Sunday, 4 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 79 - Psycho

#22 - Psycho

And we move on from the thrill and suspense of Final Destination over to a different kind of fear. Those who can count and have good memories will remember that I said three Alfred Hitchcock films would make my list. True to my word this is the final Hitchcock film and of course it is his masterpiece. I was actually lucky enough to be near a cinema that decided to screen some of the old horror classics around Halloween one year and guess which one I chose to go and see? I actually had a bit of a funny moment with some poor woman in the row in front of me when I left to go to the bathroom. I accidentally grabbed her by the shoulder and she screamed like a school girl. But enough about my story...

Let me introduce you to Marion Crane, a young secretary living in Phoenix. She is currently in a relationship with a married man. Well Sam is separated from his wife but is forced to pay alimony and is trying to get a divorce settled. Money is a big problem anyway. Speaking of money, one of Marion’s boss’s clients comes in and dumps $40,000 in cash in the office. It’s Marion’s duty to put it in the safe deposit box in the bank for the weekend but if she did that, then there’d be no movie would there? On impulse she takes off with the money and heads for Fairvale where Sam lives. She can’t exactly keep herself inconspicuous so she stops at a motel a little out of the way for the night. It’s virtually deserted, run by a nice young man called Norman Bates though he seems to have a problem with his cranky old mother. None of this matters much to Marion as she takes a shower and is promptly stabbed to death in the middle of the night. The story then switches to her sister Lila and Sam trying to figure out what has happened to her over the next week.

When this came out, Hitchcock reportedly told people at cinemas to refuse patrons who arrived after the opening credits had finished, claiming it would spoil the movie. He’s quite right as well as this is one of those movies where you need to watch it all from start to finish with no breaks in between. While the film is pretty much a murder mystery with a bit of psychological thriller thrown in, it is considered to be at least the grandfather of the slasher films. Halloween certainly drew a lot of elements and techniques from it and it itself was based on the real life serial killer Ed Gein, the same as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs after it. You could also suggest that other post-modern films such as Fight Club and The Machinist also drew a lot of parallels with this. The film itself does have a lot of the standard Hitchcock techniques and the fact that it’s shown in black and white really adds to the creepiness and gives it a bit of a film noir feel. There’s a lot of creative uses of shadows, especially in the scene with Marion and Norman in the office as well as Lila in the fruit cellar.

Anthony Perkins is starring in his career-defining role as Norman Bates and tragically he had little success in Hollywood because the public only saw him as Norman and couldn’t escape from that mould. He is truly fantastic in all his scenes, particularly in the office scene where you’re almost afraid for him because we know Marion is slowly going mad and then he suddenly changes. His facial expressions and delivery of lines make Norman unique and nobody else could play him that way. Well maybe someone could but only Perkins could do it that excellently. Janet Leigh and her forty-five minutes in the film are also iconic and this does remain Janet’s stand out role. She plays Marion so well as a normal woman who just makes a mistake and is suffering from the consequences. The office scene is a good way to really see Marion’s character where she is discussing her problems with a complete stranger and yet isn’t revealing anything. We do sympathise with Marion and want her to do the right thing in the end. 
Vera Miles plays Lila and is also pretty good as a sort of determined vigilante detective type character, almost like a Nancy Drew. Her famous scream could have been awful or overdone but it is perfect. Oh and she was actually wearing a wig during the film as well. John Gavin, who plays Sam, was disliked by Hitchcock who referred to him as “the stiff” and it’s easy to see why. He can be a bit forced in his deliveries sometimes but overall it’s a decent performance. The mother was actually voiced by three different people and excellently so as all three give me chills with that eerie voice.

I’ve talked about the office scene enough so let me just say it’s well written and well acted with some great light and camera tricks, as well as an interesting set up with all the stuffed birds.
The famous shower scene still holds up as a masterpiece of filmmaking. Supposedly there are over fifty cuts in it and not one shot shows the knife piercing the flesh. This was supposedly because it brought the menace out from the screen into the minds of the audience. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t know the plot then you will be a little jarred when it comes out of nowhere. The blood was actually chocolate sauce and it looks pretty well on screen, better than stage blood would normally. The infamous shrieking violins that act as the score for the scene only add to the disturbance. Another really well done collection of scenes come when Marion is driving her car, having just stolen the money and she imagines other people’s conversations about her. She imagines her boss and co-worker wondering where she is and their conversation with the man who owned the money. It’s great to see Janet Leigh’s expressions change during that scene considering it’s all voiceovers. Another nice touch is how it progressively gets darker outside as the conversations get more in depth, ending up in the middle of the night when Cassidy ‘says’ “If any of that money’s missing, I’ll replace it with her fine soft flesh” 

Well today I officially bid adieu, sayonara and whatever else to Alfred Hitchcock and the influences he had on the world of film. It is ironic that the man is held up as a pioneer for horror films when he himself only made two actual horror films in his career, this and The Birds. I know I said it back in the entry for that but it really is something worth repeating. In addition to everything mentioned in the paragraphs above, this was also the first film to show a toilet flushing on screen and supposedly that was more controversial than the whole “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” business. Janet Leigh was also terrified of taking showers for the rest of her life, only showering when she needed to and with the doors and windows locked completely. Well, Bobby-verse, I’m sure we all go a little mad sometimes but this time just go mad on Twitter and don’t forget to follow me.

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