Psycho- Perth Playhouse of Horrors

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I really like Alfred Hitchcock.  I liked him so much that I used to have a clock that had a picture of him on the Psycho set, but the mechanism broke and everyone hated it so I threw it away.  I still miss my Hitchclock!

It wasn't through his films that I discovered "The Master of Suspense" but rather through an obscure series of children's books called "Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators" for which Hitch wrote the introductions.  Except he didn't.  It turns out that the intros were written by the series creator in the style of the great director.  Anyway, it worked because from that point I was hooked.  I rattled through all the books and was hungry for more suspense from the rotund horrormeister.  

The Three Investigators books were just a gateway drug. The next step was the movies, starting with 'Rear Window' and 'North by Northwest', which my cousin Chris had on VHS and I watched at my auntie's.  My family didn't have their own VHS player until well into the nineties so instead, I would try and catch Hitchcock films on t.v. when I got the chance.  I was also the only kid in my primary school hefting around an 800 page Alfred Hitchcock biography in hardback.  I'm pretty sure that I didn't understand most of it but I just loved that chubby cockney director.  My parents drew the line when I asked for a director's chair with my name on it for Christmas. They said it was pretentious.  Pretentious?!  Moi?!

I think that 'Psycho' was one of the last of the classic Hitchcock films that I watched.  I don't know if I wasn't allowed to watch it because of its grisly reputation, or I just never got round to seeing it before my Hitchcock phase passed.  Whatever the reason, by the time I finally did watch it I was a much more cynical teenager and thought it rather tame compared to other horror movie fare I'd seen.  A case can be made for Psycho as the first real slasher movie and it was a direct influence on the 'Halloween' and Friday the 13th horror movie franchises. However, as a gore-hungry teenager, I felt it just wasn't violent or scary enough.

Since then I've realised that there was a lot more going on in Psycho than I thought.  Like the slasher movies that followed, but unusually for Hitch, it was filmed quickly and on a microbudget.  Although it is now arguably considered as Hitchcock's greatest film, it was a massive gamble which at the time was met with lukewarm reviews and moral outrage.  The reason it was filmed in black and white was that Paramount refused point blank to finance the filming.  This necessitated Hitchcock financing it himself, using the crew from his 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' television series.

*** The following section of the review contains spoilers***

As well as kickstarting the slasher genre, Psycho was also revolutionary in killing off its lead character in the first act.  Rewatching it on the big screen nearly sixty years later, it still seems like a bold move.  It's hard to picture what a mind trip it must have been to cinema goers in 1960, getting emotionally invested in the character and story of Marion Crane, then all of sudden the star is dead and the plot is flipped 360 degrees.  Can you imagine going to see the latest Tom Cruise outing and his character gets killed in the first 30 minutes?  Personally, I would be fine with that, but still, it would be shocking.

*** Spoilers over***

What I really got from watching Psycho this time around, is how unusual it is to be able to enjoy an honest to goodness horror movie with such high production values.  Everything from the amazing Bernard Hermann score, the beautiful but unfussy cinematography by John L. Russell to the credible, engaging performances.  The fact that this is a classier than average horror flick seems to have attracted a broader range of cinema-goers to the Playhouse of Horrors season.  There is definitely more grey hairs in attendance this time out and it's nice to see a mother and her adult daughter enjoying the scares together.  I love horror movies, but usually, I enjoy them in spite of the performances and not because of them.  'Nightmare on Elm Street', for example, is a great film but Heather Lagenkamp is no Meryl Streep.   In Psycho, however, we get what I consider the best performance in a Hitchcock movie by Anthony Perkins as the biggest mommies boy in motion picture history as motel owner Norman Bates.  

Perkins pulls off the seemingly impossible task of eliciting compassion and pity for a predatory mass murder.  He plays Bates as more of a victim than a monster in a twitchy yet disquietingly endearing performance that will find you at times almost rooting for Norman.  I think I better stop writing now before I give away any more major plot points for readers that haven't had the chance to catch this stone cold horror classic yet.

Seven Psychofacts!

  1. 'Psycho' was the first mainstream film to show a toilet.  Prior to 1960, a toilet had never featured in an American movie.  It was screenwriter Joseph Stefano who was keen to break this taboo in the very opening scene, unsettling audiences and preparing them for a later scene where a flushing toilet is a major plot point.
  2. Robert Bloch's novel, on which 'Psycho' was based. was in turn inspired by Ed Gein, the 1950s Wisconsin serial killer whose case would also inspire such movie murderers as 'Texas Chainsaw Massacres' Leatherface and 'Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill. 
  3. A 1959 rumour had Hitchcock buying up all available copies of Bloch's novel in order to preserve the secrecy surrounding his forthcoming movie's plot
  4. In fact, Hitch was so keen to preserve an air of mystery around the film that he refused to release a plot synopsis to the press. The only other director who had ever done that was Cecil B. DeMille, who refused to tell reporters the plot of "The Ten Commandments."  
  5. The shower murder is one of the most studied montages of film editing ever made. It contains over 70 edits in just 45 seconds.
  6. For Marion Crane's blood, which swirled down the shower drain, Hitchcock used Bosco chocolate syrup.
  7. Another myth concerns Saul Bass, the graphic designer who storyboarded some of Psycho's scenes, who claims he is the true director of the shower scene. This is denied by several figures involved with the film, not least Leigh, who stated: "absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I've ever given. I've said it to his face in front of other people ... I was in that shower for seven days, and, believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots." 
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