Time for an embarrassing blogger confession. I’ve never seen Psycho until I watched it for this blog. I know! I’m a little late to the game but better late than never.
In the U.S., at least, Psycho is considered the mother of slashers. The British movie, Peeping Tom, was also released in 1960 and also deals with similar issues, but it has far less name recognition than Psycho. That’s a shame because Peeping Tom is really good.
This movie doesn’t feel like the slashers of the 1970s and 1980s or even like the giallos of the 1960s. Psycho is like an ancestor, like when you look at a velociraptor and think, “I can see how this would one day be a bird.”
The movie starts with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh.) She’s unhappy with her life so when she’s offered the chance to steal $40,000 she takes it.
She runs from her old life and that’s how she ends up at the Bates Motel, a creepy little place run by the eccentric Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins.) He lives alone there with his creepy, domineering, decrepit mother.
He befriends Marion until someone kills her while she’s in the shower.
Killing a main character early may be a standard twist nowadays (*Cough*Scream*Cough*) but in 1960 this was quite shocking.
The rest of the movie follows Lila Crane (Hitchcock regular Vera Miles) and Marion’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) as they try to find Marion. Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), a private detective hired by the person Marion stole from, tracks her to the Bates Motel but the trail goes cold and he disappears.
Lila finally uncovers the horror at the Bates Motel. Spoiler Alert! Norma Bates has been dead for a decade! Norman keeps her desiccated corpse around the house. The killer is Norman, dressing and acting as his mother.
When I told people I was going to watch Psycho I heard a lot of, “I don’t like that movie, I fell asleep.” I think the mistake is that people approach it as if it’s going to be like a slasher or psychosexual thriller that was made today. The pacing is really different from most slashers, it’s a very slow burning movie. Marion isn’t killed until about forty-five minutes into the movie.
I really liked the movie. The forty-five minutes before Marion is killed gives us a chance to learn about the characters and care about them. I really liked Marion and I really wanted her to get away with her larceny and marry Sam Loomis. You learn about her hopes and dreams and when she dies you’re really sad that she’ll never escape the trap she lived in, as her and Norman called it.
Norman himself is also really likable. You can tell he’s nervous and shy but he also seems like a genuinely nice guy. You really want him to not be the one that killed Marion. That’s pretty impossible, though. Norman is someone haunted by demons. Literally, in a lot of shots he’s surrounded by his taxidermied birds of prey.
What sums up the movie for me is this line that Norman says; “If you love someone, you don’t do that to them, even if you hate them.” He says this to Marion when she suggests that he put his mother in a madhouse or retirement home, and it shows his truly ambivalent nature towards his mother.
Even if you don’t like Psycho you have to admit its cultural impact. Its string music has basically become synonymous with tension and fear. Crime movies have always been popular but I’m not sure if movies about tracking down serial killers, like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs would be the same or as popular as they are today without the influence of Psycho. Without Psycho, Dr. Sam Loomis would have an entirely different name.
What I really appreciate about Psycho was how much Paramount didn’t want Alfred Hitchcock to make this movie and how much Hitchcock didn’t care about what they wanted. They gave him a small budget and he was all, “Fine, I’ll shoot it in black and white to keep it cheap, finance it with my own production company, and use my sets and crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” You have to appreciate that kind of determination.
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- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
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