Starting Over at the Bates Motel: Remaking Horror on Television

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In recent years, the raft of horror film remakes which dominated the genre in the 2000s and early 2010s has slowed, only to be replaced by television adaptations of horror films and franchises including Hannibal (NBC, 2013-2015), Rosemary’s Baby (NBC, 2014), From Dusk till Dawn (El Rey, 2014-), Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz, 2015-), Scream (MTV, 2015-), Wolf Creek (Stan, 2016-), The Exorcist (Fox, 2016-) and The Mist (Spike, 2017-). The shift returns the horror remaking trend to a recognisable form of adaptation which takes place across media (Stam 2005), circumventing the common criticism of film-to-film remaking as inherently worthless. The opportunity to add characters and subplots, and expand narratives and story worlds within the realms of new “quality” television, marks the series as perhaps the ideal location to revisit existing stories in new, imaginative ways. The patterns of sameness and difference essential to the function of remakes (Hutcheon 2006, Horton and McDougal 1998) can be realised in series format in a way which avoids many of the criticisms of film remaking as pointless or irreverent. This paper uses Bates Motel (A&E, 2013-2017) as a case study to explore these ideas. Adapted from Robert Bloch’s novel and hugely influential on modern horror cinema, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) has been sequelised, referenced and remade, each new text contributing to its ultimate canonisation as a classic horror film (Verevis 2006). Bates Motel, marketed as a contemporary prequel to Psycho, should be counted among these texts, but over five seasons the series simultaneously aligns with and sets itself apart from the film. Self-referential aesthetic, dialogue and performance offer homage even as the narrative avoids expectations by altering key plot points. The show adopts a nostalgic position which posits Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) as “old souls” (as one character terms them); their mid-century retro styling, family values, language, and the old-fashioned domestic space of the eponymous motel exists in a bubble that not only emphasises the “special” mother-son bond at the heart of the narrative, but sets the family apart from the contemporary trappings of their fictional town and its inhabitants. This striking clash of old and new, coupled with the series’ persistent theme of “starting over”, makes Bates Motel ideal for examining the shift from film to television horror.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2017
EventAt Home With Horror: Terror on the Small Screen - University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Oct 201728 Oct 2017


ConferenceAt Home With Horror: Terror on the Small Screen
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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