This week I want to focus on the original psychopath himself, Norman Bates. Played by Anthony Perkins in all film appearance, (and those are the only ones that count) Bates is a twisted a ruthless character, yet he is also a bashful and trustworthy young man. He was twisted before anyone else and never resorted to slasher-ing. He truly was a marvel, and I want to talk about him now.
To begin, lets talk about what makes Norman scary. As I stated in my Psycho Iconic Review, bates is not your average killer. When he was first introduced, he comes across as warm, personable, bashful, and a little shy. If not for the unprecedented fame that followed Psycho and its seminal scene, no one would have thought him the killer at first glance. to make things even more off-putting, Norman isn’t putting on an act. He isn’t pretending to be a kind young man so that embezzlers will stay at his motel, he just is a kind young man. Norman Bates suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder and was long before Fight Club told the story of the shy broken man who was manipulated by his own alter-ego. Norman, is completely split in his conviction. He switches back and forth between being a functioning adult, running a business, making money, and doing good, to being a scared little boy. The love he feels for his mother cemented him in a permanent childhood and keeps him terrified of disappointing her while also festering a hatred for her. While it is never explicitly stated, it is reasonable to assume Bates murdered his beloved mother and, in grief, he left her skeleton there as a punishment to himself and a reminder he would never be without her. This caused him to develop a whole other personality that would take over the mothering role. This allowed him to continue to function on all three levels, while slowly driving him mad. It is reasonable to assume that the murders he commits are half letting out rage and half distorted visions of what would make his demented mother happy. This disorder adds an underlying terror to the character that has yet to be replicated in media. Bates represents not only the scorned and abused, but the everyman. He represents an underlying terror you feel when you meet new people who act oddly. He is the epitome of the weird chill that goes through you when you hear stats like 1 in 100 people are psychopaths. He is the fear of the unknown and represents how anyone, even those who seem the most average, can be dangerous in their own mind.
It is this distinction that makes Bates such an everlasting character and it is what gives him his importance. He is the seminal serial killer, more long-lasting and relevant than any of his slasher cousins. Without the amazing success of Bates, psychological horror would have taken several more decades to get off the ground. Similarly, other seminal cinematic characters like Hannibal Lecter would never have come to pass. The original Psycho has come to represent the importance of character, and why a twist can work if pulled off with enough vigor.
Bates came early enough that it is safe to say he inspired a lot of modern horror. As I stated earlier, Bates is not a slasher but slasher films borrowed a lot from him. Each one of them revolves around a mysterious killer, a ammeter investigation into the killers identity, and a score to settle. The only difference is slashers were turned into supernatural beings and Bates was turned into the opposite. While not as outwardly important as other characters, his long lasting popularity and continued relevance cement him as a cinematic icon and a crucial part of film history.