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Pulp Corner: Psycho

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The problem with older classic movies like this is that you likely have already heard about them and the major plot twists long before you actually saw it. Sadly, I was familiar with the 1998 Busta Rhymes song “Gimme Some More” which samples the classic “Psycho” strings score long before I had seen the movie.

Psycho was actually the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw…and I didn’t like it. I expected it to be a horror movie or at least be pretty scary based on its reputation (especially the love it gets around Halloween) and I was let down. It wasn’t until a movie mentor of mine explained about Hitch being the master of suspense, not horror that it started to make sense to me. After watching a few of his other movies and then going back to Psycho made me love it and understand why it belongs on the upper echelon of Hitchcock films.

I’m assuming everyone who wants to read this has already seen the movie so I won’t waste much time on the plot, but rather my opinions and observations. So if you haven’t seen it, turn back now or forever hold your peace.

Right from the start with the fantastic title sequence you know you’re about to experience something. This seems to be a lost art nowadays, but here it’s intense, engaging and slightly disorienting. The music thunders in and sets the mood of foreboding doom and general uneasiness that continues to act as cues throughout the rest of the movie. It has to be one of the best movie scores (or at least themes) ever.

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Then the movie begins so very unassumingly and it’s a drastic departure from what we just experienced leaving us a little bewildered as we gently zoom in on a hotel housing two lovers. For Janet Leigh’s somewhat minimal involvement with this movie she’s in a bra…a lot which is pretty damn shocking for 1960. Once the plot actually begins to take off the movie becomes much more of a reversed gender role Film Noir. A woman steals $40,000 from her job so that she can start a new life with her dirt poor boyfriend who is paying alimony to his recently divorced ex-wife.

If you do watch Psycho with a Noir mindset you will know that our lead, Marion Crane is already doomed. She sealed her fate from the moment she stole that money and the viewer must hold their breath knowing that it’s only a matter of time before it all catches up to her. This is what helps to make any of the following scenes where she’s driving (and subsequently buying a new car) amongst the best in the movie. You can literally feel the paranoia creeping in.

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What also has stood out to me much more in recent viewings is Norman Bates, specifically Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of him. It’s a triumph of acting. He initially comes across as a good looking nervous, but likeable boy next door. Even after Marion’s death you find yourself easily swayed to route for him. This is no small feat that Hitch is able to pull off here but credit is due to Perkins performance. We spend the last 2/3rds of the movie watching his psychosis take firmer route reflected by his facial expressions and body language when he feels his crime unraveling.

The scene where we get to observe Bates cleaning up after Marion’s murder is fascinating. We watch as Norman “finds” the grisly aftermath and his subsequent removal of all the evidence. You can really see the gears turning in his head as he quickly eradicates anything that would be able to link it back to his “mom” and by extension himself with such cold calculating efficiency. Psycho contains such heavy themes of voyeurism that it helps put you in his shoes and ask “what would I do if I was put in this situation?” or “how would I handle this?” It taps into the part of your brain that we like to pretend doesn’t exist.

For all that’s said about the infamous shower scene (which is certainly the most recognizable in the film) it feels a little dated these days but is still both intense and effective for what it sets out to do. I must admit though, it doesn’t make me feel nearly as uneasy as watching the “chest burster” scene from Alien. That can certainly just be chalked up to modern sensibilities.

It’s hard to imagine how truly shocking this film must have been upon its release, but studios were scared of it failing…miserably. Coming off of one of Hitch’s biggest moneymaker’s North By Northwest you would have thought people would be practically throwing money his way for whatever he had next up his sleeve. That wasn’t the case though, Hitchcock had to basically finance the film himself and make it on the cheap with his working crew for his television show, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” which is one of the reasons it’s in black and white.

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It would be 3 years before Hitchcock would return to making films again with The Birds as he entered the last phase of his career but Psycho stands tall as a success of one man’s vision and artistry.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on May 6, 2014, in Features, Movies, Pulp Corner, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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