Psycho - from novel to film. Construction of emotions

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


1 Table of Contents

2 Introduction

3 Constellation of Characters
3.1 Inside the Book
3.2 Reading the Film
3.2.1 Mary
3.2.2 The relationship Mary-Norman
3.2.3 Norman
3.2.4 The Matter of Sam and Lila
3.2.5 Arbogast

4 The Structure of the Film and its Elements.
4.1 Plot Points according to Syd Field
4.2 Elements of Suspense
4.2.1 Close-Up: The Shower Scene

5 Conclusion

6 Appendix
6.1 Bibliography
6.1.1 Primary Texts and Materials
6.1.2 Secondary Texts
6.1.3 Other Materials
6.2 Stories I-V

2 Introduction

About fifty years ago a little town in Wisconsin, Plainfield, was shaken by discovering a fifty-one-year old mass murderer living among them. Ed Gein, who had not only killed, but also disassembled his victims, was to become the role model as an archetypical character in the American horror literature. About thirty-nine miles from Plainfield it was Robert Bloch,[1] who became interested in Gein:

“I wondered how this man, never suspected of any kind of wrongdoing, in a town where if someone sneezed on the north side of town, someone in the south side said ‘Gesundheit,’ was only suddenly discovered to be a mass murderer. I was also puzzled by how unanxious his neighbors were to speak about his crimes. I said to my self: ‘There’s a story here.’”[2]

It was Bloch’s curiosity about the dark side of Puritan America, about America’s psychology cult, especially about Freudian theories[3] and the ever strong worship of a mother picture that transformed Ed Gein into Norman Bates, a bogeyman with an Oedipus fixation on “mother,” into a transvestite with a love for taxidermy. According to Stephen Rebello[4] the book had an instant success in the United States. Of course the contemporary reader, “Stephen King-ed and Cliff Barker-ed to a bloody pulp,”[5] can hardly imagine the emotions of the audience in the late 50’s, with Agatha Christie mysteries as main stream literature:

“Robert Bloch had sexed-up and Freudianized the Gothic, revitalizing such creaky elements as the rattletrap Old Dark House, the stormy night and the crackpot madwoman locked in the dank basement. Into the brew, Bloch stirred a motel on the skids and a randy, alcoholic, mama’s boy whose scrambled psyche and way with taxidermy could keep several shrinks in summerhouses in the Hamptons for years.”[6]

At the time when Bloch wrote Psycho Hitchcock already had been a renowned film director, for whom “Paramount function[ed] practically as a studio setup for him.”[7] However, this constant success had put Hitchcock on his guard against the “trap of self-plagiarism”[8] In search for the unexpected, Psycho was his chance to further develop his style of suspense by entering a new field of the Gothic horror. Hitchcock’s trust[9] in the story proved him right, because as the book seemed to be a winner, the film achieved a groundbreaking success until today.[10]

Fleeing from the hopelessness of life and trying to achieve some “peaceful island” for herself and her lover, Mary[11] Crane steals the money of her employee and becomes lost during a strong storm. She finally arrives at Bates motel, where Mary meets her destiny and the end of her life, while the dominance of the past over the present teaches the audience a dreadful and deadly lesson.

3 Constellation of Characters

Dominance of past over present, sexual secrets and repression, a journey into nowhere or into darkness, salvation, shower murder as sexual act (as substitute for rape[12]), the fruit cellar as clear symbol of (disturbed) sexuality,[13] architecture: there are a dozen references to the horror and the psychic conditions of man, especially in a movie that tries to deal with human passions and human guilt.

3.1 Inside the Book

The film’s success should not be compared to the book. Although it served as a basic template for the script, it is a long way to the suspense, tension, and thrill of the film. Instead it comes along with boring clichés, cardboard figures, and actions that one would half expect.

As an illustration for this could be the introduction of Mother, who appears as a real person in the first half of the book, a person one can talk and argue with.

“Actually, he was aware of the footsteps without even hearing them; long familiarity aided his senses, whenever Mother came into the room. He didn’t even have to look up to know she was there. […] ‘Norman, do you know what time it is?’ He sighed and closed the book. He could tell now that she was going to be difficult; the very question was a challenge. Mother had to pass the grandfather clock in the hall […]”[14]

Hitchcock on the contrary lets Mother only appear as some sort of ghost, which does not seem to be real, but emerges in a shadowy appearance in a window. Also Norman – in the film he is a nice young man, who does not seem to be capable of committing murder – is such a cardboard figure, appearing rosy, pudgy, and already psychologically defect. This can be seen by the amounts of drinking and by the kinds of books he is reading. While Bloch claims taxidermy to be a the central part in the book[15] - taxidermy plays an important role in the film – it is rather treated short handedly by Bloch:

“Well, no just taxidermy. George Blount gave me that squirrel to stuff.”[16]

The way Norman answers Mary’s question about how he uses his time looks almost as a casual remark, compared to the importance taxidermy receives in the film.

Another part of the book that could serve as an example, how cheaply written the book appears, could be the flight of Marion, who barely seems to experience an emotional conflict. Although Bloch tried to setup her inner mind and her inner troubles, somehow his effort does not afflict the reader. She does recall the events and she does suffer, as one can read:

“Mary glanced into the rear-view mirror and caught a dim reflection of her face. The dark hair and the regular features were still familiar, but the smile had gone and her full lips were compressed to a taut line. Where had she seen that drawn, contorted countenance before? In the mirror after mom died, when you went to pieces------[17]

However, the visualization does not seem to be as passionate as it is in the film, because the auctorial narrator loses his grip and intensity as he stays on the surface of the character and does not elaborate why Mary is feeling so intense. Furthermore, when he eventually enters Mary’s mind his use of language stays casual: Actions weigh out the feelings, as the amounts of verbs of actions (do, would do, etc.) show us:

“[…] She’d walk in on Sam with this story […] And she’d tell him […] Maybe Sam would balk […] They’d be married […]”[18]

Asking Alfred Hitchcock about the book, he recalls that the only thing he liked was the sudden murder under the shower:

„Ich glaube, das einzige was mir gefallen hat und mich dazu gebracht hat, den Film zu machen, war der unerwartete Mord unter der Dusche. Das ist ganz unvermittelt, und deshalb hat es mich interessiert.“[19]

3.2 Reading the Film

Have you ever wondered what might be going on behind drawn curtains, seeing the shadows of people in the window? Being locked out of the intimacy of those you can see, but being curious about their destiny? Eventually your mind will set up all kinds of stories. This is the kind of curiosity Hitchcock plays with, by peeping through a random window in a large city, by using images of Mary driving her car into nowhere, or by letting the audience see an old woman’s shape behind the window curtain of the house.

3.2.1 Mary

The same thing happens, when Hitchcock uses suspense to let the audience participate, and Psycho is a perfect movie in doing so. Already at the beginning the establishing shot takes us on a journey, through Phoenix, AZ. Searching and scanning the camera’s eye moves quite arbitrarily through the space, stops and repeats searching, until it finally comes to a halt at a window, which again seems to be taken randomly out of the thousands a city has. It could be us in the window, it could be our friends, or it could be strangers. The director plays with the audience as if it was an instrument, by letting the viewers feel sorry for the couple, by excusing the theft, by feeling the fear of being detected by the policeman. Our cultural codes are tested by setting our sympathies for Mary against our feeling for right and wrong.

It is only after Mary has left the right road, when sympathies are changing. It is being visualized that Mary has taken the wrong turn, not only literally, but also in metaphorical terms. By taking the money, she has not only deceived her boss, but also her sister and her boyfriend Sam Loomis. In searching for some “private island,” as she will utter to Norman later, she loses her way and enters hell, not the ancient hell, with Cerberus, as guardian, but more the Christian hell, or personal hell, not with ancient monsters, but with Victorian ghosts, e.g. “Mother.” It is the location often described by English ghost story writers, an old spooky house, a lonely country side, a hostile environment, and some lunatic, who kills people. The audience is supposed to feel that here in the motel something important will happen to Mary.


[1] Rebello. p 7.

[2] Rebello. p.8.

[3] A perfect example for this interest are the writings by Henry Miller, e.g. Rosy Crucifixion and Tropic of Capricorn.

[4] Rebello. p. 11f.

[5] Rebello. p.12.

[6] Rebello. p. 12.

[7] Rebello. p. 16.

[8] Rebello. p.17.

[9] Please refer to the sudden shower murder: end of part 3.1

[10] Psycho was nominated the Oscar for best Actress, Best Direction, Best cinematography, best director. It has won the Edgar Allan Poe Award of 1961, the Golden Globe of 1961, and two Laurel Awards in 1961. Recorded with a budget of $800.000 it roughly made about $ 32million. (Internet Movie Data Base: 2002)

[11] The character’s name in the book is “Mary,” in the film she is called “Marion.” For simplicity I will use “Mary,” to describe both, the film’s and the book’s character.

[12] Wood

[13] Hitchcock, Psycho: “You think I am fruity…”. DVD.

[14] Bloch, Psycho: p 12. The underlined words show clearly, how Bloch works to indicate the Mother is really there.

[15] Rebello, p. 9.

[16] Bloch, Psycho: p. 42.

[17] Bloch, Psycho: p. 32.

[18] Bloch, Psycho. pp. 30ff. This kind of lingual structure is followed throughout the book, causing a casual and informal “look and feel” of Bloch’s language.

[19] Truffaut/Hitchcock. p. 228: As to the quality of the book, Truffaut, too, finds the book not very pleasant to read: “Ich habe den Roman Psycho gelesen und fand der Autor arbeitet nur mit miesen Tricks. “Oft steht da ‘Norman setzte sich neben seine alte Mutter, und sie begannen miteinander zu reden.’ Das ist eine Erzählkonvention die mich wirklich abstößt.“ However, Truffaut does not utter, why this is a bad narrative habit.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Psycho - from novel to film. Construction of emotions
Dresden Technical University  (American Studies)
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
796 KB
Psycho, Construction
Quote paper
Markus Nowatzki (Author), 2002, Psycho - from novel to film. Construction of emotions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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