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PSYCHO

The Screenplay
Joseph Stefano's original screenplay for Psycho was based on a novel by Robert Bloch

Joseph Stefano's original screenplay for Psycho was based on a novel by Robert Bloch. The story is the ultimate tale of poor choice in lodgings-and a highly original evocation of an unpredictable and violent world in which good doesn't always vanquish and evil sometimes hides in plain sight. The film did away with conventional heroes and heroines, slashing the very notion to bits and pieces. At its center was the provocative Marion Crane, a young woman who, desperate to make a change in her life, impulsively robs her employer. With her bags packed, the stolen cash in her purse and the promise of a fresh start ahead of her, she hurriedly leaves town. As night falls, she seeks refuge in an out of the way motel. Neither pure nor wicked, Marion fell victim to psychosis by sheer accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Similarly, the character of Norman Bates, mild-mannered owner, defied every standard for film characters. Clean-cut, quiet and just a little on the odd side, Norman unfolded into an oedipal wreck of a man with a penchant for doing nasty things with kitchen cutlery. Never before had so stark a portrait of abnormal psychology-wrapped in the trappings of normality-been presented to American movie-goers.

Equally mysterious was the character of Norman's mother Mrs. Bates who, though strangely reclusive, appeared to have a devastating effect on the shy, sensitive Norman.

To Alfred Hitchcock, Stefano's script was the perfect framework for letting audiences dip "a toe in the cold waters of fear." It delved without flinching into some of the most terrifying areas of human psychology, from sexuality to the oedipal complex to homicidal impulses. Stefano's screenplay has long been considered a near sacred object to cinephiles-but not to Stefano himself.

"I know it's considered strange in Hollywood, but the idea of a recreation didn't bother me," he says. "Usually you write a movie and that's the end of it. I don't know of any screenwriters who have had their work remade in the same sense that say, Arthur Miller, has seen his plays redone. Even though the opportunity to see my work brought to life again is something I simply never expected, I thought it was a wonderful thing to happen."

He adds: "I think when people object to this new version, perhaps they don't consider just how very old the old one is. It hasn't the same currency in today's movie-going audience, but there's no reason why it can't be updated."

Soon after getting clearance from Universal to proceed with the controversial project, Gus Van Sant took Stefano to lunch and, like a nervous suitor, announced his intentions towards the masterwork. "Gus explained his desire to recreate the original Psycho, rather than remake it from scratch, about staying as true to the Hitchcock version as possible. That was very warm and reassuring to me and I was very pleased," recalls Stefano. "I thought he was one of the best directors imaginable, certainly the only director I would have felt secure about reworking my script."

Although Van Sant had wanted to shoot the original Psycho without major alterations, he and Stefano agreed that a slight polish and update to keep the story consistent with contemporary styles and mores would only make the project more authentic. "These were minor but important things," says Stefano. "For example, in the original movie there was some sense that being in a motel room on your lunch hour was morally outrageous. I didn't

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