Greatest Films of Halloween #3 Psycho

“People always call a madhouse “someplace”, don’t they?’Put her in someplace!'”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so uncaring.”

“What do you know about caring? Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing, and the tears, and those cruel eyes studying you? My mother there? Oh, but she’s harmless. She’s as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.”

“I tried to mean well. ”

“People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately! Of course, I’ve suggested it myself. But I hate to even think about it. She needs me. It-it’s not as if she were a maniac — a raving thing. She… “

This is one of those movies like The Sixth Sense, if you didn’t see it when it first came out then all the mystery is lost because everyone knows what happens. So we spend the first 40 minutes watching Janet Leigh as Marion Crane steal $40,000 of her boss’ money (That’s in 1960 dollars, so it’s closer to $300,000 today…which is still kind of a flimsy number to risk your whole life on). We watch her in a paranoid stupor, constantly afraid that she will be caught and sent to prison. Fantasizing about how everyone knew and was tracking her down. I can only imagine if the original audience thought the title was in reference to her truly stupid choice of stealing the money. But of course, we all know that it’s not. It has to do with very poor choice of motels to stay in. The Bates Motel. With proprietor Norman Bates. And mother (She just goes a little mad sometimes…). And even then we might have thought that Norman might just have been a twisted plot point designed for Janet Leigh’s personal trip through hell…but then she decides to take a shower.

Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins does almost too good a job as Norman. How do I know he does too good a job? Because he never got another major role ever again. One moment he’s the stuttering, insecure, passive, weak one moment…the next all too forceful, all too dark, all too accusatory…and that’s when he’s still being Norman. (There might be someone who doesn’t know the story so I won’t clarify that).

I usually don’t talk camera angles and cinematography because, one, I understand most people aren’t interested in those aspects of film on a conscious level and, two, because most directors aren’t good enough to use them in a way that shows anything near an above average skill with a camera. But this is Hitchcock. Hitchcock who will use only three different pairs of angles in the conversation between Marion and Norman, each pair more and more sinister. Stuffed birds of prey and carrion eaters in the background. Pictures whose names all include the word “Rape.” You have to admire the attention to detail to cause you to be disturbed on both a conscious and subconscious level. And of course the shower scene. Go through it sometime frame by frame, you see nothing, and yet it’s done so well that even though you never see the knife go into flesh it’s far more horrific than most slasher films today. Hollywood would do well to learn from this less is more example. But nothing compares to the look through the Bates house at the end of the film. Each shot of a seemingly innocuous item. A child’s bed. A record. A dress. An indent in the bed. Each on their own meaning nothing. But together giving us a horrifying glimpse into the life of Norman Bates if we have the courage to think about what each one of them means.

And then there are the little things that make this movie so spine tingling creepy. “A son is a poor substitute for a lover.” is just one of a few lines with the disturbing incestuous overtones. And then there are the suggestions of child abuse and pedophilia, grave robbing, necrophilia, the fact that Norman knows what the inside of a madhouse sounds like and that he cleans up a murder scene with the skill of a pro. The movie implies a lot of horrifying things without saying them.

And there’s this trailer…it’s seductively creepy…but so much worse when you know everything he’s referring to…

…and by always referring to the murderer as “she” he kept the doubt and suspense going not just through the first half hour with wondering how far over the edge Janet Leigh might go…but…well again as there might be someone who missed this classic I won’t reveal too much.

And tomorrow, All Hallow’s Eve, the two greatest Halloween films of ALL TIME…

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