by Robert Bloch
It wasn't long ago that I first read Robert Bloch's Psycho, followed by a repeat viewing of Hitchcock's masterful film adaptation. Those of you who read my review of the book know that I attempted to argue the merits of it, but finally decided upon the notion that it was only a necessary stepping stone on the path of the Psycho-That-Was-Meant-To Be--the one that graced the silver screen.
The merits of the rest of the film franchise are debatable. I enjoyed them, even the much frowned upon fourth installment, but they all lacked the power of the original. When I learned that the Bloch-penned sequel was wildly divergent from the film sequel, I was excited. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the movie, but because I was looking forward to a brand new story featuring Norman Bates. Sort of a Lost Adventure, or a Secret Origin, if you will.
The opening of the novel proves just how wildly divergent this story is. Norman, still a patient in the mental institution, seems to have been all but cured thanks to the care of Dr. Claiborne. Mother has been exorcised, and all that remains is Norman.
Poor batshit crazy Norman.
When the opportunity arises, Norman brutally murders a pair of nuns (later raping one of their corpses, if you can believe it!) and escapes the hospital disguised in a habit. Stealing their van, Norman heads home to pay Lila Crane and Sam Loomis, survivors from the previous installment, a little visit. But not before he picks up a hitchhiker who seems just about his size...
After the charred remnants of the van are discovered, the world thinks that Norman Bates is dead. Dr. Claiborne is certain that he has survived, and not only that, but that he is on his way to Hollywood to put a stop to Crazy Lady, the upcoming motion picture based on his old killing spree. So just like Dr. Loomis from Halloween, Claiborne hits the road, obsessively trying to stop the proverbial One That Got Away.
If this sounds like a pretty damn good opening, that's because it is, even if it does tread awful close to typical slasher territory. Unfortunately, once this point is reached, Norman ceases to be a character and acts only as a completely unseen menace, one who could be lurking in the shadows but never steps into the spotlight.
Once in Hollywood, the crime spree continues, but it is sadly pushed to the background as Bloch concentrates on the cast and crew of Crazy Lady as they plot against and squabble with one another. In fact, the novel barely becomes recognizable as a horror tale and turns into a biting satire of the movie making machine.
Bloch's Hollywood is filled with drug addicts, sexual deviants, misogynists and deeply unbalanced individuals. The fact that Bloch was something of an insider (he wrote numerous scripts for film and television) gives this little expose a little more credibility. It does the exact opposite when he goes off on diatribes against horror films, however. It's the pot calling the kettle Bloch...so to speak.
On the positive side of things, Bloch has greatly matured as a writer in the years between parts one and two, and has a better developed dark sense of humor and is more adept at penning dialogue. The psychological explorations here seem too forced, though, the result of having a professional psychologist as a lead character, rather than Norman, who was something of an amateur psychologist.
Overall, this slasher-turned-whodunnit is something of a disappointment. It may start out like a Halloween, but it ends like a particular painful entry in the Friday the 13th franchise. You'll know precisely which one when if you ever read this book.
Once again, you're better off sticking to the movies. It's a rare occurrence...but this is proof positive that it does happen.