“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
Should you ever hear those words issue from the lips of a desk clerk in a run-down, spooky highway motel, run like hell.
Unfortunately Marion Crane, the sexy young centerpiece of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, doesn’t sense any foreshadowing, even though the director has laid it out for her – and for the audience.
By the time desk clerk Norman Bates says that to Marion, she’s already thinking about going back to her room and taking a shower. We see it coming – especially if we’ve already viewed the film - and we scream “No!”
But shower she does, each and every time Psycho unspools. It’ll play out again Friday, when the SCAD Cinema Circle shows the classic 1960 shocker on the big screen at the Trustees Theater.
Considered the very first “slasher” film, Psycho (based on a novel by Robert Bloch) is Hitchcock at his peak – shot in high-contrast black and white, it uses odd angles and shadows to heighten the sense of mystery, suspense and, ultimately, dread. It is fraught with symbolism, metaphors and strong, evocative imagery.
The first third of the film is about Marion (Janet Leigh) stealing a large amount of cash from her employer. It plods along like a standard thriller. Hitchcock knew this would lull the audience into complacency, and that the unexpected horror of what was coming would, indeed, terrify them.
“My main satisfaction is that the film had an effect on the audiences, and I consider that very important,” he told Francois Truffaut. “I don’t care about the subject matter; I don't care about the acting; but I do care about the pieces of film and the photography and the sound track and all of the technical ingredients that made the audience scream.
“I feel it’s tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion. And with Psycho we most definitely achieved this. It wasn’t a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film.”
Anthony Perkins, who’d had some success as a pop singer and on the Broadway stage before Hitchcock cast him as Norman Bates, was forever typecast as a creepy psychopath – until his death in 1992, however, he always told interviewers he would do it all again in a heartbeat. Indeed, he starred in three Psycho sequels (none directed by Hitchcock, and none of them any good).
Leigh, who died in 2004, said she couldn’t take showers for many years after she saw the finished film.
Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards and didn’t win any; its legacy is far more significant. In 1960, it was deeply disturbing, unlike anything that had been seen on the screen before, and from Hitchcock’s brilliant camera set-ups to Elmer Bernstein’s shrieking score, it’s still the template for sicko-twisto horror movies.
Gus Van Sant even re-made Psycho in 1998, with the always-creepy Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates and Anne Heche (creepy in her own very special way) as Marion Crane.
Also Van Sant’s version was in color, it was filmed, shot-for-shot, as a direct homage to Hitchcock’s original. Van Sant stated that the Hitchcock film was “perfect,” and that he couldn’t possibly improve on it.
In 1960, Hitchcock – always the showman – went to great lengths to tell audiences they would not be allowed to enter the theater once Psycho had started. He felt that it must be experienced from the very beginning to the very end.
He also refused to allow advance screenings for film critics, lest they give away the surprise ending.
Good show, Hitch – you made one mother of a movie.
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
When: 7 p.m. Friday, July 24
Tickets: $4 SCAD students, $6 students, seniors and military; $8 public
Phone: (912) 525-5050
A special introduction from Mr. Hitchcock: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzAnE4zuYuA&feature=fvst