The bad seed sprouts.
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) calls in to a radio talk show hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) and Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost) to talk about the reason that he killed his mother (here played by Olivia Hussey) and lets slip that he is going to kill again, soon….
This film goes into the childhood of Norman Bates and shows us explicitly what made him into the man that he became. We see the abuse that Norman suffered at the hands of his mother who equated any sexual desire on his part with evil immorality. Like all the best hypocrites she is completely fine with her own sensual and sexual needs, even using Norman for her gratification in one scene—she wants him to dab her with orange-scented water—that is creepy in a way most films never achieve. Norman’s relationship with his mother is like that throughout the whole film. More on that later.
Norman’s first sexual experience (young Norman is played by Henry Thomas) is worse than average as a weird girl pursues him and strips down in his bed awaiting him. Since, at this point, Norman had already killed his mother he gets dressed up and kills the girl rather than accept his sexual feelings. The same thing happens again and again as the pattern continues. Norman’s view of sexual desire is so screwed up that he feels he has to kill rather than act upon those feelings. Not really that healthy an attitude. Norma is shown in this film to be irredeemably evil. She is the mother who tries to seduce her son and then punishes him when he responds to her advances. She is the mother who forces him to dress as a girl and then complains that he is not masculine enough. Norma is the ultimate bitch who we want dead from the first moment of the film, and we know she will eventually.
The rest of the film goes over and over the terrors inflicted on Norman by his mother and, eventually, her boyfriend Chet Rudolph(Thomas Schuster). Chet tries to step in as a father figure for Norman, but he has no interest and instead sees Chet as unworthy of his mother. Norman’s relationship with his mother falls squarely into the area of ‘covert incest’ which is a nasty sexualized relationship between family that is as intimate as a romance without the actual sex; it is a form of emotional abuse. The kind of parent who commits it on their child is extremely needy and unwilling to actually form meaningful relationships with other adults so they focus their attention on a child. Children growing up under those conditions try to please the parent who has needs that the child can never meet; it is not really a good thing.
When Norman’s wife, Connie Bates (Donna Mitchel), decides to stop taking her birth control pills so that she gets pregnant, she has, in effect, betrayed Norman’s love and trust the same way his mother did. Since she is a trained psychologist you would think she would understand that betraying his trust is not a good idea. Since she is in a marriage she should also understand that her desires are not more important than his as they have (or should have) a partnership. As a person she needs to grow the hell up and realize that she went into the marriage knowing that Norman did not want kids because of his fear of creating another ‘bad seed’, and so it is just plain too bad that she has changed her mind. She deserves to die more than anyone else killed in the entire series of films (even mother) as she should know better and is instead selfish, but, since this was a made-for-TV movie, she survives. Damn.
Speaking of “made-for-TV movie” this film, despite the return of scriptwriter Joseph Stefano, is riddled with inconsistencies with the rest of the series. Why does Norma Bates have an English accent when her sister did not? Why did the Bates’ already own the motel before the boyfriend came into the picture when in the first film Norman told Marion that the boyfriend had convinced his mother to build it? Where did that closet in Norma’s room come from? Why did Dr. Leo Richmond change his first name to Fred? There are other problems too, like a psychologist marrying her patient. What were they thinking?
Also in the “what were they thinking” category is the finale. Norman—who is still planning to kill his deceiving, conniving, conceiving, bitch of a wife (can you tell that I dislike her?)—lures her to the Bates motel so that he can finish her off. Now he plays on her trust, makes her uncertain, and leads her upstairs to mother’s room where a knife has long waited for him. Then, just as he is about to perform a radical form of abortion, true love leads him to not kill her and burn down the house instead. After being harrowed by his victims about as convincingly as would occur in a 6th grade fun house, Norman escape from his past and has a long future to look forward to after he is sent to prison for arson … no, wait … this is a TV movie so that part is left out. Yeah.
Despite all that, the cast (except for Donna Mitchel) is excellent in this, they just are not given much with which to work. Director John Landis has an amusing cameo as a radio producer. Composer Graeme Revell makes good use of his own music and notable cues from Bernard Herrmann‘s original score. The film is also shot well, the fire sequence, by Rodney Charters, is particularly stunning. The only real trouble with this film is the bad writing, which, considering that it was the baby of the scriptwriter of the original, Joseph Stefano, is very disappointing indeed.