Mad men, mamas’ boys & murder: Ed Gein & Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Wess Haubrich
7 min readJun 11, 2018
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in PSYCHO.

Hollywood pushes “based on a true story” films quite often, not just in the present day with the success of movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999) or Paranormal Activity (2007), which were manufactured true tales, or stories faked in their “reality” by the filmmakers before the films themselves were written, made, and released. The true “true story” film, one that was made with some sort of input from an existing historical tale or anecdote, has been around for some time, likely since 1899’s Major Wilson’s Last Stand, a short war film dramatizing the deaths of Major Allan Wilson and his men in final engagement of the Shanghai Patrol in Rhodesia in 1893.

Indeed, many films that advertise that they are “based upon actual events” are only loosely based upon them, sometimes to absurd extremes. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), for instance, was technically “based on actual events” only in so far as a rash of otherwise healthy people dying in their nightmares for no apparent reason — see the LA Times articles which inspired Craven in this Reddit subthread — inspired the creatives to elaborate the story of Freddy Kreuger.

R- Bates family mansion in PSYCHO. L- Its inspiration Edward Hopper’s “House by the Railroad” 1925 2'0" x 2'5" oil on canvas, MoMA.
The Gein homestead just outside of Plainfield, WI before it burnt down under mysterious circumstances after the discovery of Ed Gein’s crimes.

Alfred Hitchcock’s incredible, genre defining horror piece Psycho (1960) is probably the most prevalent example of the “based on a true story” horror flick. Psycho and its underlying historical catalyst helped spawn multiple horror pieces that ultimately became very successful franchises: Tobe Hooper’s brilliant, low budget slasher flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974), with its chainsaw wielding maniac Leatherface owes much of his character to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho; Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) owes his name to Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) lover in Psycho, played by John Gavin; Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) owes much of his character to Norman Bates as well. Buffalo Bill is probably the most historically and psychologically accurate of all, in light of what…

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Wess Haubrich

Horror, crime, noir with a distinctly southwestern tinge. Staff writer, former contributing editor; occultist; anthropologist of symbols.