Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Psycho (1960)

Type: Suspense/Thriller

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Composer: Bernard Hermann

Norman Bates- Anthony Perkins
Marion Crane- Janet Leigh
Lila Crane- Vera Miles
Sam- John Gavin
Detective Arbogast- Martin Balsam

Introduction to the Genre

Every now and then, I want to be able to post reviews of movies I'm seeing for the first time. Particularly the ones that caught my attention in a big way and want to remember why they made such an impact.

For starters, this genre is generally out of my comfort zone. I'm certainly not big on horror movies. I survived two "Nightmare of Elm Street" films (the first and 3rd) without losing any sleep over them, but it'd be so long that I have no memory of them. The same can be said about the original "Saw," where the twists and turns kept me on my toes and the ending was pretty huge. A great psychological thriller... but again, my memory about it is terrible.

In the case of "Psycho," I really wanted to get down on "paper" my feelings while they're still fresh.
My only other encounter with Hitchcock was "Rear Window"... I felt that the movie dragged a little too much for me to get fully invested, but it was interesting to see nonetheless. Especially since it's one of those movies that have been spoofed so many times. Most recently on "Castle," where they staged such a situation for his birthday.

Everyone of course knows "Psycho" for the iconic shower scene and the infamous quote "a boy's best friend is his mother." The only other piece of knowledge I had going in was approximately half of the twist ending.

Bates Motel

I don't know what exactly attracted to me this series.

Maybe it was the fact they said it would be a mini-series of 10 episodes...

Maybe it was the fact it starred Freddie Highmore, who I'd gotten to know from movies like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Finding Neverland"... he's one of those young actors I like following from one movie to the next to see what they're going to do.
I was impressed with him in "The Art of Getting By" where he plays a high school student with a lot of potential but doesn't apply himself under the guise "we're all going to die someday, so why bother trying?" A really good indie film I'd absolutely recommend.

Ultimately, I'd say it's a little of both things plus something else: occasionally, I like testing myself (in TV and movies) to experience things that scare me. I figured a TV series prequel of "Psycho" would help desensitize me and the fact it was to be 10 episodes meant I wouldn't have to make a huge commitment.
Of course, it wasn't quite that simple. It's simply 10 episodes PER SEASON. I flipped out when it heard there'd be more... but now that we're going into season three now, I'm half afraid the ending will come too quickly.

First of all, the series is amazing. It's very edgy. The characters are written so well. Sure, I wanted Norma Bates to die within a couple episodes because she was driving me crazy :P but you start to get attached to these characters. Everyone has a little crazy in them. Let's get that cleared up.
Granted, she'd been put through the ringer so many times that you can understand why she's wound up so tight. Growing up in an abusive household. Her first husband being abusive. Episode one of "Bates Motel" has a rape scene where she's attacked by the previous motel owner and he becomes the first casualty of the series. She's been very unlucky in love, having been with a bunch of losers. But she also turned down a perfectly nice guy after a couple dates because he committed the smallest transgression.
Norman, on the other hand, is played very well by Freddie Highmore. He's very sensitive, but has explosive outbursts. There are plenty moments where you want him to get away with murder and others where you wish he didn't.

Going into season three, I think we have a body count of 5...
Granted, a couple were self-defense. But Norman also got away with one murder that may have begun his descent into madness from which there's no returning.

Psycho: Beginning the Suspense
As well as beginning the spoilers
I had planned to see the movie as soon as "Bates Motel" ended... but I also had a few other conditions in mind. They were ultimately upheld.
The biggest one: I had to see "Psycho" [the original, NOT the Vince Vaughn remake, you can't remake genius] when it was still daylight. Just in case nightmares followed me around for a day or two... so far :knock on wood: that hasn't happened. And I haven't been scared away from showering. [I'll keep locking the door for the next couple times, just in case].
Somehow, TCM picked the perfect time to broadcast the movie. It was last Saturday. "Bates Motel" would be started its third season on Monday... and as crazily coincidental as you can get, the series feels like it is mere moments away from eclipsing on the beginning of the film.

The movie begins with our main character, setting up her back story. Marion Crane is in a relationship with this guy, Sam. Neither of which can afford to get married. Her with her dead-end secretary position and him still having to pay his ex-wife alimony.

An opportunity to pay off Sam's debts lands on her lap and, not surprisingly, she takes it.
A client had given her $40,000, meant for a house he was purchasing as a wedding present, to deposit in the bank. She instead takes the money and runs away.

The opening credits is easily a standout in the movie's production. Introducing us to the eerie score while printing the names of the participants across the screen after series of bars resembling bars on a jail cell.
Ben Mankiewicz of TCM made a note before the beginning of the movie that Hitchcock was so impressed with Bernard Hermann's score that he put his name just before his at the end of the credits... back then, I believe the director was put last for emphasis, so putting the composer before him spoke highly of his contribution.

The score returns as Marion makes her slow getaway. She's in her car, leaving the city. There's a moment where her boss is crossing the street and they lock eyes. Normally, you'd think nothing of it because it's very brief. But the score suggests otherwise.
Her paranoia continues when she wakes up the next morning. It was raining heavily and she pulled off onto the shoulder to rest. She's woken up by a cop, who asks for her license and suggests she stop in a motel next time. He spends the next few minutes tailing her. Although he's given no indication that he's onto her, the score counteracts that.

Eventually, Marion Crane does find herself at the Bates Motel. Norman Bates warmly welcomes, even invites her up to the house for dinner. This request is denied by his mother, so he brings her a tray of food to eat in the office, which happens to be decorated by stuffed birds.

Of course, we all know Hitchcock had a thing about birds... he freaking made a movie about them attacking people... but that was a good connection "Bates Motel" made. Norman's taxidermy hobby first took shape when a stray dog he'd been taking care of got run over by a car. [Ironically, in last night's episode of "Bates Motel," he talked about stuffing a crow... in the movie, he explained how birds looked just as appealing stuffed as they did alive, unlike other animals that are more terrifying]

From the moment Norman was introduced in "Psycho," I already felt like I knew him. Freddie Highmore's performance in the series was VERY close to what Anthony Perkins brought to the film. All the kindness and sensitivity was there as was the difficult relationship with his mother. Marion suggested he try to break away, which he is reluctant to agree to, and soon comes to the conclusion that she needs to face up to what she did.

Unfortunately, that does not come to pass... as any movie fan would know.
Even though I'd seen it multiple times in spoofs and movie countdowns, the shower scene was still chilling. It was very graphic for its time. In the flashes, I saw some nudity that had been obscured in post-production and so on. And just her expression afterwards, the way her body came to rest on the ground... phew... I don't know enough to really say this, but I will anyway... that's classic movie horror at its best.

[Another "Bates Motel" connection they made the other night- Norman was out back spying on a hotel guest who was getting into a shower... and based on the final moment of the episode, she might have become another victim]

After that, it was very predictable how Norman would dispose of the evidence. He'd clean everything up. He'd put the body (and all of Marion's things) in the car's trunk and sink her car into the lake. [That is kinda what he and Norma did with the former motel owner in episode one].

Psycho: Maintaining the Suspense

 I'd only encourage people who don't care
those who'd seen this movie
to continue forward

Janet Leigh dies 45 minutes into the movie... Norman Bates didn't make his first appearance until the 30 minute mark... so I found myself wondering: how are they going to kill the rest of the movie's two hour runtime?

The answer: cleverly

Marion Crane's one act of fraudulence is what led to the solution of the Bates Motel mystery. It's one thing for her to disappear and her sister and Sam to wonder what became of her. It's another for her to commit a crime that demands investigation. Said investigation would not have been accomplished, certainly not effectively, if she hadn't done wrong.

The one lead they had that she left town was the locking of eyes with her boss upon her exodus from Phoenix. Upon leaving town, she only encountered a small number of people. The cop (who we never saw again... I was half expecting that to amount to something) and the used car dealer that she traded her car for another.
But I suppose the next best lead they'd have is search all of the motels in the vicinity. Despite the fact the Bates Motel had been off the grid for 10 years (thanks to a bypass... something that's still coming into being in the series, and I believe will be the activating incident that'll seal the fate of Norma and Norman Bates), the detective finds his way there.

Upon meeting Norman, Detective Arbogast has his suspicions... the mannerisms and nervousness, but also the comments about his mother and not being able to maintain any means of a story to explain himself. The detective places one call, giving his location as well as his suspicions, impressing he's going to do further investigation.
Marion's sister Lila and Sam talk to the local sheriff, who explains that Mrs. Bates and her love died 10 years ago.

As for our detective, he makes the mistake of going into the house. [By the way, "Bates Motel" has all of its details down perfectly. It felt like being in the same house... except in a different color palette].
He goes up the stairs, looking for Mrs. Bates. The camera first focuses on his face as he's making his ascent up the staircase. A few moments later, we switch to another view. We see the landing on the staircase from above. A figure suddenly appears not a moment after the detective reaches the final step and we have murder victim #2.

The shower scene is impressive in its own right, but I admired this murder scene so much that I was literally going "Wow" and oohing and aahing about it.
Not so much that it was a surprise (it was so predictable), I was just really impressed by the way it was shot. The view from above. The figure seemingly out of nowhere with the eerie music right along with it. Just wow...

We also get a scene with Norman and his mother fighting again and him taking her down the staircase into the basement while she's cursing him out [without actually cursing or struggling for that matter]

Eventually, Sam and Lila do make it up to the Bates Motel to do their own investigation. Expecting more clichés to come, I was telling them "don't separate, it's not going to end well."
That is, of course, what they do. But Sam is keeping Norman occupied while Lila is searching the house. Like I said, I knew 50% of the twist ending, so I kinda knew that she wouldn't be in serious danger if Sam was with Norman. He does, however, get wise, knock Sam out and storm back to the house.

Lila stumbles across Mrs. Bates in the basement... what's left of her... I knew this part, so that wasn't a jump-scare type moment.

What WAS almost jump-scare worthy was seeing the real killer...
I already kinda knew that it was Norman, but seeing him go full psycho on screen (yeah, that pun was intended, so sue me)... phew, I felt like I really needed a few extra minutes to mentally recover from that... I'll bet that would have been REALLY scary back in the time where the movie was released, in a dark theater, where the audience has no idea what's coming...

I thought about Marion Crane in the shower... I don't know what would have been scary: the fact someone brandishing a knife was attacking her in a shower... or seeing a nice man you just met disguised as his mother with a psycho-killer expression in eyes attacking you...

but I digress... once the shock wore off, I was perfectly fine a few minutes after the movie ended and I found other distractions. I wouldn't say I was screaming like a raving lunatic. It was more of an educated scream that I was able to really appreciate from physical and psychological standpoint

Psycho: A 15 Minute Crash Course in Psychoanalysis

Again, another question quickly answered for me: now that we knew who our killer was and prevented him from committing murder for the third (and perhaps 4th time) on-screen, how do you spend the final minutes of this movie?

Nowadays, a lot of movies are so rushed from point A to point B that we never really get a chance to explore the events that unfold. And if so, that chance usually comes after the credits roll.
After Norman is hauled off to a psych ward, we actually spend the final minutes of the movie explaining his circumstances and how they manifested. And it was fascinating... creepy, but very fascinating.

I knew from "Bates Motel" that Norman Bates and his mother didn't have the ideal mother-son relationship. They had only each other and their integral character flaw is that they will go to any lengths to maintain homeostasis- maintaining the only life they know how to live.

Norma would disapprove of Norman's relationships, believing none were ever good enough for him. [I doubt that'll be the case with his friend, Emma... but right now, it looks like her medical condition will be her undoing]
Meanwhile, Norman was very distrustful of any man that his mother got involved with. Some were for good reason. Others were not- they were simply getting between them in his view.

The doctor further explained that Norman crossed that mental barrier and may have taken on the personality of his mother permanently... one person asked if Norman dressing as his mother made him a transvestite... back in those days, I guess jumping to that conclusion made some sense. But that wasn't the case.

What was a murder-suicide wound up being a double murder... in a jealous rage, Norman poisoned his mother and her lover.
Both had their mental issues, of course, but this act of murder lead to his condition as it stands. In order to protect himself from the truth of his mother's murder, he kept her body maintained with formaldehyde [fitting, considering his hobby is taxidermy], occasionally dressing as her and maintaining conversations for the two of them.

[still gives me the creeps...}

The final shot of the film was creepy and slightly confusing until I read up on it afterwards.
We hear mental conversations between Norma and Norman Bates while the camera slowly zooms in his face... Anthony Perkins at his creepiest (well, second, to the big reveal 15 minutes earlier)... and the picture fades into the car being towed out of the lake.

I was so entranced by that point that the ending felt very sudden and a little jarring... didn't quite make sense that that'd be the final shot.
But according to the trivia, the view is of the images of Mrs. Bates and Norman overlapping one another and the chain towing the car is "connected" to their chest... to show that they're all connected.

Additional Comments

First of all, there is no way this movie would have succeeded if it was in color. The score probably wouldn't have been as jarring or influential on the mind of the movie viewer if there were other things to distract. Plus, given that this was in 1960, it probably would have been too gory to have made it past the censors.

It's fascinating to read how Hitchcock insisted no one be admitted to theaters after the movie begins. It's one thing about Janet Leigh's murder and not wanting to anger people who arrive late who don't see her. It's also something that helps maintain the illusion. Not to mention... it'd take away from the shock factor if someone arrived in the theater too late (for them and disturbing the people already there).

Almost as genius as the trailer where Hitchcock nonchalantly comes short of giving away the entire plot

One of the FAQ's on IMDB asked about the point of the psychoanalysis scene...
I freaking gasped when I read that because I felt the clarification was needed and it was extremely informative. Maybe I just wanted to hear Norman's mental state explained clearly so I could better appreciate it... as well as register these warning signs for when "Bates Motel" progresses to that point.

The overall pacing of this film was done so well. My only real criticism would be the use of the cop. To not only have him give Marion the 3rd degree when they first meet, but to follow her AND watch her exchange her car at the used dealership... and not do anything beyond that... I realize that's supposed to give insight into Marion's mindset, but I felt it ran too long.

Otherwise, every moment in this movie was really used to the full advantage of advancing the plot or developing the characters. Anthony Perkins was amazing throughout this. Janet Leigh did a great death scene.

Just the overall making and look of this film, I really appreciated and enjoyed. And was very impressed by.

Not to say I've lost complete faith in today's movies. There's a lot of repetition and clichés. But I still find things to appreciate: whether it's a good script, a great performance (either by one of my favorite actors or someone new to me and/or movie-going audiences) or whatever.

There are just moments like these where I like taking the time to give credit where it's due, particularly when it's something out of my comfort zone or simply from an earlier time when the silver screen meant something more... I don't know... special.

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