Friday, October 27, 2023

HalloWatch: Psycho (1960)

it never occurred to me before how bonkers this poster really is

Watched:  10/26/2023
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  3rd or 4th
Director:  Alfred Hitchcock

So, it's not really worth talking too deeply about Psycho (1960) here at Ye Olde Film Watch Journal.  The movie is one of the most written about, discussed and analyzed flicks that one is likely to see.  So I won't get into plot, analysis, etc...  Y'all can chase that around on your own.  

I hadn't personally seen it in probably two decades, so I decided to give it a whirl as part of our Halloween spooktacular cinema series.  

Probably my foremost comment is that the movie actually lives up to the hype.  Some movies do.  Lawrence of Arabia2001The Godfather Part II.  I can go on listing great movies, but just assume I agree with you as you fill in your own blank here.

Maybe those movies show signs of age or that they were made in another time, but there's nothing about them that doesn't pull you in and hold you.  And Psycho - minus the weirdo psychoanalysis at the conclusion - is kind of a perfect film.  Every line has weight or double meaning, every shot provides you with information about the story and characters, and the sound and atmosphere are on point.

Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, and from the moment Janet Leigh picks up the money, the movie never really lets up.  That it breaks deeply ingrained narrative tradition and bumps her off - now one of the most famous scenes in cinema - is still a mental jolt.  You're all in on Marion's flight and plight by the time she decides to get clean (itself a double meaning).  

I can only imagine how audiences felt in 1960.  You'll hear it pitched as the first 30 minutes - but the car sinks at about the 1 hour mark of a 110 minute film.  To actually have a victim built up as a protagonist, it just naturally seems she should survive - something that Leigh's own daughter would perfect in Halloween.    And the beautiful leads almost always survive in horror pictures - drop a comment to name a movie where one doesn't, prior to 1960.

It's also impossible to say enough about Anthony Perkins in the movie, who possibly did *too* good of a job and got himself planted in the world's consciousness as Norman Bates, no matter what other roles he took on.  But, man, not a false note in the film, and putting in a performance utterly ahead of its time.  This role is closer, timelinewise to Dracula by 30+ years than it is to today, 63 years on.  Absolutely unreal.  And if you were only partially there with Norman, the final moments of the film are one of the great selling points.

I've seen and enjoyed the direct sequel - but I'm not sure it ever should have had one.  That final shot should have been the end capper.

I'm not clear on the production of the film.  I know the studios didn't want to make it, and it seems like a good 1/3rd of movies that go on to be genre-busting classics come for very passionate filmmakers studio execs want to out guess.  I know you wind up with some duds from letting name directors chase their bliss, but sometimes you wind up making one of the most important films of the century.

Psycho has its sequels, a TV show and it's been endlessly referenced, ripped-off, homaged, and a good chunk of films are now a xerox of a xerox of the original.  And for good reason.  A lot of horror would learn its tricks from the movie and how its framed, how Hitch used the stairs and sets and camera placement.  Montage would tell us more than actually just showing the thing in the shower sequence.  Reveals that show us things are endlessly more f'd up than we first expected when we find Mother in the cellar.  

I don't know that simply dipping back into the well is able to recapture what's there.  It's the Hitchcockian synergy of all the elements working together, and that's lightning in a bottle.  That some can do this over and over is just amazing fortune for audiences.  

If you listened to our Texas Chainsaw Massacre podcast, you'll be aware that I recently finally Googled the murders of real life psychopath Ed Gein, which partially inspired TCM, Psycho and portions of Silence of the Lambs.   There's a whole lot to unpack there, and it's absolutely horrible, but turns out the author of the original book that Psycho is based on lived near Gein, so you can see how he'd have some inspiration.

I don't really have much to say on it, and I don't particularly think you'll sleep better actually reading up on Gein, so don't.  But it's also fascinating that one guy seems to have spread his personal horrors out through so much culture and pop culture.

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