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Dark Destinations > Locations - U > Universal Hollywood: Psycho House and Bates Motel

Universal Hollywood: Psycho House and Bates Motel Other destinations within a
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Added On: September 23, 2008 - 01:49 AM UTC
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100 Universal City Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 91608, USA (Universal City, California)
The Psycho House and Bates Motel
These set pieces are perhaps the most popular sites on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood reflecting the long-standing popularity of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, and its many sequels and remake. Over the years the house has lived through multiple renovations, while the hotel has been completely demolished and rebuilt. In addition to appearing in other works outside the Psycho series, they have both been relocated a few times to where they stand today.

Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock's production assistant, Peggy Robertson, first introduced the director to Robert Bloch's novel Psycho. In autumn of 1959, Hitchcock made a bid anonymously and secured the film rights for the small price of $9,000 - the only actual money Bloch saw from the film adaptation of his book. Paramount was less than thrilled with the idea of adapting a novel that was loosely based on the fairly recent crimes of Wisconsin's Ed Gein, but reluctantly stepped up to the plate when Hitchcock agreed to put up a good chunk of his own money to finance the film. However, Paramount's studio space was full, so Hitchcock moved the production to his Revue Studios lot where his television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, was shot. Today, the area is the back lot of Universal Studios Hollywood (see Universal Studios Hollywood).

A standing set known as the Chicken Building (though it is unclear why and what productions might have used the piece) was picked to serve as the Psycho House. The piece was completely remodeled for the sum of $15,000. The completed project bears various similarities to another building on the lot by the name of the Allison Home, which has been featured in the likes of Harvey (1950), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), and the TV series Desperate Housewives. Both sets were built from the same stock units, which has led to confusion to this day as to whether the houses were one in the same.

The Psycho House was constructed on a vacant area overlooking the former Singapore Lake (now known as Jaws on the ride) and was actually designed at three-quarter scale for the production, so things in the foreground (like Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates) would loom larger and the house would appear farther away from the motel, which was in close proximity in reality. The size was barely noticeable however, since almost all scenes of the house in the original film were shot from below looking up at the fašade. For the first film, only two sides of the house were actually constructed - the left and front - since no other sides ever appeared in the movie. The interior sequences of the house were filmed in the famed Phantom of the Opera Stage 28, while the motel interiors were shot on Stage 18, including the infamous shower sequence. Though there was minor on-location shooting for the film, including the used car lot where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) exchanged cars (see Psycho (1960): California Charlie's Used Car Lot), most of the movie was filmed in the back lot.

The house and motel were designed by Joseph Hurley and Robert Clathworthy and were modeled after types of architecture found in northern California. In an interview by director Francois Truffaut later, Hitchcock would explain, "They're either called 'California Gothic,' or, when they're particularly awful, they're called 'California gingerbread.' I did not set out to reconstruct an old-fashioned Universal horror-picture atmosphere. I simply wanted to be accurate, and there is no question but that both the house and the motel are authentic reproductions of the real thing."

Filming began in late-November 1959 and wrapped on February 1, 1960 for the relatively low estimated sum of $806,947. Backed by an ingenious marketing campaign that featured Hitchcock giving a tour of the Bates Motel in the trailer and public plea not to reveal the ending, Psycho was an instant blockbuster and one of the highest grossing horror films of all time. As for the facades of the Psycho House and the Bates Motel, they were kept on at the Universal Studios Hollywood lot to use for future productions.

The house did not sit unused for long. On October 25, 1960, the house appeared in an episode of the NBC horror anthology, Thriller, which was hosted by Boris Karloff. The episode was called The Purple Room and dealt with a man (played by Duncan Corey) that will inherit a house that is rumored to be haunted, but only if he will spend one night in the home. Naturally, the Psycho House was a perfect fit for the episode. It would also turn out to be perfect for yet another episode in the series. Masquerade aired during the second season of the series on October 30, 1961, and followed a couple (played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston) that take refuge in a strange house in the midst of a horrible storm. There, they have to deal with an eccentric family, with John Carradine playing the head of the family. In this case, both the exterior of the house and the interior Psycho sets in Stage 28 were utilized for the production. Around this same time, the house also appeared in episodes of the Western series The Tall Man and Wagon Train.

The Universal Studio Tour
On July 15, 1964, Universal upgraded their traditional "tours" of the studio lot by launching trams that took visitors through various portions of the Universal lot. The Psycho House was immediately one of the top attractions on the tour and was quickly billed as such. Around this time, the house appeared in the Yul Brenner western, Invitation to a Gunfighter, which necessitated that a right-side wall be added to the structure, leaving only the back of the house undone. Meanwhile, the motel showed up in the Ronald Reagan crime-drama, The Killers.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
The Psycho House would once again pop up in the world of Alfred Hitchcock in a classic episode of the television series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Though the episode was neither written nor directed by Hitchcock, the exteriors of the house would play a prominent role in the episode An Unlocked Window. The episode aired on February 15, 1965 and starred Dana Wynter as a nurse who is hired to watch an invalid in the house. There she has to hole up inside as a killer is on the loose. Only the exterior of the house was used.

The final episode of the series featured a Psycho reunion of sorts. Off Season aired on May 10, 1965 and featured Psycho co-star John Gavin as a suspended cop who heads to a small vacation town to take a job as a night watchman. Interestingly, Robert Bloch provided the teleplay and the exteriors of the Bates Motel make an appearance as the spot Gavin comes to stay. The episode was directed by then-unknown William Friedkin, who would later go on to direct the horror classic, The Exorcist. Meanwhile, the house appeared in more episodes of the TV westerns, The Virginian and Laredo.

Night Gallery
The house would again pop up in the horror genre in a story of the Rod Serling NBC series, Night Gallery. A Question of Fear aired on October 27, 1971 and starred Leslie Nielsen as a man that takes a bet that he cannot last one night in a house rumored to be haunted. The Psycho House would once again double as a haunted residence, though only the exteriors were used. Over the next decade, the house would show up in the likes of TV series like Emergency! and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and movies like The Nude Bomb and Modern Problems (as a vacation get-away for the character played by Chevy Chase). Sometime at the end of the 1980s, Universal made the decision to demolish and remove the Bates Motel set piece, but it would only be gone for a few short years.

Psycho II
The success of the original Psycho had generated talk of a sequel for years, but it would not be until 1982 that the project would finally get underway. By this point, Hitchcock had passed away and it was up to longtime fan Richard Franklin to pick up where he left off. The production faced the immediate problem that the Bates Motel set piece was no longer in existence. In addition, the Universal back lot had grown substantially and the Psycho House was now surrounded by other sets. The decision was made to relocate the house in a more isolated area near the south end of Falls Lake (which ironically doubled as the swamp that Norman dumped the car and body of Marion in the first film). During the move, the house received the missing back portion finally making it complete. Interestingly, the house that took over the spot left behind by the Psycho House is known as the Chicken Ranch and was featured years later as the home of the Firefly family in Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses (see Universal Hollywood: The Chicken Ranch).

With the house at its new location, the film production got to work on rebuilding the Bates Motel. The production design was handled by John Corso who went about the task of rebuilding the Bates Motel based on old blueprints and photos of the original structure. He also graded the hill the house stood on, so that it continued to loom over the motel. Only 30-40 feet of the actual Bates Motel was built and a matte painting filled in for the rest of it.

Psycho cast members Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates) and Vera Miles (Lila Loomis) returned for the sequel, which opened in the United States on June 3, 1983. Though Robert Bloch did in fact write a sequel to his original novel, the filmmakers decided to go a different route for their sequel. Psycho II was budgeted for around $5 million and went on to gross $32 million domestically, all but assuring another sequel. Around the same time, the house again popped up on the TV series Knight Rider, Different Strokes, and Airwolf.

Psycho III
By 1985, another sequel was in the works and this time it was directed by star Anthony Perkins. Since the screenplay called for more action to take place at the Bates Motel, the set was finally fully rebuilt. This time around, the production decided to allow the Studio Tour trams to come through during breaks of filming outside the exteriors, so that visitors could see the film in production. According to one story, Perkins encouraged cast and crew to wave at passing trams by saying, "Everyone of those people is a butt in the seat." Psycho III hit the screens on July 2, 1986, but only grossed under $15 million domestically. Sometime after production wrapped (or possibly even before it had begun), the house was once again moved, but this time only a short distance away to where it stands today.

Amazing Stories
Later that year, both the house and motel would appear in the Steven Spielberg television anthology series, Amazing Stories. In the reality-meets-fiction episode Welcome to My Nightmare, a horror fan, played by David Hollander, suddenly finds himself thrust into the world of Psycho when he finds himself in a room at the Bates Motel. The filmmakers completely reconstructed the infamous Cabin One for the production. The episode was written and directed by Todd Holland and aired on October 13, 1986, and even featured a young Christina Applegate.

Bates Motel
In 1987, NBC decided to try to bring the Psycho series to the small screen and started work on a pilot with the hopes of a possible series. The pilot of Bates Motel was written and directed by Richard Rothstein and involved a new owner taking over the infamous house and motel. A former cellmate (played by Bud Cort) of Norman Bates moves in following Norman's death wish that he return the place to respectability. A runaway named Willie (played by Lori Petty) aids him in his efforts, but things hardly go according to plan. For the pilot, the motel underwent a major renovation to reflect a more Spanish architecture. The TV-movie aired on July 5, 1987 but the network decided to not pick up the series.

Psycho IV: The Beginning
When it came time for yet another sequel, or in this case sequel/prequel, the decision was made to move the production to Orlando, Florida where the studio was in the process of building the new Universal Studios Florida. The filmmakers then created a full-scale replica of both the Psycho House and the Bates Motel on the lot in 1988 and filming was underway a few years later in 1990 under the guidance of director Mick Garris. Following completion of the made-for-cable film and the opening of the park, the set pieces were once again a major attraction on a studio tour of the lot that also featured a theatrical show called Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies. However, the replicas were completely dismantled in 1998 to build the new Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone and the theatrical show shut down in 2003.

Murder She Wrote
On January 19, 1992, both the house and motel popped up again as their true-life set pieces in an episode of the Angela Lansbury series Murder She Wrote. In the episode Incident in Lot #7, Lansbury's character investigated the murder of a producer, whose body is found inside the shower on the set of the Bates Motel. A few years after this episode airs, the Bates Motel underwent a series of renovations to return it to its look in the original Psycho.

Psycho (1998)
When Gus Van Sant announced his ambitious idea of doing a shot-for-shot remake of the original 1960 Psycho in 1997, it was initially reported that the house and motel set pieces would be utilized. However, for unknown reasons, the filmmakers instead decided to construct a new house for the film and placed it directly in front of the old house, masking it. The motel also underwent even more renovations to give it more of a 1960s look, complete with sign that read "Newly Renovated." The new Psycho cast Vince Vaughn in the role of Norman Bates and Anne Heche in the role of Marion Crane. It was produced for an estimated $20 million, which it barely made back at the domestic box-office. Following the production, the new house was moved alongside the old house where it would sit until 2003 when it is finally removed, leaving only the original.

"Mother" Attacks
In 1999, visitors on the tram Studio Tour received a shock as someone dressed as "mother" from Psycho suddenly ran around the house and jumped on the tram, wielding a rubber knife. Reportedly, even the guides were completely taken by surprise by the stunt and enquired about the incident to a film crew that was shooting nearby. The crew was busy shooting the film Man on the Moon, which told the life story of comedian Andy Kaufman. The actor playing the role was comedian Jim Carrey. The crew quickly pointed out that the man in drag had been none other than Carrey himself, who was simply trying to channel the creative energy of Kaufman. The story goes that Carrey wanted to repeat the stunt one year later while filming The Grinch Stole Christmas (which was being filmed behind the house), but this time in full Grinch costume. However, he was stopped by the production that wanted to keep his costume and make-up under wraps until the film came out.

The Back Lot Murders
In 2002, the house was again featured in the horror/comedy, The Back Lot Murders. In the film, which starred Priscilla Barnes, a rock band decided to film their latest video next to the infamous house. Naturally, things don't go so well from there. Around the same time, the set piece was also seen in the Frankie Muniz/Amanda Bynes comedy, Big Fat Liar.

Over the years, the house and motel have undergone a series of renovations for general upkeep, as well as alterations for the productions above. In 1998 and 2004, the house received a new paint job and rotting wood was replaced. The motel also underwent a major overhaul in 2005 to again return it to its original state. In addition, various set pieces were returned including the icebox (from Psycho III) and Marion's car from the first film. The house and motel also played host to a three episode series of the reality show Fear Factor. The final stunt of the series had one set of players throwing sticks of dynamite into the house, while their partners assembled the detonators in a rush to be the first group to blow up the house. In this stunt, a replica building was created and destroyed, so the Psycho House was not harmed in the making of this episode.

The House and Motel Today
The Psycho House and Bates Motel continue to be a major attraction on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. However, as the back lot is still used for filming, there is always a chance that the tram will have to detour around it on any given day. In 2008, an actor resembling Norman Bates was added to the Studio Tour. As the tram passes, he emerges from Cabin One carrying a body towards the open trunk of the car. He then notices the tram passing, starts walking towards it while raising his knife and... Only visitors to the park know what happens next.
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Related Sites
Universal Studios Hollywood
The web site for Universal Studios Hollywood and their Halloween Horror Nights.
Psycho House
A fan site that details the Psycho series, as well as has an extensive history of the production and set pieces involved in the film. Universal Hollywood
A comprehensive site that tracks the back lot of Universal Studios in Hollywood, California.
The Psycho Movies
Fan site dedicated to the Psycho series of films and TV movies.
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See Also on
Blog: We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes (09/23/08)
Blog: This is the House... Come On In... (04/11/09)
Blog: A Change of Ownership at the Bates Motel (07/05/09)
Available from
Psycho (Special Edition) (Universal Legacy Series)
Psycho (Collector's Edition)
Psycho II
Psycho III
Psycho IV - The Beginning
Psycho II / Psycho III / Psycho IV - The Beginning (Triple Feature)
Night Gallery: Season Two
Back Lot Murders
It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, A Personal Biography
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller
The A-Z of Hitchcock: The Ultimate Reference Guide
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: A Casebook (Casebooks in Criticism)
Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation
After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality
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The Side of the Psycho House on the Lot Tour
Photo of the Psycho House in Universal City, California during the Studio Tour - January 2009.
From: TheCabinet
The Infamous Psycho House
Photo of the house used in 1960's Psycho on the Universal Studio Tour - January 2009.
From: TheCabinet
Norman Bates Loading the Trunk at the Bates Motel
Photo of the Bates Motel with "Norman" loading the trunk during the Studio Lot Tour - January 2009
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The Psycho House on the Studio Lot Tour
Photo of the Psycho House (and window with curtains pulled back) during Studio Tour - January 2009.
From: TheCabinet
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "Closed to the Public" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "Travel Advisory" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.

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Alex Mar 13 2011, 03:16 PM UTC
The "Psycho House" was also used again in the first season of the TV series "Thriller" in a Robert Bloch written episode called "The Hungry Mirror". The exterior entrance is shown in extreme closeup and a matte augmented exterior long shot is also used, in which the house appears to sit on the coastline with all exterior walls intact.
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