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
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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