Psycho (1960) - Weasello Rating: {****} (Hot Damn!) {{ Sequel }}

Spoilers contained in the "plot" section; if you don't wish to see them thar spoilers, just skip it!

Body Count: Two on-screen deaths and a third previously-killed dead person.

Porn Cont: Being made in 1960, porn in movies was barely heard of. This is, however, the first movie to ever show a woman wearing nothing on top but a bra! That's right, bra action in this film! As well, this movie may have the first ever on-screen flushing toilet!!!

One sentence plot summary: A woman comes into conflict with her own morals when she suddenly disappears at a motel - and a chilling tale of mystery and murder ensues!

The Plot: Marion Crane works in a real estate office in the city of Phoenix. A high-roller suave Texan is buying, from her boss, a rather large property costing $40,000... Which he pays in cash (For the interested, that's approximately $350,000 in 2003 dollars).

Having some money-related relationship problems, Janet decides to swipe the $40K and run off to the next city and surprise her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. Getting a little sleepy on the long drive, she stops off at the infamous Bates Motel, where she meets the odd-mannered proprietor, Norman Bates.

After a nice chit-chat with Norman, Janet decides to go back to her boss and admit her crime. It isn't worth running in fear for the rest of her life! Norman's mother, however, had other plans. She snuck into her room and stabbed her in the shower - one of the most famous movie scenes of all time.

Janet's sister Lila Crane, a private detective Milton Arbogast, and Janet's boyfriend Sam all go in search of her, and Milton tracks her down to the Bates Motel, where he is murdered shortly after notifying Sam and Lila.

Sam and Lila wonder what's taking Milton so long to return, so they decide to go check it out for themselves - and find nothing but a sketchy Norman who seems rather nervous. Lila sneaks into the house on the hill, and finds Norman's mother... Long dead, sitting in the fruit cellar! Just then, Norman bursts through the door sporting a wig and a gown, swinging a knife. Sam tackles him and all is well.

After a police investigation, we find that Norman had attained a split personality after murdering his mother years ago. Due to the recent traumatic events, he is now completely his mother - and Norman himself will never exist again.

My Opinion: This is quite possibly the best pre-1975 movie that I've ever seen (with the exception of Casablanca (1942) - thanks for reminding me, TenMinJoe!). I had never seen this movie until now, and I always thought I knew what the movie would be about - the big badguy Norman Bates, the Bates Motel, shower murder... Standard Hitchcock fare. But this movie was so much more...

One of my biggest qualms with older movies is the odd-looking acting. There was a time when acting wasn't "pretending to be a normal person," but "moving in a certain way that is defined as acting," probably stemming from the method of acting used in theatrical productions. But this movie - the acting was superb. All of the actors did an awesome job, and with a few minor changes and edits, this movie could have easily been released just yesterday.

The soundtrack is amazingly good, especially for its time - it doesn't sound dated at all, and it sounds quite "different." This is because the entire score is done with only string instruments - and the classic shower scene that everyone associates with those stabbing chords - just awesome. It's a little known fact that Hitchcock wanted the shower scene to be silent, but Bernard Herrmann (the composer for the film) went ahead and made the music anyway. After listening to it, Hitchcock immediately changed his mind without reservation! (Thanks to Erineta for reminding me of the fantabulous music).

Almost completely devoid of special effects and other graphical supports, this movie is still a thrilling, edge-of-your seat mystery in what I beleive is Hitchcock's best work. I recommend seeing this RIGHT NOW if you haven't seen it before, and if you have, you should go buy it.

Interesting Notes:
  • Psycho has the most "interesting notes" about production and origins than any other movie I've seen.
  • In the 4:3 TV version of the movie, there are many, many mistakes made in filming that don't appear in the standard movie version. Things like crew visible, microphone cords visible, shadows, missing ceilings - this leads me to believe that a separate version was shot for TV alone. I haven't actually seen it myself.

    TenMinJoe says "Re: the mistakes in the 4:3 version - while normally a 4:3 version of a film has *less* of the original picture, some films (including, clearly, this one) are filmed in 4:3 and then the top and bottom sliced off for the widescreen version. This would explain why stuff is visible that shouldn't be in the 4:3 print."
  • At the very end of the movie, as the shot on Norman Bates fades out and just before credits appear, you can see a brief super-imposing of a skull over Norman's head. Then again, maybe you didn't see this - the second run of the movies out there have this last special effect edited out, as Hitchcock couldn't decide on whether to use it or not. Then, Hitchcock decided to re-introduce the special effect in two places for the third run of production! When Norman is standing by the swamp and looking very sinister, another skull is morphed onto his face. I had rented the original (production 1) copy, with only the ending-skull in place.
  • Norwegian censors cut the movie down 1 minute and 11 seconds, and the majority of Europe never saw the uncut version of the movie until 1975... Fifteen years after release!
  • It is a little-known fact that Psycho was based on a book by the same name, written by Robert Bloch. Hitchcock liked it so much, he bought the rights (for $9000) and then proceeded to buy every copy of the book he could find - so that people wouldn't be able to read the book and spoil the ending! This makes original copies of the book hard to come by and an excellent collector's item.
  • Though color film was around in 1917 (and the first color-and-sound film was around in 1929), Hitchcock decided to film this in black and white. He felt it would be too gory for color, and it would visually upset people.
  • To throw off snoops, this movie was named "Wimpy" during production and was sometimes referred to as "Production 9401."
  • Does that knife-stabbing audio clip sound a bit too real? It's because it's the sound of a knife stabbing a Casaba melon - we grow all too accustomed to those "fwoo-shing!" sound effects of the 90's!
  • The blood used in this film was Bosco's chocolate syrup. Most black and white films used Molasses for blood; however, molasses interacting with the water in the shower scene didn't look realistic.
  • Hitchcock wasn't sure if the corpse he designed was scary enough... So he decided to test it out by putting it in Janet Leigh's dressing room and seeing how loud she screamed. That bastard!
  • Norman's middle name is Francis... Which happens to be the patron saint of birds. The Birds, of course, is another famous movie by Hitchcock.
  • The house that Norman's is based on is still standing in Kent, Ohio. I say "based on" because the actual house used in filming is a 1/5th scale model. I know this because I saw it on a tour of Universal Studios in California. They placed it atop a hill and used low-angle shots to make it appear taller. In some scenes, if you look closely at people walking up the hill towards the house, the house appears out of proportion.
  • To save money on production, Hitchcock used his TV show crew to film this movie... The end production cost was $800,000, and grossed over $40 million (with tickets being $2 in 1960, that's pretty good!). That's 50 times above and beyond the profit. Additional sales beyond that initial 40 million are given to MCA, who traded stock for the rights to the movie.
  • After seeing Les Diaboliques and Psycho, a little girl refused to take a bath or a shower for fear of being murdered. The upset father wrote a letter to Hitchcock explaining his predicament. Hitchcock wrote back a note saying nothing more than "Send her to the drycleaners."
  • This movie contains many, many hidden references and meanings to the movie itself and to other Hitchcock movies. Things such as a plethora of The Birds references, common names between Hitchcock movies, and even subtle hints hidden in paintings and mirrors.
  • The novel was based on the serial killer Ed Gein, who was also the inspiration for the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • The famous "shower scene" has a few interesting facts. Many people vividly recall the "red blood" swirling down the drain, but this is impossible since it was filmed in black and white. A possible explanation for this is the fact that news shows were filmed in black and white at the time, perhaps making it seem more "real" to people. As well, 70 different camera angles and 90 different takes were used to film this scene, and it only lasts 45 seconds!
  • During pre-production, Hitchcock told the press that he was considering Helen Hayes to play the mother. Several actresses wrote Hitchcock requesting auditions!
The Cast: Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Robert Bloch (novel) Joseph Stefano (screenplay)

Tagline: "A new - and altogether different - screen excitement!!!"
Alternatively, "Don't give away the ending, it's the only one we have!" (thanks to Sam512 for this one)

Running Time: 109 Minutes (German / Norweigan edited version: 108 minutes)
Sources: The oh-so-wonderful IMDB, my head, the box.

(thing) by weasello (16 s)         Rep: 163 ( +170 / -7 ) (+)         Mon Nov 3 2003 at 13:49:51
31C! C?
Psycho (1998) - Weasello Rating: {**--} (Eh...)

The Movie: This movie is exactly the same as the 1960 version, with the same dialogue, the same camera angles, and the same acting. In fact, the only things that differ is that it is slightly modernized (a $40,000 heist turns into a $400,000 heist, for example) and a few words here and there were changed... And, of course, color.

I don't think you're taking me seriously here. The movie is exactly the same. In fact, the bloopers and mistakes found in the original film were duplicated in this one. Heck, the crew had a copy of the movie playing on the set, so that they could duplicate it down to a T!

Did I mention that the soundtrack is almost identical? Well, that's probably because the same guy did the music for both movies. In fact, it is likely that the music derived from the same recordings, but of course digitally remastered and all that other mumbo-jumbo. Bernard died in 1975, so he didn't re-make the music or anything. To be fair, he is credited to 27 movies after his death!

My Opinion: I only have one question to ask: Why? It's one thing to re-make an ultra old classic, make it new and stylized in a modern atmosphere, a la Romeo and Juliet. It's one thing to re-do an old classic that has lost its luster due to old special effects, or old dialogue that just doesn't jive with today's crowd. But it's completely pointless to take a timeless classic that "could have been made yesterday," and just go ahead and re-make it exactly the same way.

Surprisingly, the acting in this movie was worse than the acting in the original. The casting was horrible. Vince Vaughn, who I normally don't mind, did a really poor job of portraying Norman Bates. He seems a bit more insane, nearly giving away that he is the badguy. Anne Heche did a pretty OK job, but Janet Leigh played the role much better. Julianne Moore was a complete mismatch for the role of Lila Crane; either that or she "spunked it up" a bit too much. In the original, Lila was an upset but composed sister. In this movie, she seems like a cranky biatch who can't stop yelling. As for Sam Loomis - Viggo Mortensen was a very poor choice. The boyfriend is supposed to be a well-to-do man, who later in the movie sweet-talks his way through a conversation with Norman Bates. Viggo looks like an auto-mechanic crossed with a high-school bully and a rock-star, and does not fill a suit well. Suave? Hardly. Heck, in that scene in the motel office, where Sam is talking to Norman, the original portrays Norman as a meek and humble individual, who could probably get the shizzat beaten out of him if he tried to leave. He was very much so intimidated. In this newer version, Norman is a clear foot or two taller than Sam, and he seems to be the intimidating one.

The only real saving grace to this newer version is William H. Macy, who did an astounding (if short) rendition of Milton Arbogast, who was originally played by Martin Balsam.

To be fair, I can't hate this movie just because it's a COMPLETE AND TOTAL RIPOFF (grarrr!). The story still remains excellent, and the camera angles and thoughtful placement of paintings, mirrors, and other food-for-thought bits, are again awesome. It's just unfortunate that none of this crew thought of any of those things.

I give this movie half points because of the poor acting, and again, the whole "why?!" issue. If you want to see Psycho, for the love of Jebub, go see the original. If for some reason you can't stand black and white movies, this version will do but it's definitely missing some flair.

Interesting Notes:
  • As in the first production run of the original movie, there is a skull superimposed over Norman's face in the final scene of the film. The skull used for the superimposing is the same as the one used in the 1960's version.
  • A sign on the Bates Motel reads "Newly Renovated" - and it's true! The motel set is the same one used in the original, with a new paintjob and modernized furniture.
  • The house on the hill is a completely different house, also made to scale 1/5th the size. It was built right in front of the old house on the same hill - and after filming was moved beside it so people on the backlot tour of Universal Studios can compare the two. Unfortunately, I went on the backlot tour before the new house was built.
  • The murder weapon of the movie, the kitchen knife, is credited as belonging to "John Woo."
  • In a striking set of coincidences, two other Hitchcock remakes came out in the same year; Rear Window as a TV movie, and A Perfect Murder. What's even more coincidental is that in both Psycho and A Perfect Murder, the plot revolves around a $400,000 crime. And so coincidental it's creepy, Viggo Mortensen plays the same role in those two movies (as the main character's boyfriend), and the opening scene of each movie shows him in bed with her. Want one more shot of coincidence? Robert Forster starred in the aforementioned TV movie, Rear Window as well as being the doctor in Psycho.
The Cast: Director: Gus Van Sant

Writing Credits: As most nothing was changed, the original writing credits (see above) still apply.
Sources: Oh yay, the IMDB.COM, my head, the DVD box cover and special features.
Bruce Seaton
Prof. Leitch
3 Page Essay #3

Euripides Would Blush: Inversions of Gender Identity in Psycho

In the majority of Hitchcock’s films, villains take one of two courses of action when attempting to capture, destroy, undermine, or kill the protagonist- they either take some direct action, such as hunting the hero down or threatening someone the protagonist cares for, or they lure him into a trap. The course of action for many of Hitchcock’s greatest villains can be guessed by that villain’s gender. Male villains, such as Abbot in The Man who Knew Too Much, Professor Jordan in The 39 Steps, and Phillip Vandamm in North By Northwest hunt down the hero (or his daughter, in the case of The Man who Knew Too Much), and attempt to kill him. Hitchcock’s female villains are much more subtle, using misdirection, cleverly crafted lies, and seduction to reel the protagonist into a trap. Madame Anna Sebastian, of Notorious, Rebecca’s title character, and even Eve Kendall in North By Northwest are examples of these cunning women. This generalization is not entirely consistent, but represents a tendency in Hitchcock’s films (as well as in hundreds of other films) to portray male antagonists in a classically masculine way, and female antagonists in a similarly classically feminine manner.

Norman Bates is a notable exception to this trend, and represents a complete role reversal. Bates has a split personality, and both sides of that personality break from traditional views of villainy in film. As Norman Bates, he is a shy, boyishly handsome, and friendly (if a bit repressed) motel manager who takes care of his invalid mother and takes great care of the motel, changing the linens once a week “whether they’ve been slept in or not.” Norman enjoys taxidermy, a hobby which he enjoys because birds are passive, even when they’re alive. He leads a quiet, simple life of slow entropy. He is sometimes frustrated by his mother’s needs and her constant nagging, but he loves her very much and cannot imagine putting her in an institution.

As his mother, he is a jealous, nagging woman who finally resorts to murder when she feels threatened, either by a woman who attracts Norman, or by the private eye who comes to ask her questions and will surely find her out. She is vicious, violent, and cares little for the state of the world after she has killed, leaving the scene for Norman to clean up, which he does, and despite his horror and disgust at her actions, he does well. He can hardly stand the sight of blood on his hands, and washes them immediately after touching Marion’s corpse, but he can carry her body to the trunk of her own car and dispose of both in a swamp to protect his mother.

Norman is impressionable, often changing his attitude to get along with whoever is speaking to him, unsure, and melts under pressure. When questioned by Arbogast, he begins to stutter and his story, almost surely rehearsed, begins to melt in his mouth. He cannot be aggressive as Norman, and cannot even lie very well. We learn that he has killed in the past, using a classically feminine method that brings Madame Anna Sebastian to mind- poison. He’s also subtlely effeminate. He eats candy, picking it piece-by-piece from a bag. He is thin, pretty, and almost excessively composed. More importantly, he enjoys taxidermy, a hobby which also carries feminine facets. Norman points out that it is inexpensive; all he needs are “a needle and thread and some sawdust.” He stuffs things and sews them up. Taxidermy is only a step away from quilting!

Norman’s mother is stubborn, even self-destructively so. Before she is revealed as an alternate persona of Norman, she seems more like a vengeful Medea, striking at her victims with wild swings from a gigantic knife. Except when Norman carries her (or rather, her corpse) down the stairs, she seems like a large woman. The role-reversal is total; the male Norman uses words, bunglingly, to avoid confrontation, in an attempt at feminine coercion, while his mother persona takes care of her perceived enemies decisively and violently in a classically masculine style.

The purpose of this role reversal is largely up for debate, however, the story itself is based on actual events which occurred in the mid-1950s in Wisconsin, when a man named Ed Gein killed a series of women who looked like his mother, skinned them, and made clothes of their bodies. Hitchcock’s vision of the story, however, is set up in a way which makes the audience feel compassion, even sorrow for Bates. The later movies The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs are also based on the Gein case, but give the viewer no such sense of empathy. It is possible therefore, that Hitchcock is playing with the concept of identity in a way that has not been repeated in these other films. We are given clues in the movie to point us to the concept of Norman’s identity, or more accurately, his lack of identity.

The most obvious clue is near the end of the film, when the psychiatrist says “he was never all Norman.” Never is a long time. Could it be that Norman was so controlled as a child that he had no identity of his own, and that when his mother began to pay more attention to another man, Norman could only protect his incomplete self by destroying both her and her lover? Yes, it could. By killing his mother, Norman is able to imagine her as he pleases, or at least, as he always knew her to be. Because he has blocked the act of her murder from his mind, he is able to create an alternate identity in her place, thus complementing the half-life he would otherwise lead.

Another major clue that supports the theme of identity is in the film’s bird imagery. From the time that Norman refers to his mother as harmless as a stuffed bird, the audience is shown dozens of bird images, most of which do not seem to be harmless. Both Marion and Arbogast enter Norman’s bird room and look around immediately before they are killed. When Norman reenters Marion’s room and finds her dead, he knocks a picture of a bird off of the wall. These birds seem to be Norman’s mother’s calling-cards, but in reality, they are Norman's. Norman is the character in the film who most resembles a bird, not his mother. It is Norman who eats like a bird, picking candies out of a bag, it is Norman who is flighty, never sitting still, and attempts to hide or flee from situations, not his mother. Most of all, it is Norman who is passive. Only with the help of his mother persona can Norman exhibit masculine behaviors; when he is without the female presence of his mother, Norman is at his most feminine.
I once had the pleasure of spending fifteen minutes at a bar with the late, great Robert Bloch talking about movies, fiction, and peoples' misconceptions about what they both see and read.

Bloch told me -- as he did many other fans over the decades -- that he still had people come up to him and complain about how bloody and violent they found the shower scene in Hitchcock's film version of Bloch's novel Psycho. ("Thank God I didn't have her sitting on the toilet," Bloch always said.)

People complained about Janet Leigh's nudity and complained that seeing her naughty bits so offended their sensibilities; they complained about the excessive amounts of blood; and they complained, consistently, about the violence of seeing the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body over and over.

Go back and watch Psycho and pay particular attention to the shower sequence. Hitchcock -- aided greatly by the work of the brilliant film editor George Tomasini -- pulled off a dark magic trick that to my mind has yet to be equaled in American film: they made you believe you were seeing things that weren't actually depicted.

You do not see Janet Leigh's naughty bits. You do not see blood splattering all over everything. And you most definitely do not ever, even once, see the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body. But the sequence is so brilliantly filmed and edited that viewers were -- and some still are -- left with the impression that, dammit, they saw all of that.

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