A&E/Joe Lederer
A&E/Joe Lederer

Bates Motel Recap, Episode 4: "Trust Me"

A&E/Joe Lederer
A&E/Joe Lederer

After just a handful of episodes, Bates Motel has already received the green light for season two. This is good news, because it would appear that we still have much to learn about White Pine Bay.

"What Were You Doing in That Cop's House?"

Remember that creepy moonlit stroll Norman took last week? You know, the one where he barrelled down the middle of a busy street in a trance-like state, then broke into Deputy Shelby’s house, ransacked it, found an Asian sex slave and left her there? Well, we’re treated to a new angle of the whole strange situation this week. As Norman left the Bates residence, Dylan passed him on his motorcycle. Wondering what his little brother was up to, Dylan followed Norman to Deputy Shelby’s house and watched him break in. He was also there when Shelby pulled up, so—surprisingly—Dylan did Norman a solid by creating a diversion. This is about the same time that Norman is discovering the girl down in the basement, which is where the last episode ended.

Dylan knocks on the door and pretends that his motorcycle has run out of gas. While they’re standing there discussing this fabricated problem, Shelby has one ear cocked toward the noises coming from the basement, where the girl is essentially beating the crap out of Norman, trying to get him to rescue her.

“Normally, I wouldn’t ask, but I saw the police car our front...” Dylan says, playing the “trusted member of law enforcement” card.

“I’m off duty right now,” Shelby explains, because police don’t help people when they’re not on the clock. He directs Dylan to a nearby Shell station and quickly shuts the door. Dylan rounds the corner of the house just in time to see Norman making tracks out of there. Mission accomplished.

Since he has a (well-fueled) motorcycle, Dylan beats Norman home and is waiting to ambush him about his whereabouts. Norman’s lame excuse? “I was out running.” His brother’s not buying it.

"Who do you think knocked on the front door?" Dylan asks. "What kind of trouble are you in?"

Norman continues to deny: "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not in trouble."

“I Am Decent.”

Flashback over. Back in the present day, Norman knocks on a door of a house conveniently labeled “Decody” so we know that he’s calling on Emma. Mr. Decody answers the door.

“You’re Norman Bates,” her dad realizes. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Emma has the flu, and in her delicate condition, her father doesn’t want her to have visitors.

Then, every teenage girl’s worst nightmare happens: Her dad tells the boy she likes that she likes him. “My daughter has quite a crush on you,” Mr. Decody says. “And you seem like a nice kid. And I know you know she has a lot of problems. She’s not strong, and she’s very young. Just a regular girl in many ways. So please, be decent.”

“I am decent,” Norman responds, almost defensively.

"This Is My Son, Dylan."

Norma hops into Shelby’s Jeep; he immediately begins to grope her thigh. At first, I think she looks uncomfortable, but she doesn’t seem to have much problem with what follows: Shelby suggests they go to a motel he knows. “It’s not exactly open yet, but I happen to be personal friends with the owner,” he says. Norma says that Norman will be home from school by 4:30 p.m. Is that an excuse or just a warning not to linger? Either way, Shelby’s fine with it. “That gives us an hour,” he says. They obviously intend to make the most of that hour, because over at the motel, they’ve ripped their shirts off faster than you can say “McConaughey.”

As they bask in afterglow, Norma gives the deputy the most bizarre compliment in the history of pillow talk: “You’re awfully pretty. I don’t mean pretty like you’re handsome. I mean pretty, like, um, like, you know when you look at an old woman and you might find her very beautiful?”

He’s as perplexed as we are. A few minutes later, Norma walks out of the cabin, buttoning things up, and runs into Dylan.

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“Hello there Norma. How are those new linens working out for you?” he snarks, and then Shelby steps out of the room. As Norma introduces her lover to her son, Shelby’s mouth arranges itself into what can only be described as a smirk.  To me, it’s a “got you” look—he obviously recognizes Dylan from the “ran out of gas” incident, and Shelby has likely figured out that someone was in his house right around the time Dylan showed up. The smirk, it would seem, is an indicator that he put two and two together.

"You’re a Real Piece of Work, Norma."

Ever the dutiful son, Norman is washing windows at the motel. He looks over to see Bradley putting a cross at the site of her dad’s car accident—though technically, his passing was due to the fact that his body was used as kindling, not the car wreck. But I don’t suppose you’d argue that point with a girl in mourning, and Norman doesn’t. Instead, he offers his condolences, then puts his arm around her and pulls her close. Emma would not be pleased. Too bad she’s laid up with the flu.

Inside, Dylan is putting groceries away. Norma looks nearly as stunned as she did when Keith Summers came plowing into her dining room. “What are you doing?!” she asks.

“What? I’m living here for a while. I just thought I should contribute.”

She looks mildly pleased until he calls her “a real piece of work,” then asks how long she’s been seeing the cop. She says it’s none of his business, and he tells her that she should be careful. “I don’t trust him,” Dylan says, and Norma looks thoughtful.

"Death is Profound, Isn't It?"

Later that evening, Norman is walking downtown when he sees the deputy with someone pulled over. He pulls his hood up. Shelby spots him anyway and calls after him, but Norman ignores him. Shelby gives chase, then pops up down an alley. “Freeze!” he yells, jumping out and shining his flashlight directly into Norman’s eyes, making Norman drop everything in his hands. Then Shelby laughs, and it’s exactly reminiscent of that jerky guy you knew in high school who thought his own barely-concealed aggression was totally hilarious “one of the guys” behavior.

Anger flashes across Norman’s face, but he quickly contains it. Shelby inquires as to what Norman is doing; Norman explains the Bradley situation and says he’s taking her some videos to help take her mind off of her dad’s death.

“Death is profound, isn’t it?” Shelby says. So many bizarre responses to things in this episode.

“Hm. I guess so,” Norman responds, unwilling to show his hand. Shelby plows ahead, ignoring Norman’s indifference.

“Look, I really like your mom. She’s a good woman and I care for her.” Norman actually snarls a little. Danger, Will Robinson!

“So, I think it would be a good idea and maybe even a necessary idea for you and I to get to know each other better. Do you like fishing?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done it,” Norman says.

“Really?! Then I’m going to teach you how. You’re going to love this. Trust me.” Norman reluctantly nods. He thinks the convo is done, but Shelby grabs him for one last bit of wisdom: “Norman? Next time I say hi to you out here on the street? Don’t run away.”

I’m definitely left with the feeling that Norman is not the weirdo in this scene.

"Sometimes You Hear and See Things That Aren't There."

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Norma is in bed, looking up information about city council meetings. Norman comes in. “I need to talk to you. I need to tell you something.”

She’s absorbed in the website, not really paying attention, so he touches her chin—you know, as normal teenage boys do.

“There’s a girl in his basement. Officer Shelby’s. She’s like less than 20. Drugged. I think he’s running some kind of an Asian sex slave business with Keith Summers.”

He’s spouting off information that would make any sane person run to dial 911, but Norma doesn’t look even remotely alarmed—just frustrated. Of the many questions she could ask, “Why on Earth would you go into Zack's house?” is the first one.

Norman reminds her that she was the one who told him to get the belt back.

“Norman, I never told you that,” she sighs. He swears she did, and that's when Norma drops the bomb: “Honey, sometimes you hear and see things that aren’t there.”

“That’s not true," he protests.

“It’s true. I don’t want you to worry, but you’ve done this for a while. It’s like some kind of trance or something. I don’t want you to worry. Don’t be scared. Honey, I’m going to protect you,” she says, and Norman flees.

"Why Are You in the Basement in the Middle of the Night?"

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Sleepover at Shelby’s house. Norma wakes up the the middle of the night to creep down to the basement just to reassure herself that Norman is seeing things. She’s relieved when she gets down there to find totally normal basement stuff—no bed, no disco ball, no sex slave. She even finds the locked steel door, but there’s nothing in there but boxes. Suddenly, the deputy practically apparates onto the screen right behind her.

“Why are you in the basement in the middle of the night?” he yawns.

Norma freely admits that she’s snooping, but manages to do it in a flirtatious way. He seems appeased (and completely unconcerned), but he must know what the deal is. Even if Norman is imagining things, he still left a trail behind when he went through the basement, knocking things over and unlocking a giant steel door. I don’t think Shelby is going to find it coincidental that two people are suddenly interested in his basement at the same time.

"I Need to Know That I Can Trust You, Norman."

Back at Bates Manor, Norman is getting dressed. His ankle is all bruised up. He frowns at it, then hastily pulls the sock up over it.

Downstairs, Norma is reading on the couch when Norman pops in to throw some angst at her about her sleepover. 

She says she made an extra turkey pot pie and took it over to Shelby. Is that what the kids are calling it these days? It's not enough to appease Norman's little snit about it, and Norma accuses him of being jealous.

“I’m not jealous. You’re my mother, not my girlfriend,” he spits. EXACTLY. Then Norma tells him she checked the basement. "There was nothing there. You're acting crazy," she says.

“I’m not crazy. I know what I saw. Look, she grabbed my ankle as I was trying to get out. Did I do this to myself?” Norma is still not convinced, and tells Norman that he is going fishing with Zack. End of story.

So, they do. They’re awkwardly hanging out when Shelby wades into the bonding business with this gem out of nowhere: “So how was your relationship with your dad? Your mom tells me he was a little abusive.” Way to delicately ease into it, Shelby. Understandably, Norman clams up, and the deputy gets angry.

“I’m putting myself on the line every day, protecting your mom,” he guilt trips. “And in so doing, I’m protecting you.” Then he launches into that familiar trust speech again. “I need to know that I can trust you, Norman. And you need to know you can trust me. Can you do that? Can you trust me?” His tone of voice would indicate that he's speaking to a toddler.

“Yes, I can trust you,” Norman enunciates very clearly and purposefully while shooting laser beams out of his eyes. Then Shelby’s phone rings. Something’s come up.

“Oh well,” Norman says, and he is unable to conceal his delight.

The thing that came up? A fisherman has discovered Keith Summers’ very distinctive watch in his fishing net. It’s attached to his severed hand.

"I Killed the Crap Out of Him."

Norman meets Bradley for a little ice cream date, where she tells him that he's one of the few people who aren't judging her or pushing her to tear up.

“I’m glad you can stand to be with me,” he says, and then they discuss grief and how crappy death is.

“I like being with you, Norman,” she says, and then she abruptly blurts out, “Hey, I wonder whose hand they found.” Nice transition.

“What hand?” Norman asks.

“Um, they found a decomposing hand in a fisherman’s net.”

“Do they know whose hand it was?” he says, faux-casually.

“No, just some man’s hand.” Norman runs home, of course, and immediately tells his mother, who tries to pooh-pooh the situation.

“You’re panicking. It’s just a hand. It could be a million different hands," Norma says, which would normally be amusing, but in White Pine Bay, it really could be a number of hands. An eye for an eye—or a hand for a hand, as it were.

Then the doorbell rings. It’s Shelby, but he’s not there to be uncomfortably sexual in front of Norma’s sons like he normally is. Instead, he’s taking her to the station so Sheriff Romero can ask a few questions.

When she gets there, Romero wants to know what happened, but Norma plays dumb. “I was just at home and the police came and told me you wanted to talk to me.” The sheriff is not amused. He tells her that carpet fibers were found under Summers' watch, and that it was going to be a cakewalk to match them to the carpet Norma(n) was pulling up that same night.

“Well, have fun doing that,” Norma says. Romero tries to get her to confess to Keith’s murder by saying that he sympathized—Summers wasn't a nice guy, and he may have threatened her or scared her. Then he asks her where she dumped the carpet. They haven't found it yet, and it sure would be helpful if she could tell them where she last left it. Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Norma, of course, says she doesn’t remember, then drags Norman to the dumpster where they trashed it. The carpet is, of course, gone. She whips out her phone, then calls the garbage service with a bogus story about losing her wedding ring. They tell her which dump that particular dumpster is taken to, but when she gets there, she finds it’s locked up for the day. Norma goes a little mad—we all do sometimes—and for a moment, I think she’s going to throw herself into the barbed wire at the top of the fence. Adding to the chaos is Norman, who’s yelling that she should have called the cops when it happened since it was self defense.

“I didn’t defend myself,” she sobs. “I killed the crap out of him. I don't know why I did it, I was just so angry, angry that he would come into my home, and he would do that to me. You don't understand, Norman. My whole life—my whole life—I’ve had to put up with things.”

"Be a 17-Year-Old for Five Minutes."

Resigned to the fact that she’s probably going down for this, Norma spends the rest of the evening crying in her room. Norman listens to her through the vent in his room for a while, then makes a break for it. He finds Dylan sitting on the porch of the motel—it seems to be his favorite hangout—drinking what looks like a Southern Comfort knockoff.

Dylan offers Norman a swig, which he takes, promptly choking on it. Food for thought: Norman’s an alcoholic in the book that inspired the Psycho craze. Is this a look at things to come? Or just a typical teenage moment?

“Don’t laugh at me,” Norman says, wiping his face.

“I’m not,” Dylan says. “I’m sorry you had to deal with her alone. She’s crazy.” Those words are apparently the equivalent of “Open Sesame,” because Norman pulls up a seat and spills the sordid details of everything that has happened since they arrived, from Norma being stab-happy to the girl chained up in Shelby’s basement.

Dylan’s strangely quiet about the events, and it’s only at the end that he finally says, “I’m gonna help you.” It’s not clear if he means that he’s going to help with all of this madness, or if he’s going to get psychiatric help because he thinks Norman has gone off the deep end.

Then Bradley texts, and from Norman's expression, Dylan knows it’s a girl. “Is she pretty? Do you like her? Text her right now and tell her you’re coming over.”

Norman does, showing off some pretty impressive texting skills. If Norman did Ron Burgundy impressions, he would have said, “Texting was a bad choice,” because he immediately regretted his response.

Moments later, Bradley responds that she’d love to have him over, but Norman hesitates. “Be a 17-year-old for five minutes,” Dylan urges. “Go have fun.” It’s an oddly nice brotherly moment.

Norman does, and as soon as he leaves, Dylan’s face turns into a mask of worry.

"Norma Louise Bates, You're Under Arrest."

As promised, Norman shows up at Bradley’s house. They go to her room, where he is awkward and adorable. Awkworable? Adorward?

“Thank you for helping me so much,” Bradley says, taking his hand. “I’m just tired of being sad. I want to feel something else for a little while. Do you think I’m weird?”

“No. I don’t think you’re weird,” he says. She thanks him, and he responds, “It’s my pleasure,” which no 17-year-old boy has ever said. Then there’s making out (and more).

At home, Norma has realized that it’s late, and her precious Normie is not at home yet. What’s good for the gander is apparently not good for the goose. Dylan is elated to inform her that Norman is out. With a girl

“I hope to God he’s getting laid,” Dylan says, “Because he sure as hell deserves it, for putting up with your crazy ass.” He then proceeds to tell her that Norman spilled enough damning information that Dylan could get Norman taken away, if he was so inclined.

“Nobody’s taking him away from me,” she says.

“That girl is, right now,” he sneers, and then they physically start to fight—until the doorbell rings.

Norma runs downstairs, thinking it’s Norman. It’s not. It’s the cops, and Norma is under arrest. Worst. Night. Ever.

Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.


As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.


Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.


When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.


Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.


The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.


At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.


From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).


When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.


Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 


Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.


Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”


Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.


In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.


Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.


Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”


Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.


Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.


By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.


Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.


In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.


The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.


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