PSYCHO. 1960. DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. BASED ON THE BOOK BY ROBERT BLOCH. MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN. STARRING ANTHONY PERKINS, JANET LEIGH, VERA MILES, JOHN GAVIN AND MARTIN BALSAM. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
Most people are pretty clear about what their own favourite Hitchcock films are. Ask any Alfred Hitchcock fan for their Top Five favourite films and they’ll rattle ’em off for you at the drop of a hat. My personal faves would be ROPE, PSYCHO, FRENZY, VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW. I sometimes change the order but the films remain the same.
I’ve only ever watched PSYCHO twice in my life. The first time I saw it, I was a greenhorn school-leaver, crazy about films but afraid of my own shadow. After a tough week of studying for exams, I’d stay up till all hours on Friday nights to watch the late film. One Friday night, it was PSYCHO, a film loosely based on the crimes of real-life Wisconsin murderer and grave-robber, Ed Gein.
It was simultaneously the best but also the most frightening movie I’d ever seen in my life. When the climax came, I literally ran from the TV room up to my bedroom, where I crawled under the covers and lay awake and shivering for the rest of the night. I was too afraid to stay for the film’s dénoument and the bit where they explain things and wrap everything up.
Years later, I read the superb novel on which the film is based. It filled in any gaps that were remaining, plus it had an advantage over the film in that I could always put it away for a bit if I got scared reading it. I own two copies of the book now. The covers are amazing. One has a bloody hand on it with the fingers splayed out against the glass of a shower stall. The other features the lovely Janet Leigh in a pointy ‘Fifties-style brassiére and an underslip. I think I like that one best.
Although I frequently wanted to, I could never bring myself to watch the film again until recently, but I’ve probably thought about it every day since. That’s one hell of an impact for a film to have. I think that the Great Director (the greatest who ever lived) would be pleased to hear that.
The film is shot in black-and-white and has a fantastic, instantly recognisable score and a few much-parodied scenes. In THE SIMPSONS, for example, Baby Maggie hits Homer over the head in a spoof of the famous shower scene to the accompaniment of the PSYCHO theme music, and remember when Sideshow Bob is writing one of his I’m Coming To Kill You letters to Bart Simpson? His surroundings are modelled on the creepy office at the Bates Motel. And, of course, the relationship between Principal Seymour Skinner and his domineering (s)mother Agnes is hilariously based on that between Norman Bates and his bossy-boots Mumsie.
The Bates Motel, which has itself become synonymous with any spooky, evil-looking, out-of-the-way establishment, is the setting for what many consider to be Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. It’s run by social misfit Norman Bates, who lives there alone with his bad-tempered and controlling invalid mother. He has no life outside of The Two M’s (Motel and Mother), and he has one or two rather curious habits, which you’ll see for yourself when you watch the movie.
Poor Marion Crane, a pretty blonde secretary from Phoenix, Arizona played by Janet Leigh, finds herself overnighting at the Bates Motel in Fairvale after she does an ill-advised runner with forty thousand dollars belonging to a wealthy client of her boss’s. It proves to be the worst- and pretty much the last- decision she ever makes. You see, sometimes people who check into the Bates Motel don’t ever leave it, and I’ll tell you this for nothing. It’s not because of the fluffy towels, the comfy, louse-free pillows and the superior quality of the mattresses…
Marion’s disappearance brings a steady stream of unwanted traffic through the doors of Norman’s motel. Marion’s sister Lila is desperate to find her missing sibling. She involves Marion’s boyfriend, a local hardware store owner called Sam Loomis. A private investigator called Milton Arbogast (what a brilliant name!), hired by Marion’s boss, is also as keen as mustard to track down the missing woman. Who can tell them what-the-diddly-doodly has happened to poor misguided Marion Crane? Can Norman Bates? Can his housebound elderly mother…? You’ll see, dear readers, you’ll see…
Anthony Perkins is fantastic as messed-up psychopath Norman Bates. Janet Leigh and her equally famous horror actress daughter Jamie Lee Curtis are so alike that I actually shed a few tears watching the lovely Ms. Leigh do a superb job of acting in her biggest ever role. Audiences at the time of the film’s release were shocked that Hitchcock killed off his leading lady before the film was even half over, but that’s Hitchcock for you. He liked to shock and he normally got the result he was after.
He urged the cinema audiences of the day not to spoil the film for other viewers by revealing the film’s gruesome secrets to them, that’s how big a deal PSYCHO was in its day. I hope I’m not giving away too much by telling you that Janet Leigh eschewed showers forever after acting in the film. I can’t say I blame her.
The iconic outline of the Bates Motel against a dark December sky is one that tends to be never forgotten, once you’ve seen it. The interiors of the Bates home, too, are so starkly effective that I’ve remembered them my whole life. In addition to the shower scene and any shot with the stairs in it (Hitchcock gives good stairs!), I have just two more words for you, dear readers. Fruit cellar…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY