the filming of his life story. Before hunting down his old friends Sam and Lila Loomis, Norman spends some quality time with a dead nun.
Before his death, Robert Bloch took one last trip to the Bates Motel in 1990 with Psycho House. Norman is long dead and the Bates Motel has been turned into a tourist attraction. A demonologist and a true crime reporter try to solve a new series of murders. The demonologist is sure the evil that created Norman Bates has found a new host. Poor Norman is reduced to a cameo appearance as a robot that greets tourists when they enter the Bates Motel. Sadly, Norman’s cinematic twin suffered a similar fate when Universal filmed Psycho III and IV at their theme parks to attract tourists. Lucky fans could catch a glimpse of a gaunt, twitchy Anthony Perkins as they rode past the sets.
We all know the cinematic Norman Bates but his literary twin has been ignored since Robert Bloch’s death. I hope this look at the forgotten Norman Bates will spark some interest in Bloch’s novels. All three are worth reading and are full of twists and turns. I’ve skipped on many details about the books in order to avoid ruining Bloch’s surprises.