Monday, October 19, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Psycho House

In 1960, director Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho took America, and indeed, the world, by storm. A carefully structured horror film that featured scenes of graphic violence and a kicker of a revelation about the “villain,” Psycho also made famous not only its motel, but the creepy mansion beside that motel.

The mansion loomed over the motel, and the road, and could only be approached by a winding stone staircase.  Basically, you had to “look up” to see the house, a factor in its ominous, fear-inducing appearance.

Psycho influenced the horror genre in ways too numerous to count, from the trick of killing off of a film’s “star” early in the proceedings to the nature of the boogeyman, a psychologically-disturbed person boasting two personalities. 

But the Psycho house itself also went on to fame…as a frequent guest-star in cult-TV programming

The house appeared frequently on Boris Karloff’s Thriller (1960-1962), a genre anthology series that in some ways was competition for the popular Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1963).  The Bates home made numerous appearances on the series, in episodes including “The Purple Room,”,“Masquerade,” and “An Attractive Family.”

Later, the house appeared -- in color this time – in an episode of the western series, Laredo, in “Small Chance Ghost.” It also showed up in an episode of the fire/rescue drama, Emergency!

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973) also featured an appearance by the famous house.  In “A Question of Fear,” a character played by Leslie Nielson stands to inherit money if he can spend the night in the Psycho House, which is reputed to be haunted.  Again, the house is seen in color, and this time, bats are super-imposed for some shots of the exterior.

The house had an even more substantial role in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on ABC in 1976. In “The House on Possessed Hill,” Joe Hardy (Shaun Cassidy) encounters a young woman on the run, Stacey Blain (Melanie Griffith), near the town of Circle Hills.  She is being pursued by angry townspeople who consider her a witch, and responsible, somehow, for an accident that has injured a child.

Joe and Stacey take sanctuary in a creepy house on a hill, one that Stacey is certain is haunted by a creepy old ghost.  “The house…it runs itself,” she says creepily.  That house, of course, is the Psycho house, and this episode’s dialogue even makes a joke about how the house would make for a perfect setting in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Before the eighties were through, the Psycho house re-appeared on series as diverse as Diff’rent Strokes and Knight Rider (“Halloween Knight.”)

As recently as the 2000s, the Psycho House has been a regular player in TV programming. In 2005, it featured in an episode of the reality/game show Fear Factor. To this day, it can be seen in the series Bates Motel (2013 – present).

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