It’s Halloween! What better way to spend your Halloween night than watching scary movies with your friends? How about giving the infamous Psycho a try? Made in 1960, by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, it stars John Gavin, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles as three unfortunate souls who come face to face with the superbly creepy Mr Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. Based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, Psychois loosely based around the notorious grave robbing psychopath, Ed Gein, whose Wikipedia page is not for the faint hearted, trust me!
After stealing $40’000 from her boss to help her soon to be divorced boyfriend, the beautiful Marion Crane runs away from her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. After driving all night she gets interrupted by a huge rainstorm which forces her to pull into the sinister Bates Motel, run by a creepy young man called Norman Bates. Norman takes quite a liking to Marion and invites her to dinner with him that night, but after overhearing an uncomfortable exchange between him and his mother, Marion suggests he admits his mother to a mental institution to which he doesn’t respond positively and she retreats to her room. Then she decides to have a shower. Need I say anymore? I think we all know what happens to Marion in the shower.
So less than an hour in, the woman we all thought to be the main character has been killed. But by who? And so the mystery thickens, and not long after this hideous crime is committed and the evidence is plunged into a lake, Detective Arbogast is hired by Lila, Marion’s sister and Sam, Marion’s boyfriend to locate Marion and the missing $40’000. His search leads him to the Bates Motel and after questioning Norman about the whereabouts of Marion he concedes him to be suspicious. He looks around the motel and spots a woman standing in the window of the house on the hill behind the motel. He calls Lila and Sam, tells them what he has seen and ventures up to the house. Not long after he arrives at Bates residence, he is greeted by a kitchen knife in the face and a few stabs to the chest, thus ending the life of Detective Arbogast.
Lila and Sam end up phoning the local police when Arbogast doesn’t call her back, explaining about the woman in the window. The Deputy seems puzzled as he recalls that Norman’s mother had been dead for 10 years, and brushes their story off, leaving them no choice but to go to the Motel together. They pretend to be a married couple and hire out a room from the dreaded Norman, and soon enough their curiosity gets the better of them and Lila sneaks into the house. It doesn’t take long for Norman to notice that Lila has gone, so he rushes up to the house to find her. I shan’t say anymore for fear of ruining the ending, but let’s just say this; it’s not exactly a happy one.
Psycho is considered to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece, earning him a fortune at the box office as the studio didn’t want to associate themselves too much with what they thought was going to be a failure. Hitchcock succeeded in creating a suspenseful and highly successful horror film that terrified audiences, and even Janet Leigh into never having a shower again. So many elements of the story are kept from the audience, and the mystery surrounding the Mother character builds oodles of suspense. By never showing us her face or her body in full we begin to question why Hitchcock is keeping her from us, leading us to ask questions about her physical appearance, perhaps she’s severely disfigured? Or maybe she’s not a ‘Mother’ after all? Or worse..?
It’s a clever device and Hitchcock shrouded the production of his film in mystery, only to enhance the actual mystery within, he made production staff take an oath not to reveal the ending, and he even had a chair for ‘Mrs Bates’ so that nothing could be leaked or expected. All this attention to detail, and willingness to protect his own movie made the ending all the more terrifying, shocking and downright weird, giving it the ‘masterpiece’ status that it still has today.
This is what horror movies are made of and fifty-two years on, it’s obviously quite dated. So my advice, watch it with friends on Halloween and have a good laugh. Or, watch it on your own at night in the dark and have nightmares.
Happy Halloween everybody!
Find Psycho in the DVD ZONE shelved at 791.43
Further Reading in The Information Store:
A Long Hard Look at Psycho by Raymond Durgnat – BOOK ZONE – 791.4372
Hitchcock on Hitchcock by Alfred Hitchcock – BOOK ZONE – 791.430233092
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan – BOOK ZONE – 791.430233092
There are also loads of Hitchcock films in the DVD ZONE, and two great box sets chronicalling his work!
How about checking out our display of Halloween themed books by the Issue Desk?