Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Psychotic Post

A very common question I find very difficult to answer is, "What's your favorite movie?"

The reason being?  I have way too many to choose just one.

One of them is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

I've been thinking of blogging about Psycho for a while now, but with all the recent Psycho-inspired films coming out I figured it's about time.

Why do I like Psycho?  Why does anyone like Psycho?  It's gruesome and terrifying.  It's tragic and disturbing.  It's no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock had a lot of trouble getting people behind this project.  No one believed audiences would enjoy such a dark trip.

But I think Hitchcock saw something in the story no one else did at first; the appeal of Norman Bates.

The true-life Norman Bates the story is based off of, Ed Gein, was a balding middle aged hick with a demeanor that only a mother could love.  Hitchcock's brilliant decision to make Ed the 'kid next door' was one of the many factors that made Psycho so successful.

Norman Bates is a cute kid.  You'd never suspect him.  Even his name sounds close to what he supposedly is; Normal.

But we'll get more into him later.

Psycho was revolutionary in many ways, but I'll only name three.  It was considered very 'naughty', for starters.  The opening scene is a man and a woman in bed.  The woman, Janet Leigh, is in her underwear.  Keep in mind, this movie was released in 1960.  Up 'til this point audiences hadn't seen much worse than the suggestion of nudity.

The shower scene takes the cake, though.  It's jarring and shocking.  Killing off the leading lady in the first 30 minutes was unheard of and intriguing.  Here, I'll let it speak for itself:

Wanna know the kicker?  You never actually see the knife touch her body.  And you never see any nudity.  Yet we've just witnessed a naked woman being stabbed to death in the shower.

Hitchcock forces us to fill in the blanks with our own imagination, and accompanied by the wet stabbing sounds and her screams, it's not hard to do.

The musical score of the film lends a lot of mystique and intensity.  Even people who have never seen the film can imitate it's iconic theme, "Eee!  Eee!  Eee!  Eee!"

This hair-raising music has been referenced time and again in other films, ironically, for comic relief.  Even Pixar used it once:

And, finally, the twist ending.  Everyone knows it now but when the film was first released audiences had no idea the killer was actually Norman.  The film leads us to believe his mother is the killer.  It isn't until the very end, when Vera Miles discovers Mrs. Bates' corpse, that we realize just how psycho Norman really is.

News stories from the 60s report theatergoers leaping out of their seats and even fainting when the corpse was revealed.

If you ask me, the true fright comes when Norman rushes into the room.  When Sam stops him, and Norman writhes as if in agony, we can hear his 'mother' voice crying, "I'm Norma Bates!  I'm Norma!"

 I've always interpreted his struggle in Sam's arms to be more mental than physical.  We're witnessing Norman's last ditch effort to gain control, but 'Mother' wins and Norman disappears seemingly for good.

I say 'seemingly' because Norman eventually regains control and is released from prison after 22 years in Psycho 2

Psycho spawned a total of 4 sequels, 1 (horrible) remake, a biopic released last year, and a television series being released this year.

Of the sequels, Psycho 2 is undoubtedly the best.  Remember when I said Norman Bates fit my sympathetic villain formula?  This sequel is why.

As far as horror movie sequels go, Psycho 2 has been recognized as one of the best.  In it, Norman is tortured by visions of his mother until he gradually slips back into insanity.  The sad part?  The 'visions' of his mother were actually Vera Miles, hellbent on avenging her sister by having Norman recommitted.

Norman's reaction to all this is what qualifies him for the Formula.  Unlike Freddy and Jason, Norman doesn't enjoy killing.  He repeatedly calls on his psychiatrist and does all he can to keep a grip on reality.  The visions of his mother terrify him, and at one point he breaks down in tears, "It's starting again."

In hindsight, Norman shouldn't have gone back to that stupid motel.  But a movie is a movie is a movie.

Hitchcock was released late last year with a star-studded cast of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma, Scarlett Johannsen as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins.

It's a biopic about the making of Psycho that focuses around Hitchcock's relationship with his wife.  Alma was very involved in her husband's work, even acting as assistant director sometimes.

I really enjoyed it.  It was fun and insightful.  The film exhibits the numerous obstacles Hitchcock had to overcome in order for Psycho to be released to the public.  The Sherlock office, yesteryear's equivalent of the MPAA rating system, was adamant that the love scene and the shower scene be cut entirely from the film.

Hitchcock also touches upon the casting process.  Scarlett Johanssen and James D'Arcy's portrayals of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins were so good it was eery.

Bates Motel is an A&E television series that will premier this March.  It's going to focus on Norman's adolescent years, specifically, his abusive relationship with his mother.  The series will attempt to answer the question of what exactly drove Norman over the edge.  Damen Lindelof, one of the principal writers of 'LOST', will pen the episodes and Freddie Highmore will star as teenage Norman Bates.

I'll definitely be watching this.

Despite Psycho's success and cultural impact, very few of my contemporary peers have seen it. I'm not sure why.  It may be because they already know the twist ending, it may be because they're too chicken to take it on, it may be because it's in black and white, the list goes on and on.

If you want to hold your own in the movie trivia world, you gotta have Psycho under your belt.  It hasn't been referred to as the 'grandfather of all horror flicks' for nothing.

I encourage everyone to see it not because of the context, but because of the content.  Psycho has some of the best black and white cinematography I've ever seen.  It's stunning in HD.  The story is told flawlessly with flawed characters.  The music is engaging, the dialogue is haunting.  It sticks with you.

Don't believe me?  Try getting this final shot of Norman out of your head:

Nighty niiiiight.


  1. I ran across your background image being stuck problem on Google Groups and wondered how you ended up fixing it. I randomly started having the same problem tonight on my blog and it is so weird! No matter how many times I change the template or try adding a new photo background, the old one is still there:

    1. Oops never mind - I figured out my problem. I had entered the background image as a widget on my page, so it wasn't letting the template override it. Silly me!

      PS: I just recently saw that movie, Psycho, and really quite liked it! I need to watch more old movies. ;)

    2. Oh good, I'm glad you figured it out! And thank you for reading :)