YDK: The Bates Motel and Family Home

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

YDK: The Bates Motel and Family Home

Psycho is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch which in turn is based loosely on the case of convicted Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein1.  Both Gein and Psycho's protagonist, Norman Bates, were solitary murderers in isolated rural locations.  Both had deceased, domineering mothers, and had sealed off one room of their house as a shrine to their mother, and both dressed in women's clothing.  However, there are many differences between Bates and Ed Gein.  Among others, Gein would not be strictly considered a serial killer, having officially killed "only" two people.   Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock's production assistant, read Anthony Boucher's positive review of the Bloch novel and decided to show the book to Hitchcock, even though readers at Hitchcock's home studio Paramount Pictures rejected its premise for a film.  Hitchcock acquired rights to the novel for $9,500.  He reportedly ordered Robertson to buy up copies to keep the novel's surprises for the film.

Hitchcock chose to film Psycho to recover from two aborted projects with Paramount: Flamingo Feather and No Bail for the Judge.  Hitchcock also faced genre competitors whose works were critically compared to his own and so wanted to film new material.  The director also disliked stars' salary demands and trusted only a few people to choose prospective material, including Robertson.  Paramount executives did not want to produce the film and refused to provide the budget that Hitchcock received from them for previous films with the studio.  Hitchcock decided to plan for Psycho to be filmed quickly and inexpensively, similar to an episode of his ongoing television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and hired the television series crew as Shamley Productions.  He proposed this cost-conscious approach to Paramount but executives again refused to finance the film, telling him their sound stages were occupied or booked even though production was known to be in a slump. Hitchcock countered with the offer to finance the film personally and to film it at Universal-International if Paramount would distribute. He also deferred his director's fee of $250,000 for a 60% ownership of the film negative.

This offer was finally accepted. Hitchcock also experienced resistance from producer Herbert Coleman and Shamley Productions executive Joan Harrison, who did not think the film would be a success.  Hitchcock hired writer James Cavanaugh to write a draft of the screenplay.  Unsatisfied with Cavanaugh's screenplay, Hitchcock then hired up-and-coming writer Joseph Stefano to adapt the novel.  The film began shooting in December 1959 and would go on to last about a month.  It was filmed mostly on the backlot of Universal and in various sound stages.

During shooting, Hitchcock was forced to uncharacteristically do retakes for some scenes.  The final shot in the shower scene, which starts with an extreme close-up on Marion's eye and pulls up and out, proved very difficult for Leigh, since the water splashing in her face made her want to blink, and the cameraman had trouble as well since he had to manually focus while moving the camera.  Retakes were also required for the opening scene, since Hitchcock felt that Leigh and Gavin were not passionate enough.  Leigh had trouble saying "Not inordinately" for the real estate office scene, requiring additional retakes.  Lastly, the scene in which the mother is discovered required complicated coordination of the chair turning around, Miles hitting the light bulb, and a lens flare, which proved to be the sticking point.  Hitchcock forced retakes until all three elements were to his satisfaction.  The famous shower scene took a week to complete and took up a third of Janet Leigh`s shooting time.

Psycho was released on June 16, 1960 to mixed critical reception and financial success, making thirty-two million dollars in its theatrical run.  In 1960, Psycho received four Academy Award nominations including Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.  All three sequels have been nominated for Saturn Awards.

The Psycho House and Bates Motel sets

The Bates House and Motel were constructed on the backlot at Universal City Studios in 1959 for the production of Psycho.  It has been said that the house, designed by art director's Joseph Hurley and Robert Clathworthy, was loosely based on an Edward Hopper painting called "House by the Railroad".  The house and motel sets were actually empty shells, also known as facades.  When the house was originally built, there was no right side of the house, since the right side is never seen on camera in the original Psycho film.  Interiors of the Bates house and motel were constructed on Sound stage 18-A at Universal, just a short walk from the actual exterior locations making production convenient for all involved.  After production had wrapped on Psycho, the house was featured in several television productions including The Virginian and Boris Karloff's Mystery Theater.

In 1964, Universal Studios opened its patented Studio Tram Tour. The right side of the house was then added and the set was unceremoniously dubbed "The Psycho House".  The house and even the motel went on to appear in several shows such as Night Gallery, The Hardy Boys and even in films such as Invitation to a Gunfighter and Modern Problems.  The motel was torn down in 1979 and the house was moved to an alternate location on the backlot to accommodate the new tour.  In 1982, Richard Franklin and Hilton A. Green announced plans to film Psycho II.  The house was then moved to a location that best matched the original hill and only about 40 feet of the motel was actually re-built.  The rest of the motel in the film was a matte painting.  TV shows during the '80s promoted the Universal Tour and prominently featured the Psycho House including Amazing Stories, Knight Rider, Welcome to My Nightmare, and Diff'rent Strokes.

In 1985, the Bates Motel was fully re-built for the filming of Psycho III.  In 1987, the NBC-TV network announced plans for the TV pilot Bates Motel.  The motel in the film was re-modeled to look very Spanish like.  This version of the set remained until 1994 when the new renovations were taken away and the motel was put back to look the way it did in the original Psycho.  An episode of Murder, She Wrote from the early 1990s featured the Psycho House and Bates Motel as key locations in the popular Angela Lansbury series.

In 1988, plans for Psycho IV: The Beginning were underway at Universal.  Plans to shoot the movie in Orlando, Florida were set into motion and the film crew constructed a full-scale replica of the Bates Motel and Psycho House at the soon-to-be built Universal Studios Florida.  The final dressing and painting was done by the Psycho IV art department crew in 1990, but the house and motel was fully built in 1988 long before the production team was assembled for the project.  After production wrapped, the sets were left as attractions at the park until 1999 when it was torn down to make room for another attraction.

In 1998, the Psycho House in California was renovated to preserve the set.  All of the rotting wood was replaced and the set had a new paint job.  That same year, plans to remake Psycho were announced.  It was originally announced that Gus Van Sant was going to be using the original house and motel sets.  However, the production team built a new house directly in front of the old one, and the motel was updated to look like it was from the 1960s.  The new house was moved next to the original house and remained there for about three years after production.  In 2003, due to popular demand, the remake's house was torn down and the motel was restored to the original way once again.  To this day, the house and motel are still standing on the backlot of Universal and continue to be major tourist attractions. The tram tour features an actor playing Norman Bates coming out of cabin 1 with a body, putting it in the trunk of a car and then wielding a large knife at the tourists as the tram drives away.



1.  Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and body snatcher.  His crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin.  Gein confessed to killing two women – tavern owner Mary Hogan on December 8, 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, on November 16, 1957.  Initially found unfit for trial, after confinement in a mental health facility he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital.  His case influenced the creation of several fictional killers, including Norman Bates of the film and novel Psycho and its sequels, Leatherface of the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre films, Buffalo Bill of the novel The Silence of the Lambs, Ezra Cobb of the film Deranged, Bloody Face from the second season of the TV series American Horror Story, Carrie White of the novel Carrie, and Eddie Gluskin of the video game Outlast.


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