A Farewell to Bates Motel

Tonight marks the end of A&E’s surprise hit Bates Motel, a show that upon announcement may not have sounded like a great idea (didn’t we already learn that you shouldn’t remake Psycho?), but ultimately proved naysayers wrong with five seasons of solid drama and a unique place in television history, proving that with the right amount of care and passion for the source material, and a talented team behind the project, any idea could be worth a shot.

Now, I won’t go into a whole history of how or why Bates Motel came into fruition. For those full details please check out our very own Chris Ripley’s book, Psychos: The Story of the Psycho Film Franchise. What does interest me is that around the time Bates Motel first premiered, it carried a lot of baggage, which should’ve led to instant failure. Not only was the show yet another remake of Psycho, a franchise that was seemingly dead after the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, but the show also premiered during a period of time where television networks were developing a number of shows – to varying levels of success – that were either adaptations of classic movies (Fargo, Parenthood), re-imaginings of horror properties (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, Rosemary’s Baby), or modern-day retellings of either (Sleepy Hollow, The Exorcist). Bates Motel falls into ALL THREE categories.

Despite the baggage, Bates Motel premiered on March 18th, 2013 on A&E. The show was a surprise hit, maintaining an audience of approximately 2.70 million viewers in its first season. A respectable amount for a scripted drama on a network primarily known for its biographies and reality programming.


But why does the show work? Sure, name recognition and general curiosity might get an audience to check out the pilot, but where many new shows oftentimes suffer a drastic dip in ratings from the first to second episode, what made that audience come back week after week for five years? The answer, I think, is that the show is more than just a rehash of the films that came before it, and the quality of the performances are of the highest caliber.

Being the latest remake to Psycho is no easy feat, but expanding that story into a long-form narrative with multiple new plot threads, new original characters, while still remaining faithful to the original material (both the Hitchcock film and the novel) is damn near impossible. Bates Motel did the smart move of being both a respectable remake while also expanding the mythology and creating characters that were more than just disposable puppets waiting to be killed off. And while not every new character and plot thread was a home run (Bradley’s return, the marijuana farm subplot), the show always did of good job of righting itself and rewarding viewers who stuck with the series.

That’s not to say that all the adjustments on the show were the result of course correction. In fact, one of the best decisions Bates Motel made was in realizing what a captivating actor Nestor Carbonell (“Sheriff Romero”) was, a fact that fans of the television series Lost or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight may already know. This is evident in the show promoting Carbonell from a supporting player to a series regular at the start of the second season.


Speaking of the performances, there would be no Bates Motel without the lead players: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother, Norma. Amidst the multiple plot lines, the show’s main through line and primary narrative has always been the exploration of the relationship between the mother and son Bates and how that relationship yields the birth of a psychopath. That story and those characters, especially Norman, would be tough rolls to embody, especially considering the role was arguably already played to perfection with Anthony Perkins’ portrayal in the original Hitchcock film. Speaking as a fan of the film and Perkins’ performance, I was won over by Highmore’s performance fairly quickly. As a young child actor, Freddie Highmore was no stranger to giving great performances, having starred alongside Johnny Depp in both Finding Neverland and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The innocence displayed in those two performances, specifically, were a perfect fit for Highmore’s interpretation of Norman Bates, a character who appears as a mild-mannered and collected innocent young man on the outside, but a monster with a bloodlust on the inside.


Vera Farmiga’s Norma Bates is equally complex, and Farmiga clearly has a blast playing a role and bringing to life a part that was originally only portrayed as a skeleton in the Hitchcock film. Her Norma is equal parts haunting, sympathetic, funny, sexy, and absolutely terrifying, and Farmiga captures all aspects of the character with nary a misstep.


What Bates Motel proved is that just because a movie is a classic doesn’t mean that it’s untouchable. Psycho was a landmark picture in the history of film, but in the current state of remakes and re-imaginings, it may not always be a terrible idea to go back to the well. Sure, oftentimes these revisits don’t work. For every Dawn of the Dead (2004), we get about fifty Red Dawns (2012). But sometimes, when made with the best of intentions and with a clear purpose and direction, you can breathe new life into an existing property. And if you’re successful, you’ll make audiences want to check out the original property. So pick up a copy of the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, watch the Hitchcock original, and tune in to A&E tonight at 10pm for the series finale of Bates Motel. Will Norman kill again? I doubt it. Why, he wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

Bates Motel’s first four seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix.


Halloween Horror Nights Presents… Alfred Hitchcock??

There are a number of rumors swirling that this year we may get an Alfred Hitchcock maze at Halloween Horror Nights Orlando; this said, we thought we’d take a look at what elements from his back catalogue (and future productions!) could be used to fill any potential HHN houses…


The ‘Psycho’ Franchise

Hitchcock literally gave birth to the chiller genre with ‘Psycho’ which would go on to inspire countless directors ever since. This heavy mixture of thriller and horror would spawn a franchise that still rumbles along to this day with NBC’s ‘Bates Motel’ series. Psycho with its iconic shower screen, horrific murders and macabre plot line is perfect Halloween Horror Nights fodder, and has in fact already at Universal Studios Florida, and had a full motel and Psycho house built in the area where KidZone is now placed. It was here in 1993 and 1994 that the first Psycho mazes were built, read all about it here. There were also further ‘Psycho’ mazes in Orlando for 1999 and 2006.


The Psycho movies and TV shows would all be perfectly placed within any potential HHN house. Previously, the Psycho mazes would be more dream like with guests walking into the mind of Norman Bates (queue larger person-sized knives and reams of shower curtains), whereas with the sequels, remake and now TV series they could use other less well known moments to create great scares, such as: The Phone Box murder from the Anthony Perkins directed ‘Psycho III’ or the Pot Farm shoot-out from ‘Bates Motel’; there are a great number of possibilities!


The Birds

What do you mean you haven’t seen ‘The Birds’? Go now and watch on Netflix. We’ll all wait here until you come back.   ….   Okay you’re back – what do you reckon? Yep, that would be a technically difficult house to pull-off but what a house that would be! Every house has a certain SIF factor. SIF is an official HHN term used by the designers of the houses to design the amount of Stuff In Face that can be deployed on the public. A piece of string here or a strap of leather there, the amount is carefully considered to ensure enough is made to make guests jump but not too much to make it become a burden. So what with poor Tippi Hedren having to literally pull birds off her face – how can they add this factor into the house? Bags of feathers maybe? Side note: Tippi is a regular with her family to HHN Orlando. So the likelihood of this movie being used is high. The movie was also used notably (along with Psycho) in the Alfred Hitchcock attraction that was located in Orlando from park opening to 2003 when it was replaced by Shrek. Darn you Shrek…!


The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

The recently restored edition of this silent black and white movie would be a great addition for any potential house. Don’t believe me? Three words: Jack the Ripper. This 1927 movie was the first movie of Hitch’s to use what he had learnt from working in the expressionistic German movie business to great effect. Foggy, eerie streets, an enigmatic leading actor with starry eyes across a backdrop of panic in the streets. Think cobbled streets, back alleys, fog, fog, and more fog with a knife-welding maniac running around and there you have it. HHN has never had a sole Ripper house before, however one of the Body Collectors houses did feature a sequence implying that they were in fact responsible for Jack’s ‘work’. This movie utilized Hitch’s first attempt at building cinematic suspense, so just think of the anxiety that could be created in the queue waiting for this sequence!


Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Hitch didn’t just make movies, he was a living, breathing franchise of his own making. His company, Shamley Productions, put-out books, magazines, comics, merchandise and even TV shows – some of which he even directed. Running originally from 1955 to 1965 and then syndicated ever since (there was also an updated version in the 1980s), Hitch would direct several of the most famous episodes, including one very familiar installment called ‘Back for Christmas’. Sound familiar? Ahem, ‘Home for the Holidays’ anyone? This was where the HHN 2007’s ‘PsychoScareapy: Home for the Holidays’ name was inspired from. The tale was that of a murder of a wife and the husband’s eventual comeuppance around the holidays. Factor in mad men on the loose, burglaries gone wrong, suicides, narrative twists and even more murders and you get the gist of the series. All of which were topped and tailed by the good man himself giving his usual sardonic monologues (think Crypt Keeper!) and there you have every episode. I’m sure there are enough sequences that HHN Orlando could mine to provide some classic scares. Fun fact: To keep costs to a minimum, Hitch used his TV crew from this show to make the original ‘Psycho’, this gave it a more real-life and therefore terrifying feel.


Rear Window & Vertigo 

Not horror movies by any stretch but good movies that could be used for great affect. Rear Window with its voyeur windows and flashing camera bulbs (think flashes of light, ala HHN 2008’s Dead Exposure) to Vertigo with its dead imagery and crashing sense of heights (think HHN 2012’s Gothic). Pepper in the fact that the previous Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies attraction featured both of these movies as final set pieces to explore and you get the drift. A fear of heights, death imagery and flashing lights could all be stretched to feature within a proposed house.


Dial M for Murder

A late 1950s movie that starred Grace Kelly in the title role that featured a healthy dose of murder and blackmail, all wrapped up in a heap of his trademark packed-to-the-rafters suspense – not unlike many of his other movies, so why add this? It marked Hitch’s first and only attempt to make a 3D movie (yes they had them in those days!). So what if, the house was done in 3D? This would allow HHN’s creators to build a house that warps our minds and makes us nauseous, creeping from sequence to sequence; it’s just a thought, it could even start scary and then end in a comedic fashion, just like the TV show. So what did Hitch think of 3D technology? “It’s a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” Guess he didn’t think much on it then…

Poster - Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1956)_02

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Did you know he made the same movie twice? Yep, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ first came out in 1934 and then again remade in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day. The second of which was made in color and features a majestically fine finale where the suspense is ramped up to factor 12 in a prolonged bout of sniper fire at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The theater location could be used with classical music and gunfire delivered in a hypnotic scene with disorientating edges.

At the end of the day, be there a coming Hitchcock house or not, what will be, will be, que sera sera… hintity hint hint here via Dr Jimmy



Universal actually purchased Shamley Productions at the end of Hitch’s career. A move that he actually facilitated to ensure his franchise of movies would be in good hands. So the rights to use his movies and any features of them are all totally up to Universal. No third party agreements or IP contracts, Hitch and his masterful movies are ready to be deployed to HHN now…