HITCHCOCK HALLOWEEN DAY 3: Psycho (1960)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Well, here is the final installment of Hitchcock Halloween, and I have picked probably Hitchcock’s most twisted tale. A creepy motel, multiple personalities, an Oedipus complex, and a whole lot of chocolate syrup take center stage in this immortal (!) thriller, in which Janet Leigh takes most famous shower in cinema history.

If lighting was the cornerstone of Rebecca, the genius of this film lies in the music. How can anyone forget those screeching violins (as a matter of fact, I’m listening to the crickets outside and as I write this post, they’re beginning to sound like the screeching violins…) and the suspenseful theme of Psycho? The composer, Bernard Hermann, disregarded Hitchcock’s request for a jazz soundtrack and instead composed one of cinema’s most memorable scores using a small string ensemble, making use of the film’s small music budget. To be frank, the movie isn’t particularly exciting for the first half an hour or so, but Hermann keeps the audience on their toes by providing a riveting, suspenseful undertone that seems to tell the viewer “Look, we know it’s boring…but it will get better, we promise!”

And indeed it does. Norman Bates, a strange, shy man whom we meet early in the film, has an odd relationship with his mother, who is heard but never seems to be seen. We hear her and Norman arguing about his relationship to Janet Leigh (her name is Marion in this film, but no one cares–she’ll always just be Janet Leigh), and suddenly, while Janet is taking a shower…

The scene in its entirety is just over 3 minutes, but uses close to 50 camera cuts (and yes, I counted). When I first saw it, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, it’s not a particularly scary scene. But when you analyze it for more than its scariness, it’s remarkable how artful it is and how carefully planned.

The effects of the shower scene were achieved through a variety of clever methods–the sound of the knife puncturing flesh was made by a knife cutting through a melon, and the blood that runs down the shower was actually chocolate syrup, having a more realistic density than stage blood and showing up better on black-and-white film. There was a pervasive rumor for some time that the famous sound of the screeching violins were actually bird calls instead of real violins, but this has been proven false.

Anyway, so Norman Bates’ mom is a weirdo, right? More than anyone knows.

Norman finds Janet Leigh’s body and throws it, along with all her other things, into a car and throws the car in a swamp. Because no one’s trying to cover anything up here…

After a series of events, a revelation comes out. It turns out that Norman HAS no mother–Norman’s mother has been dead for 10 years. So who is this we’ve been hearing so much about?

Norman himself. Norman is both himself and his dead mother. Who, by the way, still hangs out in the basement, as we find out in a VERY freaky scene. You’ve been warned:

Norman is taken to the police station where a psychiatrist deconstructs his split personality, while Norman (now in the “Mother” personality) sits in the cell. The ending scene is chilling, as Norman/”Mother” recites an internal monologue, in the voice of a woman.

And what is particularly scary, is the vision of a skull, for a split second, on Norman’s face as it fades into the car being pulled out of the swamp.

This is one CREEPY MOVIE.

That’s it for Hitchcock Halloween! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a fun and safe night partying, trick-or-treating, or doing whatever it is you do on Halloween. Stay tuned for more posts tomorrow!

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2 responses to “HITCHCOCK HALLOWEEN DAY 3: Psycho (1960)

  1. By the time I actually saw Psycho, I was already well aware of the shower scene and even the identity of “Mother,” so those scenes didn’t phase me at all – I’d even seen clips of them. But the last one, with the superimposed skull? THAT I didn’t know about and it sent chills up and down my spine. That one tiny image was the scariest thing in the whole movie. Now of course I can appreciate the whole thing in context, but I’ll always remember that superimposed shot as the scary part.

  2. Lara, you did a fine job with your PSYCHO post, with your classic clips and fascinating facts. I’ve been a Hitchcock fan since I first watched STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in the middle of the night with my big brother when I was a kid! Your post taught me a few things that even I didn’t know, like the revelation that Hitchcock originally wanted a jazz score! I can’t imagine PSYCHO without the great Bernard Herrmann’s wonderfully ominous score, can you?

    We must respectfully agree to disagree about the “boring” parts! 🙂 I’ve always liked the clever way Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano misdirects the audience in the first half of the film. At first, you think you’re watching a heist film mixed with a girl-on-the-run film, with Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane being one of the most impulsive — if not outright inept — criminals in movie history. Then Marion meets Norman Bates. Boy meets girl, girl meets shower, murder us committed, and suddenly we viewers have our little cinematic world turned upside down as PSYCHO takes off its heist flick disguise and becomes one of the greatest horror movies of all time! And the swamp gets the money; what a waste of $40,000! 🙂

    Pardon my rambling, Lara; please consider it a compliment, because your post made me think as well as being pure scary entertainment!

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