The novel by Robert Bloch, on which Psycho was based, in turn, had been insipred by real-life events. In 1957, a seemingly ordinary Wisconsin man named Ed Gein was discovered to have led a dual life, as a psychotic murderer. "I based my story on the situation, rather than on any person, living or dead, involved in the Gein affair," Bloch wrote in his 1993 autobiography. "I decided to write a novel based on the notion that the man next door may be a monster, unsuspected even in the gossip-ridded microcosm of small-town life."
CLIVE BARKER: It's a much more violent book than it is a movie. The girl gets beheaded in the shower as opposed to simply stabbed to death. But the book is mild in comparison with the facts of Ed Gein. This is one of those series of murders that so schocked the nation that it became part of American mythology. It's hard to know how the facts impacted the fiction, but one's got to assume that one of the reasons why both the book and the movie are so successful is because people knew that, albeit remotely, that they were based on truth. What I think the movie does spectacularly well, and perversely, is bring a curious glamour to the character of Norman Bates. In the book he's this pudgy, rather nondescript, short, balding man.
JOSEPH STEPHANO: In the book, Norman Bates is actually a middle-aged man, a reprobate, drinks, overweight, wears big, thick glasses, peeps through holes. I thought he was incredibly unsympathetic. I didn't like him. So when Marion gets killed, I am then expected to switch my empathy toward this man. I couldn't do it with the character as he was written. I percieved a young man, vulnerable, good looking, kind of sad, makes you feel sorry for him.
Unlike many of Alfred Hitchcock's adaptations for film, Stefano's treatment of Psycho does stick very close to the plot of Bloch's novel. After the quite different description of Norman Bates in the first chapter, Mary Crane arrives at the Bates Motel. She is killed by Norman's mother in the shower, and Norman is forced to dispose of the body. Later, Mary's sister finds Sam Loomis and confronts him about about Mary's disappearance. Arbogast, meanwhile, has been hired to find Mary--and the $40,000 she has stolen--and meets his untimely end in the Bates house. Eventually, Lila Crane discovers Norman's "mother" in the basement, just as in the film.
Though Bloch was the natural first choice to write the screenplay, Hitchcock was incorrectly told at the time that Bloch was unavailable While Stefano and Hitchcock certainly altered the source material to fit the film that Hitchcock wanted, much of Bloch's novel made it into the final film. In response to interviews where Stefano had been openly dismissive of Bloch's work, Bloch simply pointed to statements made by Alfred Hitchcock that Stefano contributed mostly dialogue, and no ideas, to the final product. Psycho, said Hitchcock, all came from Robert Bloch's novel.
Though much of the story's shock-value has been lost due to over-familiarity with the film, there is still much to recommend Bloch's book. As with any novel, there is much more insight into all of the characters--especially Norman--and the relationship between Sam and Lila. In fact, the novel probably did not achieve a wider readership at the time because Hitchcock's film came out only a year after the release of the book. Hitchcock himself was even rumored to have bought up as many copies of the novel as he could find, in order to keep the ending a surprise.
However, Bloch's novel has remained in print for nearly 35 years. The first paperback edition of Psycho appeared in 1960 from Crest Books and quickly saw six editions, including a movie tie-in version featuring Janet Leigh screaming from the cover. Succeeding US paperbacks, as the rights changed hands, came out from Bantam (1969), Award (1975) and Warner Books (1982). Most editions, through the mid '70s, featured the shattered logo of the original Simon & Schuster hardcover, which Hitchcock had purchased to use as his movie logo. Overseas, the book saw more than 30 editions published in 13 countries -- including Burma and Iran.
--from the collector's edition, widescreen
DVD release of Psycho, Universal.
A selection of Psycho related books.
A selection of Psycho non-fiction.
100 Years of Horror
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