Multifaceted writer Robert Bloch has excelled in just about every genre of literature, winning a Bram Stoker award for his horror, a World Fantasy award, as well as a Hugo for the genre for which he is probably best known overall; science fiction. But without a doubt his biggest hit came with the novel Psycho which was adapted to film a year after publication by Alfred Hitchcock into the iconic thriller masterpiece.
As I assume most readers here are familiar with the movie adaption I won’t bother with an overdrawn synopsis of the plot. Besides, it’s not one of those stories you can give almost any detail without spoiling some aspect of the story. Suffice to say that’s it’s one of the all time greatest horror thrillers and is just as popular today as it was back then. But as the classic movie adaptation has far surpassed the original novel in popularity, two questions come to mind. The first question is whether the source novel is as good as the movie on it’s own merits and the second question is how close is the Hitch’s adaptation to the source?
Just as there are a number of clues in the movie that hint at Norman’s relationship with his mother, so too does the novel tease readers on the matter. While deftly skirting the truth, reading between the lines of both Norman Bates’ spoken dialog and the events as portrayed in the novel, the cat is never let out of the bag, yet those already in the know can see the foundations of the truth. Yes, the novel is just as finely crafted as the movie and deserving as much respect as the film. The written form is even better suited to having the reader exactly in tune to Norman’s perspective on things which of course deviates from reality in a few regards.
Comparing the movie to the source we find a mix with a significant portion of the movie script closely following the original for much of the story, but at the same time diverging significantly for particular aspects. The first relatively big change is the physical appearance of Norman Bates himself, in that the slim, suave and tidy Norman in the film as portrayed by Anthony Perkins was actually an oafish, overweight alcoholic in denial here. It was odd reading those few descriptive passages of Norman as we’re all so familiar with Perkins’ rendition. There are a few small changes in events and particulars, but none of any real significance to the major plot.
Like any great thriller, the greatest enjoyment is when you are first introduced to it, regardless of format. Given that, I would say that anyone unfamiliar with the movie may just as well start with this novel and enjoy the surprise ending as originally conceived. But do get to watch the movie if you haven’t already as the performances and imagery in some key sequences are unforgettable.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. Mother is calling…