Before “Bates Motel” opened up its doors on A&E, there was another television pilot of the same name that continued the Psycho legacy in an altogether different direction. That’s right, kids, the failed 1987 pilot “Bates Motel” is now available on DVD!
Through the magic of Universal’s Vault Series, you can order yourself a copy on DVD-r! Note that not all players will play these manufactured-on-demand discs so make sure that yours does before purchasing!
Now then… what the hell is this, you ask? I’ll let our resident Psycho junkie, Jinx, take it from here with an excerpt from his 5-part series, Psycho Path: Tracing Norman Bates’ Twisted Trail Through Page and Screen.
Bud Cort, Lori Petty, and Moses Gunn star in Richard Rothstein’s 90-minute pilot. Let your curiosity get the better of you and order one below. It’ll look great right next to your Psycho IV: The Beginning DVD!
Opening in 1960 Fairvale (spelled “Fairville” because this pilot flat out refuses to get anything right), 1987’s “Bates Motel” opens not long after the end of the original Psycho, with Norman Bates being taken away to the asylum that would forever be his home (the pilot ignores the continuity of the original film’s follow-ups). The story then shifts to Alex West, a young boy institutionalized for murdering his abusive stepfather. Alex’s psychiatrist introduces him to Norman, and encourages a friendship between the two. As a result, the next two and a half decades find Norman acting as a surrogate father of sorts for Alex. Norman eventually passes away, leaving his motel and mansion to a newly released Alex.
From there on, Alex renovates the motel with his…actually, you know what? Don’t worry about it. Norman Bates no longer figures into the story from this point on, and the remaining hour and a half are quite bad. One assumes the show was setting itself up to be an anthology of sorts, with a “guest of the week” gag that would allow for a revolving door to potential guest stars. The story featured in the pilot concerns a suicidal woman, time-traveling ghosts, a shady real estate tycoon dressing up as “Mother”, and Jason Bateman. It’s all quite bad and extremely forgettable – a bizarre little footnote in Psycho history.
What is worth examining is the brief look at Norman this pilot presents. In giving Norman a surrogate son and serenity with all that had happened to him, the pilot allows Norman Bates the happy ending he’d been cheated out of for so long. It might have been a fitting end for the character, if only it had been done well. Instead, we never once hear Norman speak, and we only glimpse him through news footage and old photographs (with Norman being played by Kurt Paul, Anthony Perkins’ stunt double from the two sequels). A shame, as better writing might have elevated this material, allowing it to act as a proper finish to Norman’s tale.
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