Friday, 11 March 2011


Year: 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano, based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Martin Balsam
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Horror, crime, thriller, drama

Summary: Phoenix, Arizona: Marion Crane (Leigh), a secretary at an estate agents, steals $40,000 from one of her employer's clients, and drives off to meet her divorced boyfriend, Sam Loomis (Gavin), at his California home. On the road, Marion becomes increasingly paranoid about getting caught and what might happen to her. Eventually in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, tiredness forces her to seek shelter for the night in the remote Bates Motel. The place is owned and managed by a shy young man named Norman Bates (Perkins) who tells her that he lives with his invalid mother in the large, run-down house that overlooks the motel. Marion overhears a furious argument about her between Norman and his mother. After talking to Norman, Marion decides to return to Phoenix the next day to return the money. First of all however, she decides to take a shower. Big mistake.

Opinions: This movie is probably one of the most influential ever made. It's easy to forget after all the sequels, remakes, parodies and references as well as the slew of imitations, just how good the original is. The story is structured in a way where if you didn't know the film it looks as if it's going to be about a woman who steals some money. For the first 45 minutes or so the film follows Marion exclusively and events are seen from her point of view and then it takes a sudden turn with probably the most famous sequence in cinema history and becomes something else entirely.
The script was written by Joseph Stefano (who subsequently became known for creating the classic television series The Outer Limits (1963-1965)) based on a 1959 novel by prolific horror and thriller author Robert Bloch. The book was inspired by the real-life Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein (whose activities also inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)). The film follows the basic storyline of the book pretty closely but with a few basic changes. The novel focuses mainly on Norman Bates and many of the events are seen through his eyes. Also Norman is a much more sympathetic character in the film than in the book. Incidentally, at the time of writing the screenplay, Stefano was undergoing therapy about his own relationship with his mother.
The movie features a brilliant central performance from Anthony Perkins as the tormented Norman, who manages to be both sinister and sympathetic at the same time. In fact he is quite a likeable character which makes his actions all the more startling. Anthony Perkins, who at the time was best known as a pop singer and a romantic lead, suffered from typecasting due to the immense success of Psycho but stated afterwards that he would still have taken the role even if he knew that he would be typecast. The film also had it's main "name" star, Janet Leigh, killed off towards the middle of the movie, which was a really shocking move for the time. This is said to be the reason behind Hitchcock's heavily promoted "requirement" that no-one was allowed to be admitted in to see Psycho once the film had begun. This was highly unusual for the time when people were in the habt of wandering into films whenever they felt like it, but Hitchcock felt that if people came in during the second half of the film expecting to see Janet Leigh and she did not appear, then they would feel cheated.
Of course everyone knows about the famous shower sequence which is a masterpiece of direction, editing and scoring. The scene runs for about three minutes and includes about fifty cuts, and it is done in a way where you think that it is more violent than it actually is. You see the shower head, Janet Leigh screaming, and you see the knife stabbing, but you never see any actual contact. The only blood in the scene is seen swirling down the plughole. Coupled with Bernard Herrmann's legendary strings-only score, it is one of the greatest scenes in film history. The censors initially asked for the scene to be cut, because they thought that Leigh's breasts were visible. Hitchcock simply resubmitted the film again without touching it and it was passed uncut. People who have way too much time on their hands have analysed the scene frame by frame for a glimpse of the offending breast but, as far as I know, they have been unsuccessful. Apparently after watching the scene, Janet Leigh refused to take showers unless she absolutely had to, and then she would lock all her doors and windows and leave the shower and bathroom door open.
There is another story that Hitchock received a letter from an angry father who said that his daughter refused to take a bath after seeing the 1955 film Les Diaboliques and now refused to take showers after seeing Psycho. "How am I supposed to get her clean?" the outraged man demanded.
"Take her to the drycleaners," replied Hitch.
The film also features a startling second murder, which is in it's own way as memorable as the shower scene, and it also has a strong vein of humour running through it.
Alfred Hitchcock has a small cameo in the film as a man wearing a stetson who is seen standing outside the window of the real estate agency where Marion works.
This was also the first film to feature a shot of a toilet flushing, which also caused some trouble with the censors, and was removed for some international prints.
The film is often stated as being the first of the slasher movie subgenre of horror.
The film was followed by two direct sequels and a made for television prequel. It was also pointlessly remade in 1998 by Gus Van Sant. The original is a classic and is well worth checking out by anyone. If you've never seen it, then definitely see it, and if you have seen it, then see it again.

"We all go a little mad sometimes." - Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho

"Have you got the shower working yet?" Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh in Psycho

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