Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Psycho flick

If you have never seen Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", get off your ass and go watch it right now! If you HAVE seen Gus Van Sant's "Psycho", I'm just sorry.

Psycho (1960 film)Image via Wikipedia
Psycho was one my very first Hitchcock movie when I was 8 or 9 years old. In retrospect, I was probably too young. Not because of the violence or implications of sex or nudity, but because I couldn't fully appreciate how masterful the movie was. The lighting is so frightening and beautiful at the same time. His choice of using black and white might have been a fluke (It was said that he was trying to save money and to use a style used in many poular B movies like "House on Haunted Hill" and "Les Diaboliques" It would be his last b&w film.) but it would have been so so wrong in color. Rounded out by Bernard Hermann's amazing score, played all with strings, is so mood-setting and creepy and beautiful!

The story, at first, is centered around Marion Crane who steals $40,000 from her boss. She runs off and unfortunately, ends up at the Bates Motel where she is quickly dispatched in a scene that made movie history. And this also brought the word "McGuffin" (not to be confused with a McMuffin...) to our vocabulary. A McGuffin is a plot device that moves the story along but ultimately has nothing to do with where the story ends up. With Marion gone, we enter the sad, twisted world of Norman Bates and Mother.

Actor Anthony PerkinsImage via WikipediaNorman Bates is such a sad character. Even when you know he's a killer and seriously fucking twisted, you can't help feeling bad for the guy. Marion Crane was a hussy thief so you're not devastated by her death. (or at least I wasn't) But you know it was wrong and Norman deserves to be in jail but still... There is much debate but I feel that most men (and a few woman) aren't born like this. True, they may be born with something that opens a door to the possibility but it takes a few good shoves over a lifetime to create a monster. In Norman's case, it was his mother who did the shoving.

If you watched the other Psycho movies, you learn why. (By the way, I don't recommend this. They are mostly awful and are really only to be watched for obtaining a back story. If you're in the mood for a silly slasher, watch 2 or 3.) Norman's mother was one sick bitch. Not quite the kind woman Norman always painted her as, she was abusive in every way. She would make him wear dresses, slut around with strange men, and even get a bit too cozy with Norman. Ew. That would fuck me up too... Although, I don't think it would make me stab a ton of people. Thankfully, I'll never have to find out.

The last shot of Norman, one of my favorites, he is sitting quietly, not even harming a fly, smiling at us. Just as there is a cross-fade to the police pulling up Marion's car, you can see the superimposed image of a skull over his face. Uber creepy and unexpected. (at least it was for me, before I had seen a million different ripe offs...)

Sadly Anthony Perkins was pretty tortured himself. Born in New York, he fell in love with acting. Before Psycho, he was nominated for a Tony, an Oscar and won a Golden Globe. He even had three albums he released to moderate success. But after Psycho, he found himself typecast. He escaped to Europe where he found great success on stage. But he remained haunted. Anthony was gay. (Others say he was bi, having gay relationships until he got therapy that "cured" him and he then married his wife, Berry. Either way, he undoubtedly had internal struggle and grief over the whole matter.) Struggling with his sexuality, as well as drug problems, he managed to always find some kind of work. He took on Psycho 2 and 3 after a dry spell of work and getting the chance to have more creative control. He learned he was positive for the AIDS virus in the least dignifying way possible: a headline on The National Inquirer. Buncha heartless pricks, they are. He released a statement afterward, part of which said,
"There are many who believe this disease is God's vengeance. But I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other. I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS, than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life."
Well said. He died at age 60 in 1992.

Ed GeinImage via WikipediaThe book that the film is based on was purchased by Hitchcock for a mere 9,000 bucks. It was loosely based on the killings in Wisconsin by Ed Gein. Gein was a shy, quiet man who lived on his rural farm with his mother. His childhood was plagued by his alcoholic father and overbearing mother. She would not allow Gein or his brother off the farm except for school. She would regularly read from the bible (lots of fire and brimstone) and instilled her belief that all women, even herself, were evil, sinful creatures. She was often verbally abusive. Gein was discouraged from having any friends and only had his brother to speak to. After his father died of a heart attack, his brother mysteriously dieing in a fire, it was just him and mother, but not for long. After a series of strokes, she was gone. In a span of 5 years, his whole family had died and he was alone. And what does one do in this situation? Start digging up corpses and playing with their parts of course! But soon , that wasn't enough. When police came to his house to investigate the disappearance of a local woman, they found said woman, hanging up in the barn, gutted like an animal without a head. In the house, they found human skin lampshades, a belt made of human nipples, skull caps used as soup bowls, a vest from a woman's torso, and perhaps the most disturbing, at least to me, is a box of vulvas... that he admitted to wearing. Yep. Box o' vulvas. After his mother's death, he decided he wanted to be a woman so he had fashioned a 'woman suit' from actual woman. (He picked corpses that looked like his mother... yep. Gross.) He was found incompetant to stand trial and was housed in a mental institution until 1968 when he was found to be sane. (They must have had some miracle drugs or something...) It only took a week to be found guilty. But because he was insane at the time of the murders, he was sent back to the institution where he would die of cancer in 1984. His actions would inspire tons of people to write stories about murder and mayhem. (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs, etc)

The shadowy mother figure from the famous shower scene.Image via WikipediaHitchcock was a strange guy. But he wasn't stupid. He knew this was a good story. He made the film for 800,000 by using his crew from his TV series to save money (and he was sick of big budget, 'Hollywood' movies). He didn't recieve a salary, instead he got 60% of the film's net which added up to over 15 million. In 1962, he traded the rights to the film for a giant block of stock from MCA, becoming one of their largest stock holders. He also was moving from Paramount to Universal, much of the movie being filmed on Universal's back lots. (This is why you see the 'Bates Motel', or what's left of it, during the back lot tour at Universal Studios, even though the Paramount logo is at the beginning of the film) At Universal, he did The Birds, Marney and Frenzy, to name a few.

Bates Motel set at Universal StudiosImage via WikipediaI love this movie. I could never pick a favorite but Psycho would defiantly be on my top 20. When I took the lot tour at Universal, seeing the motel was so amazing. (and strange, to see it in color.) I was tempted to jump out and run inside, even though it would probably collapse on me. Perhaps this movie was the beginning of my love of old creepy buildings? Hmmm...

Would you stop and stay at a roadside motel on a rainy night? Maybe the soft spoken young man behind the counter would offer you dinner. Maybe he enjoyed stuffing birds and other dead things. And maybe you took a nice hot shower before bedtime... What could happen right?

Would I stay at the Bates Motel? Hell yeah, just not in Room #2. And no showers.

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