Say the words “Bates Motel,” and feel the shivers going up and down your spine. This is the classic terror house where intense shower phobias were born. It really does exist in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, but as a ghost-inhabited motel, not a horror house.
The horror saga began with the great slasher film “Psycho” from the 1959 book by Robert Block. The saga continued for over 50 years ending, so far, with the A&E television series “Bates Motel.” The show had a five-year run ending with the superb finale this past April.
Both Norma Bates and her serial killer son Norman appear to have been murdered by the end of the series’ run: She in Season four by Norman, who had envisioned a murder/suicide so they could be together for eternity; He by his own brother in Season five. But, are they really dead or are they the undead?
Many observers credit “Psycho” with the reemergence of quality psychological thrillers. The scene in the original flick, which shows Norman (Anthony Perkins) stabbing Marion (Janet Leigh) to death while she is showering, reinforcing countless viewers’ fears of someone yanking open the shower curtain in a small bathroom and committing a grisly murder. Although the original was filmed in black and white, the horror still was mighty, especially in the final scene when Norman’s mother in her decaying state first appears to the audience as a demented Norman talks to “her” in his asylum cell.
“Bates Motel” the series was first envisioned as a prequel to the original movie but is more of a possible scenario which drove Norman past the edge of sanity.
Set in a small, seemingly idyllic community of White Pine Bay, Oregon, the town turns out to be much more dangerous than it first seems. Sex trafficking and drugs saturate the law enforcement team. Norma at first refuses to see this, but she soon comes to recognize the reality of life there, which includes her first lover, Deputy Zack Shelby.
While the death-seeking Norman roams the area as his character melds into his mother’s, his young classmate Emma needs an oxygen tank to combat her potentially fatal cystic fibrosis. She jokingly says “This? It’s my pet and I take it everywhere.” This strange mix of life and death is symbolic of the tug of war inside Norman’s mind. The analogy continues with the sexuality in the plot: Death versus sex, which brings life. But here, sex often intermingles with violence. Note the rape in the first season, where the previous owner of the motel, Keith Summers, assaults Norma in her kitchen. She gets her revenge by stabbing him to death. Viewers soon learn that Norman’s older son Dylan was conceived after an unwilling sexual relationship with her own brother, Caleb.
Plus, the incestuous urgings between mother and son remain an undercurrent but are not consummated on screen.
A total of six films were made in addition to the TV spinoff: Psycho, Psycho II (based on a new novel by Bloch), Psycho III, Bates Motel, Psycho IV The Beginning, and the 1998 recreation of the original.
The first “Psycho” was groundbreaking. With its beginning as a seemingly routine story of embezzlement and guilt, “Psycho” soon spirals downward into murder and mayhem. The split personalities Norman houses in his brain meld into one psychotic personality as the story unfolds.
After stealing $40,000 from her boss Marion Crane flees to the isolated community where she decides to stay just one night and then return the stolen cash. But as the viewer knows, Norma died 10 years prior, so who could the shadowy killer be but Norman? Marion’s desperate screams still echo throughout the movie world.
“Psycho II” keeps the story going with Norman being released from the mental hospital where he had been committed. But soon, “mother” returns with evil intent to direct Norman to murder the motel’s new owner. More sadistic killings follow, leaving a trail of blood that continues in “Psycho III.”
This third sequel brings into play a demonic nun named Maureen Coyle (she has the same initials as the first victim in the original film, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Norman.) A budding romance develops between the two, but Maureen dies after a fall down the stairs and ends up with a marble cupid’s arrow through her head. “Heads” continue as a theme, as Norman dismembers his mother but keeps her severed head.
The movie “Bates Motel” is next, as a made for TV movie featuring Norman’s insane asylum roommate, Alex West. It’s a spooky film, but not as murderous as the previous films.
“Psycho IV: The Beginning” retains the murderous tone of the original. Norman returns, married now to a former psychiatrist, Connie. Surprisingly she isn’t killed while others are, and the movie ends safely for Norman and his now pregnant wife, but leaving behind a trail of bloodied corpses. The remake of “Psycho” in 1998 stirs up macabre memories for the audience, and follows the original storyline but with Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn playing the leads.
You can visit the still-operating Bates Motel, 2018 Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. It has 13 rooms. For ghostly experiences, consider rooms 1 and 3, or perhaps number 13 will intrigue you.
This standout horror franchise seems to have ended, but, hopefully, some diabolic minds will bring it back.