Psycho: The Serial Killer Template

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To me, Psycho has always been a great template for the serial killer story in popular culture because it encompasses all the psychosomatic characteristics of the deranged mind paired with a depleted stream of consciousness. Beyond the basis of a great thriller, we also get to witness sub textual references of sexuality, gender bias, and a beautiful three personality spilt (disassociated identity disorder).  Combine that with a wicked shower stabbing, drunken stupors, and the creepy childlike persona of Norman Bates, and you’re guaranteed a model towards the typical horror genre plot.


In order to brainstorm an outline for an intellectual killer, not only does he need a motive, but a well developed background story as well.  Normally in the pieces that I have read/watched, the killer almost always has a reason for what he does…regardless if it was a tempestuous childhood, pyromaniac habits, or something of the sort, the past story helps make the character, thus turning him into what he is today.  More often than never, the killer has a favored weapon/killing technique that he prefers to use on his victims; in Psycho we have the (butcher) knife, and the typical over the shoulder stab.  While in the book Norman (mom) switches to the razor at one point, it is still relevant to the knife, and still a similar technique.


Personally, to me the background story is what makes Psycho a memorable story, especially since we only get pieces of it as we go through the account. When I first watched the film (since I didn’t read the book till this semester) I was shocked to find his mother in the cellar, and even more disturbed when I found that he killed his mother/her boyfriend, forged the suicide note, and robbed her grave to try and return to a normal life.  The only thing that I think would have made it better for me is if they gave more detail to what he was like when he first entered the hospital after his mother’s death.  Seeing how his mind is now…I would be curious to take a look into his subconscious before he took over the persona of his mother. 


Going further into the background story, it is vital that we know how dominant his mother was to him after his father left, and even more important that he was never technically able to be a child. He grows up hating the opposite sex because he has seen what marriage has done to his mother, and also develops an intense hatred towards women in general based on how his mother treated him—an infantile child, who would never amount to anything on his on—the typical momma’s boy.  To Norman, this distinguished any amount of man hood that he had left…and I think that has a lot to do with his murdering tendencies.  Think about it.  He kills women because he can overpower them, and is put off my their seductress abilities over men.  By dominating women and reclaiming his manhood, he is able to grow up and be the man that his mother said that he could not be.


But to me, that isn’t what makes Psycho stand out in the horror genre.  I mean so far it’s your typical angry individual lashing out on the weaker person to overrule a personal vendetta of his past. What makes Bloch’s story work is the fact that the protagonist (if you want to call him that) doesn’t know how dangerous he really is.  He is caught between three people, each of which has a different personality, different motive, and different style. In other words, one drinks because he can’t accept who he has let himself become, while the other stays silent yet deadly, and then finally cradles back into his childhood.  The three personality split is genius because it allows Norman to become different people, while being oblivious to his insane nature.  The ending is beautifully done because the mother completely takes over Norman, proving that he could never be a man because he relied too much on his mother.  Truly superb work.  If that doesn’t scream serial killer template…than I don’t know what does.


Mike Arnzen said:

Good response. I would like to see that "before" scene, too!

Careful with terms: 'psychosomatic' refers to the influence of the mind on the physical body (such as stress-induced acne) more than insanity or mental health issues, per se. (The Brood, of course, takes this notion to a whole new level).

I'm surprised the gender dynamics (or Oedipal structures of the story) don't come up in this response.

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