31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #16 – Psycho (1960)

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Tagline: The Picture You Must See From the Beginning… Or Not At All!… For No-One Will Be Seated After the Start of… Alfred Hitchcock’s Greatest Shocker Psycho!

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer(s): Joseph Stefano

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Budget: $806,947

Box Office: $50m

Release Date: 8th September, 1960

IMDb Rating: 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Anthony Perkins – Norman Bates

Vera Miles – Lila Crane

John Gavin – Sam Loomis

Janet Leigh – Marion Crane

Martin Balsam – Det. Milton Arbogast

John McIntire – Sheriff Al Chambers

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Phoenix secretary Marion Crane, on the lam after stealing $40,000 from her employer in order to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, is overcome by exhaustion during a heavy rainstorm. Travelling on the back roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at the ramshackle Bates Motel and meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates, a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his Mother.

Inertia’s Insight: Hitchcock is easily one of the world’s most famous and revered film directors, with impeccable films like The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window and Vertigo behind him even before he made the perfect horror film that is argued to be the beginning of the slasher film hype: Psycho.

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Marion Crane steals $40,000 from a client of the property firm where she works as a secretary, in order to pay off her boyfriend’s debts and enable them to marry. Driving to meet him, she stops at the off-road Bates Motel after a rain storm prevents her from carrying on. The Bates Motel has 12 cabins, and 12 vacancies. Sharing a small supper together, Marion sees cracks in Norman’s demeanour as they discuss his uptight Mother and his isolated life at the Bates Motel.

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Before heading into the shower, Marion decides to take the money back first thing in the morning. But she never makes it – the infamous shower scene seals her fate, a cruel punishment for a split second decision to make a better life for herself. Marion’s pursuers – a private detective, her boyfriend and sister – retrace her last steps, and all are led to the amicable Norman Bates and his unstable, unseen Mother…

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Any film student or aspiring filmmaker – whether you like horror or not – needs to watch this film. Hitchcock’s impeccable direction, partnered with a superb script that tells the most human of stories inside a mad and macabre world, is the perfect combination of elements to create what is one of the best horror films ever made.

The first act of the film concentrates solely on Marion’s predicament and her way in which she deals with it. The audience is with Marion, following her from her afternoon tryst with her boyfriend to the office where she steals the money, to her car journey where her paranoia builds. As the glow of the Bates Motel sign is seen through the rain storm, modern audiences will know the fate that awaits her at this final destination. The consideration given to Marion’s character and her journey is rarely seen in a horror film; the attention to detail in her character and the emphasis on her as a central character draws the audience in to this story. You don’t even question Norman Bates or the motel itself; we are so engrossed in Marion’s story that we find ourselves forgetting its a horror film, so when the brutal murder occurs it is a shocking twist of events. To murder what we perceive to be the main character part-way through the film shifts the tone entirely, pulling the rug from under our feet.

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The shower scene is synonymous with both Hitchcock and horror. Modern audiences new to the film might not appreciate in advance the effectiveness of this scene – it has been imitated and parodied in everything from films, TV shows and advertisements, but when watching the film you can see why it is so iconic. You have to appreciate both Hitchcock and Stefano with this scene; Stefano for daring to kill the likeable lead that we have been with for so long, and Hitchcock for his flawless execution of this, well, execution. The shadow of the unknown figure approaches the shower curtain, pulls it back to quickly reveal the silhouette of a woman, the mad eyes the only feature visible, and from here it begins. Quick cuts between the knife, Marion’s face, the slashing as she is murdered, the draining of the blood down the sinkhole, the hand that rolls slowly down the tiles as the murderer quickly leaves. In any other horror film we’d see the murder but here you feel it; in any other horror film that would be it, scene over and on to the next. But here Hitchcock does not let the audience have that reprieve. The camera lingers in the aftermath of this event, tracing her lifeless face, across the bathroom and into her room. The tonal shift of the film is immediate but this daring move to remain in the bathroom is laudable and testament to Hitchcock’s genius.

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Norman finds the body and the situation seems familiar to him. He cleans the room and hides the body in the trunk of her car that he disposes in the swamp. From here you would expect the film to remain with Norman but instead it removes us from the Bates Motel and into the life of Marion’s boyfriend Sam and her sister Lila as they try to trace Marion’s last steps in the hope of finding her. Along with PI Arbogast, they all converge on Marion’s last known whereabouts, only to discover that the Bates Motel is harbouring a very dark secret.

Again, modern audiences will anticipate the ending in which it is revealed that Mrs Bates has been dead for ten years and the killer is, in fact, Norman dressed up as his Mother, battling a personality disorder that turns violent and murderous when fighting for control. To have been an audience member in 1960 watching this film for the first time, with such a reveal as this is a delight I could only wish for but still, even knowing the ending, there is no greater reveal than Mrs Bates’ body slowly turning in the chair to reveal the dried corpse, and the outstanding performance by Perkins when he bursts into the room, revealing himself to be the killer. That manic, twisted expression would freak and delight audiences in equal measure and still does to this day, 56 years on.

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Hitchcock is the master of suspense, of that there is no dispute. Psycho, above all, is his and the horror worlds’ masterpiece.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • On set, Alfred Hitchcock would always refer to Anthony Perkins as, “Master Bates”.
  • In the opening scene, Marion Crane’s clothing and purse are white as Hitchcock wanted her to seem angelic. Once she has stolen the money, her clothes and purse are black.
  • This was Hitchcock’s first film, and his highest grossing film ever.

Quotes

NORMAN BATES: It’s not like my Mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?
MARION CRANE: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough.

MARION CRANE: Do you go out with your friends?
NORMAL BATES: A boy’s best friend is his Mother.

All images courtesy of Blu Shots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Tomorrow: Night #17 – The Conjuring (2013)

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