Welcome to my new blog-series, Manic Movie Magic (3xM for short) here on Moar Powah!, where I’m going to be looking at classic and current films, primarily of the horror, science-fiction, and fantasy genres.
So, which film is most befitting of this premiere event? None other than AFI’s number one pick for the best thriller of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Released in 1960, Psycho has the distinction of being named one of Hitchcock’s greatest masterpieces, and with good reason. It almost single-handedly created the horror-twist-ending, the slasher sub-genre, and is one of the first movies to ever show a toilet on screen. This is the must see of all horror movies, and even to this day manages to scare people. It’s aged gracefully, feeling relatable and fresh despite being over fifty years old.
Now, for those of you who have never heard of or seen this film, I would recommend stopping right here, and going out to watch it. There’s no way I can discuss the film without revealing the big twist. You have been warned.
One of the best parts of the film in my opinion is the beginning, which may seem odd to say. The first twenty-or-so minutes are devoted to Marion Crane, a woman who steals $40,000 from her job so she can be with her lover, Sam. She stops over in the Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates, as she crosses the country to see him. After a conversation with Norman, she decides to go home and return the money….and then she winds up brutally murdered in the shower.
I like the whole beginning section because it gives the audience a false sense of security. It establishes a leading lady, and starts the plot rolling when suddenly out of nowhere she’s killed, and its revealed its not her story at all, it never was. It was always going to be about Norman. This shift in the story is unexpected and a little disruptive, like bumping into someone all of a sudden while strolling aimlessly, throwing you off and leaving you confused and a little unnerved.
The star of the movie is Anthony Perkins, who plays mama’s-boy-gone-mad Norman. His unassuming stature and demure attitude is a perfect cover for the absolute psychopath he turns out to be. Perkins makes the struggle between Norman’s personality and “mother’s” seem real, without even having to vocalize any of it. He’s calm, and collected, but also passionate and furious, and right at the end when “mother” takes over, the look he has twists your insides into a pretzel.
I do have to give a lot credit to the actresses who play Marion and Lila Crane, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. Janet Leigh was perfect in the car scene, where she imagines what is going on back at work, and of course the infamous shower scene. And when Marion’s lying there, staring at the screen? That’s actually Leigh, almost naked, freezing, and trying desperately to keep her dead-staring look at the camera.
Vera Miles, playing Marion’s sister Lila, gets props because right at the end she finds a tacky-looking skeleton in a wig and dress, and then Anthony Perkins storming in dressed like his mom, bug eyes and all. Now, if I were in the room, shooting this movie, I would probably start laughing hysterically. Miles looks like she just defecated in her pants and might throw up a lung in sheer, unfiltered terror, and it couldn’t have been easy.
Cinematography wise, what is there to say? It’s a Hitchcock film, where the shots, the scenery, even the weather are all meticulously chosen and works like an extra actor in the film, seamlessly integrated and taken for granted.
So, you may be wondering, why review Psycho at all. Everyone knows it’s a classic, everyone knows that its an amazing horror film, why even write about it? One, because a lot of people haven’t seen it, some because its in black in white, and some because it’s old, but it’s worth giving the hours of time to watch. And two, because despite my high esteem for this film, this isn’t a perfect movie. The cuts aren’t always great and sometimes look like they started too early. The famous shower scene didn’t thrill me at all, and looked a little like they were just hoping the music would carry the scene.
Ultimately, my biggest pet peeve is the character of Sam, played by John Gavin. I just don’t see the point of his character other than being the reason Marion stole the money. He adds nothing to the movie and Gavin’s acting is blander than mayo on white bread. His only attribute is basically being the “big strong man” for Lila, which I don’t think she really needed. After all, she was the one who went looking for Sam in an attempt to find her sister, and sneaks into Bates’ house alone; she had plenty of courage and didn’t need a man to save her…until Bates tries to kill her, then suddenly she does need the man. Feminism was not alive and well in the film.
Now, for those of you wondering what I thought of the 1998 shot-for-shot remake starring Vince Vaugh, and Julianne Moore, it is an insult to this most amazing of movies and should never have been brought up, let alone conceived and executed. It ruins everything good about the original. Literally. Everything. Trust me, it’s two precious hours of your life that will be thrown down the drain. Also, did I mention Vaugh is the worst choice for Norman imaginable?
All in all, Psycho (1960) is a great film, especially as one of the many cornerstones of the horror genre. Despite its age and a little bit of a dated feeling, it still deserves all the acclaim and respect its garnered through the decades.
See you next week when I review The Ring!