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'Bates Motel': it all goes back to a brilliant novelist named Robert Bloch

'Bates Motel,' which airs its season finale May 20, owes its origins to the novel "Psycho" by horror writer Robert Bloch.

By Randy DotingaContributor / May 20, 2013

'Bates Motel,' starring Freddie Highmore (l.) and Vera Farmiga (r.), will return for a second series on A&E.

Joe Lederer/A&E/AP


More than 50 years after Alfred Hitchcock transformed Norman Bates into a cultural touchstone for violence, madness, and obsession, Hollywood's most infamous mama's boy has been reborn.

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In "Bates Motel," a new A&E cable series that airs its season finale tonight, Norman is a teenager who lives with his mother. They're quite close, actually. And why not? As someone once said, "a boy's best friend is his mother."

Viewers like what they see, and "Bates Motel" will return for a second season, extending the legacy of a brilliant novelist named Robert Bloch. He created Norman Bates in 1959's "Psycho," the novel that inspired the original movie, the sequels, the remake, and more.

Carl H. Sederholm, an associate professor of literature at Brigham Young University, has devoted much of his career to exploring the horror fiction of authors like Bloch, Stephen King, and H. P. Lovecraft. I asked Sederholm to consider the meaning and influence of "Psycho," which introduced the world to a shy, awkward, and murderous maniac.
Q: How does the novel "Psycho" fit into its era and the history of horror fiction?
A: Robert Bloch holds a significant place in the development of modern American horror because of the way he took H. P. Lovecraft’s style and expanded it to include a deeper investigation of human psychology.

Other writers were taken with mental illness, but Bloch took things further by showing readers that monsters didn’t need to have fangs or green skin. He was fascinated by the notion that anybody, even the person next door, could be monstrous.

Another important thing, particularly as we turn to "Psycho," is that Bloch began to explore more deeply the role of abnormal psychology in human action. In this sense, Bloch was like another of his key predecessors, Edgar Allan Poe, an author who was never afraid to investigate the darker impulses of the human heart.
Q: How did Bloch blend the real-life story of the deeply disturbed serial killer Ed Gein with his imagination?
A: The connection between Ed Gein and "Psycho" is one of those things that everyone takes for granted. Gein is regularly cited as a key influence not only on Bloch’s development of Norman Bates but also on other major horror characters such as Jame Gumb from "The Silence of the Lambs" and Leatherface from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."


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