Probably due to the success of American Horror Story, it seems that horror TV is seeing a new resurgence. While many would simply go the safe route and place themselves in the genre of "thriller" or "mystery," two new shows in particular can be classified as true horror due to their relationship with cinema history. Both of these shows tell the stories that audiences could only speculate about for decades, and reveal the origins of two of the most iconic characters in horror history. Of course, I’m talking about Bates Motel on A&E and Hannibal on NBC.
Surprisingly, these two stories have very similar starting places, both of them stemming off from one of the most famous serial killers in American History, Ed Gein. This insane serial killer had seemed to bring a spark of inspiration to two novel writers, Robert Bloch (who wrote Psycho in 1959) and Thomas Harris (who wrote Silence of the Lambs in 1988). Soon, these two distinct novels would be made into probably the best known films in any genre.
Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was released in 1960, staring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, a seemingly innocent boy who harbored dark secrets about his family’s past. In 1991, Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme was released and starred Anthony Hopkins as the imprisoned psychologist, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Both of these films were made on shoe string budgets for their times, were released with little expectations by the distributors, and ended up changing the history of cinema. While Psycho, like the rest of Hitchcock’s works, went unnoticed by the Academy, Silence of the Lambs won five awards at the 64th Annual Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Director (Jonathan Demme), and Best Picture.
Now we come to 2013, both of these franchises having a number of sequels which expands the stories of Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter. While there have been attempts to tell their backstories as well, none have seemed to show the entirety of their origin stories.
Bates Motel (which was originally a failed TV movie from the 1980’s), is now set in modern day which will follow the lives of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga). Slowly, the show should explore the psyche of Norman Bates and see the events that turned him into the man that he is so famously known as today.
As for Hannibal, it appears to follow the story of Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) who first appeared in Red Dragon, the story that came before Silence of the Lambs (book, 1981; film, 2002). The show seems to showcase Graham attempting to solve a number of cases, including the mysterious murders of women. He employs the help of the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Both shows have decided to not make their series “historical” pieces and opted to have the story be told in a modern day setting. In that sense, it seems that they are trying to create something that will allow those who known nothing of the lore behind these stories and come in with fresh eyes while having nods to those who know everything behind the legends.
What will probably be a big issue with fans and purists is the portrayal of the two lead characters, Bates and Lecter. Both Perkins and Hopkins created the characters we know so well that it almost seems unthinkable to reimagine them. Of course, if the actors simply try to flat out copy the original performances, there will be a lack of authenticity in it all.
One example comes from a prequel to Silence of the Lambs titled Hannibal Rising (book released in 2006, film released in 2007) which showed the early years of Lecter (played by Gaspard Ulliel) in Germany before he moved to American and became a psychiatrist. While the movie didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the Hannibal Lecter Series, no real fault should be placed on Ulliel, who gave his own portrayal of the role, but was still bashed on for not being as magnificent as Hopkins. And before anyone points it out, yes, I know the film Manhunter (1986) was based on the book Red Dragon, but I have not seen the film, and it came out long before Hopkins made the role what it is.
With both of these portrayals, the main leads seem to be trying something different than from the original counterparts. Highmore in trailers seems to look like a young version of Norman Bates and has a look about him that shows he has dark secrets that he keeps to himself. With Mikkelsen playing Lecter, it seems like he’s playing it a bit campier than either previous actor has shown. From trailers, it also seems like he’s playing it too tongue and cheek, which could become very distracting.
The only way to really judge these two shows is to actually sit down and watch them when they premiere. Personally, I’m throwing my money behind Bates Motel, simply because there is a lot of dark, unexplored territory about Norman Bates that could be covered. Many fans of Psycho may fear that A&E won’t go down those particular roads, but early trailers and clips seem to prove otherwise.
While Hannibal does look enticing, from trailers, it seems like it’s going to be another cop drama, but with a slight twist. The main thing that is going to make the show work is if the chemistry is very strong between Graham and Lecter.
Bates Motel premieres on A&E on March 18, 2013, the first season running a total of ten episodes. Hannibal premieres on NBC on April 4, 2013, the first season running a total of thirteen episodes.