So much about Pscyho fascinates me. A balls-out, in-your-face shocker from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, it hit the big screen in 1960 to very mixed reviews. It was seen as a cheap schlockfest, it was seen as scandalous in how it stuck two fingers up to the moral decency code that had made movies keep their clothes on for years, but most of all it thrilled the general public. So no matter how sniffy the critics might have been, it got bums on seats and became the blueprint for every slasher movie that followed over a decade later.
From its opening bars, literally coming at you thanks to the strings of Bernard Herrmann, you know you’re not in for a subtle time. Then the first scene, sliding through an open window on a hot Arizona day to find a couple of lovers half naked and post-coital, sets the tone for a film that is about sex and loneliness. Heroine Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) wants to be respectable and settle down to the life society thinks she should lead, but shock horror she’s in love with the recently separated Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who isn’t divorced yet. So like a pair of adulterers they’re forced to meet in hotel rooms that you rent by the hour for a little afternoon delight. Personally meeting John Gavin for a sex session every week in a stuffy hotel room would suit me down to the ground, but things were very different for an office working female in the 60s.
She’s boiling over, desperate for escape, trapped in a rut by her financial situation and Sam’s. So when opportunity presents itself in the form of $40,000 waved under her nose by a rich Texan, she makes a snap decision that will change her life forever, and dare I say – SPOILER – end it.
Marion jumps from one trap into another, and when she stops at the Bates Motel she meets the shy, awkward but rather gorgeous Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). He’s trapped by his own circumstances – a domineering mother, a life unfulfilled, and his crippling shyness belies a desperate loneliness. In a fantastically written and played scene Norman and Marion compare battle scars of those who are trapped and alone, and Norman convinces Marion to turn on her heels and dig herself out of her hole. But before she can do that, she needs to take a shower. And Norman’s mother isn’t happy to find her son perving over this naked lady as she switches on the hot water and begins to cleanse herself of past mistakes.
Anyone who doesn’t know the twist that comes when Marion hops into the shower has either been living under a rock their whole life or is very lucky. In recording this podcast, Martin was surprised to find his partner Matt was indeed one of the lucky ones. What an absolute thrill to be taken by surprise when the inevitable fate befalls our heroine. That’s the thing with Psycho, there is a sense of inevitability and doom that scores its entire first half. You’re asked to sit and watch as Marion makes mistake after mistake, when all you want to do is reach into the TV and shake her, tell her to keep driving or to go back. But she doesn’t, and that’s what is so shocking. Not only does it make you feel voyeuristic and helpless, it leaves you conflicted. Because when Norman’s got a mess on his hands, you kinda want him to get away with it. A film of two halves that set the bar for shock twists as, we tend to forget, not only does it have the shock shower scene… but there is another twist 10 minutes before the ending, when Mrs Bates shows her bony face.
Hitchcock had a wicked old sense of humour. He took glee and relish in horrifying us whether it was a bird attack on the fabulous Tippi Hedren or a dead body in a trunk whilst the corpse’s loved ones sipped wine and wondered where he’d got to. In Psycho his wicked humour plays out like a carnival ghost train. He tips a wink to the audience whilst traumatising us, which is perfectly summed up in the comedic and macabre trailer for Psycho. Here Hitch takes us around the scene of a crime, beckoning us into darkened rooms, daring us to feast our eyes on the horrors within.
Many rumours exist over the making of Psycho. That Hitch shocked Janet Leigh with cold water in the shower scene, that Anthony Perkins drew from real life (and very disturbing) experience for Norman’s mother/son relationship, and that it was the first movie to ever feature a flushing toilet! Not to mention Marion’s license plate – was it on purpose? To find out give our new podcast a listen. It’s a feature length episode with clips and music aplenty, and one where we discuss everything from Pat Hitchcock’s tranquilisers to the sad death of Anthony Perkins from Aids.
At the heart of it we talk about our love for the movie and just what makes Psycho a bona fide slasher movie to beat them all. Apologies in advance for my constant references to Gavin and Perkins indulging in sodomy. What can I say? They were made for each other!
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Enjoy. You might need a shower afterwards…