Why Bates Motel is proof you can successfully adapt classic source material

Classic horror movies — and the source material that inspired them — are sometimes thought to be outlawed and should never be touched again. And in some cases, it’s an argument that holds water. It’s no secret that the literary success of Stephen Kingit is Pet sematary (and Mary Lambert‘s film adaptation) led to the derivative Pet Sematary 2where John Charpentierit’s classic (and enormously profitable) Halloween lead to deductible-low Halloween: Resurrection. But every once in a while there comes a genre film or TV show that proves that classic films aren’t as sacred and untouchable as is often considered. Bates Motel is a great example of this idea, taking classic sources and turning them into something just as good, if not betterthan the very media that inspired it.

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When the prequel series to Alfred Hitchcockit is psychology was announced, it certainly didn’t seem like a good idea. After all, Hitchcock’s classic has long been considered one of the seminal horror films of the 20th century. Wouldn’t it be impossible to surpass, or even replicate, what he and Robert Bloch (who wrote the novel) had already created? And what story would it be able to tell that would justify its existence?

RELATED: ‘Bates Motel’ Cast & Character Guide (& Where They Are Now)

The series features some of the characters and settings we’ve fallen strangely in love with over the past sixty years. After all, the story of socially awkward Norman Bates, his tyrannical mother, Norma, and the infamous motel they run together has become such a familiar and influential piece of the horror genre that it would be hard to resist playing in the rich sandbox. that Bloch and Hitchcock created. But where Bates Motel truly succeeds – and shines – in asserting its existence is how it uses psychology inspire and inform rather than imitate. The result is a series that improves upon its cinematic predecessor in its dedication to making Norman (Freddie Highmore) and Norma (Vera Farmiga) fully realized three-dimensional characters.


At its heart, the series focuses on their codependent mother-son relationship to tell a deeply personal and heartfelt story of family, love, and mental illness. Norma was not very present either in the psychology novel or film, even if it is at the center of Bates Motel. This is where it makes sense to take the prequel route. By taking place years before the events of psychology, we have the opportunity to witness his relationship with Norman before his ultimate demise. Right away we see Norma’s fears of being a single mother and an outsider in their new town, of not being able to provide for Norman, as well as concern for his emerging dark tendencies. She knows she needs to give him the psychological help he needs, which is in direct competition with her fear that it will lead to her son being separated, leaving her alone again. Norma’s complexity (and Farmiga’s incredible, heartbreaking performance) gives the character vivid life to make her far more complex than her counterpart in the novel and film adaptation. She’s a woman with deep flaws, regrets and anxieties that play a huge role in developing the show’s emotional line that just isn’t present in psychology.


The same can be said for Norman’s role in the series. Rather than start out as the psychopath we’ve known for psychology, we get a direct glimpse into teenage Norman’s thoughts as he begins to struggle with what we later realize is dissociative identity disorder. He has frequent memory lapses when he is in a heightened emotional state or something triggers one of his past traumas, waking up to find there are periods of time he cannot account for. Norma tries to allay her fears (and hers), but Norman knows there’s something wrong with him, especially when he wakes up to find his father dead at his feet or his teacher murdered just after leaving his house.

His arc of unsuccessful struggle to self-manage and combat his deteriorating mental state is both powerful and heartbreaking, especially since we know he is destined to become the killer we know in psychology. As Norman (and the audience) realize, his mental illness isn’t something he alone can treat, any more than Norma can heal with his love. It is that insight and depth of character that is not present in psychology it does wonders for breathing new life into Norman’s character while still staying true to his arc in the film. Right here, Bates Motel manages to do the impossible – infuse new emotions and character beats into a classic story while honoring what has come before.


Both Norman and Norma are characters full of contradictions. They want to be independent of each other, but they can’t seem to be apart; they desperately want to fit in in their new town, but they often avoid social situations and push away their neighbors. They want to have a healthy, family relationship with Norman’s half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), and Norma’s brother, Caleb (Kenny Johnson), but their traumas and fear of letting strangers into their safe bubble prevent them from doing so. Their complexity is what sets them apart from previous interpretations of the characters, and it’s something that Bates Motel use wisely.

While a psychology the prequel series doesn’t look like the best idea on paper, Bates Motel not only manages to match psychologythe depth, the characters and the psychological horror of, but also surpass it. Rather than using the film’s story and thrills as a cheap imitation, the series instead uses psychologyCharacters and basic plot elements as a framework to dive deep into Norman and Norma’s psyche and emotions. The result is a heartbreaking love and family story where the plot stakes are raised and the horror elements ring true because we’re made to care about the series’ fundamental relationship between mother and son. . By taking time to grow and develop its characters over 5 seasons, the series avoids the idea that classic source material should be left alone. It can even be improved. And unlike “Mother”, it’s not a crazy idea at all.



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