Friday, 3 March 2017

Psycho (1960)

Fig 1: Poster

Alfred Hitchcock' Psycho (1960) is a thriller, slasher, mystery, psychological horror and horror film. The story starts with Marionand her lover Sam agreeing about their future together, just before Sam is about to leave the town for a business trip to Phoenix. Marion returns to work as secretary, where one of the clients, Cassidy keeps bragging about the many and how it is not a problem for him. Marion is tasked to put the money into the bank, but due to her uncertain future, she decides to steal the money and leave everything behind. On her way to the town where Sam lives, she seems to be followed by a police man, but she does not get caught. At the second night, she stops at a motel, where she meets Norman, a very shy and kind man, who claims to be the owner. He offers to dine with her and she takes upon the offer, and it seems that Norma takes interest in her, however she overhears Normans mother shouting about her displease with young women. That night Marion decides to return to her town and face the consequences, before its too late. Later that night, when she is taking a shower a mysterious figure of an old woman attacks her with a knife, killing Marion. Norman is shocked and left with the cleaning up after the murder, and he disposes of the body in a nearby lake with everything that belonged to Marion (including the huge amount of money, he does not know about). A week later, Sam is in his office, when Marion's sister Lila and a private investigator are both questioning Marion's whereabouts. They all decide to start searching for her, and as the private investigator, Arbogast stops at the motel, he asks Norman if he could talk to Mother Mates, but Norman refuses. So later he phones up Sam and Lila and tells them everything he found out and decides to sneak into the house and talk with the old woman. As he searches the house for her, he is stabbed to death. Sam and Lilia, both travel to the motel and pretend to be a couple, as they search for further clues. Sam keeps Norman distracted, while Lila searches the house, finding the corpse of an old woman, Mrs. Bates's. As she screams is shock, Norman appears behind her, dressed as his mother, in a wig waving the knife, but Sam arrives in time and stops him. Later, as they sit in the County Court House office, a psychiatrist explains everything he heard from 'Mother' as 'Norman' does not exist anymore ans is overtaken by the other personality.
Fig 2: Corpse of Mrs. Bates

"Psycho was adapted from a novel that was based on the case of Ed Gein, the demented murderer and graverobber from rural Wisconsin who became the first — and still most legendary — of all modern serial killers." (Gleiberman, 2009) The film was based on a real case that has happened in the past, but as in real life what has happened were much more gruesome. The real case and the film share the fact that the men were very nice and well behaved, however they both shared a dark side. They both tried to keep their mothers alive after her death and often pretended to be the mother. Knowing that the film was based on real events, makes it that much more chilling and could possibly make some audience members fear it more. However, while Ed's story is rather filled with human bodes and bloody horror, the adaptation by Hitchcock relies more on the psychological part of the vents and the man's obsession with his dead mother, as his personality and mind split to keep her alive, which lead to complete madness when the mother took over.
Fig 3: Norman as 'Mother'

"But the most measurable and seismic effect that Psycho had was on the horror genre itself. Before Psycho, horror movies were “monster” movies. They were fantasies in which men battled supernatural creatures — or turned into them. ... Psycho revolutionized all that. Here was a horror film in which the “monster” lived inside the head of one man — poor, schmucky Norman Bates, the mamma’s boy with a black secret." (Gleiberman, 2009) Looking back at movies before Psycho, most horror movies shared a very common fact, which is that the 'villains' were monsters, such as strange  and dangerous/murderous creatures. The public was used to the unreal tales of monsters, which even though could be scary and make the audience scream in fear, but at the end they knew that these creatures are not real and are only made up. However, Hitchcock turned an ordinary man into a 'monster' with the split personality and the raging, disturbed and damaged mind. This in fact could be less scream worthy in the theatres, but could be more haunting, knowing that it could happen to anyone at any time and someone might just be the victim of a person like that.
Fig 4: 'We all go a little mad sometimes'

"In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock not only created a blazing masterpiece and spawned a new cinematic genre – the slasher. He also delivered one of the boldest blows in screen history. It was not just how he killed Janet Leigh's Marion Crane, astonishing though that was – it was when." (Monahan, 2015) This film is a huge success and is still said to be one of the greatest horror film of all time as well as Hitchcock's masterpiece. He created suspense and general uneasiness throughout the whole film, with numerous unexpected twists. One of the biggest and a very famous scene is when Marion is killed in the shower. Firstly it is a quite violent death scene and she is naked, while the camera is blurry and moves fast, which creates a very vulnerable hopeless feeling. This death works with a quite common fear of people, of them being attacked in the shower, which makes this particular scene much shocking to witness. Secondly, we are introduced to this character from the beginning of the film and the audience started to feel sympathy and empathy towards her, as we know who is she, why is she here and why she did what she did. Knowing some of her past helps bonding the character and the audience, so when the director decides to kill her of at only about 40 minutes into the movie, the audience looses the heroine/main character, which leaves them questioning that what will happen next. Furthermore, it takes away a sense of safeness from the film, as the audience is used to the protagonist not dying or only at the end (usually is a very emotional way and/or for a heroic action) and leave a feeling behind that anything bad can happen at any moment.
Fig 5: Shower scene

"It is with Marion's character that Hitchcock first introduces the notion of a split personality to the audience. Throughout the first part of the film, Marion's reflection is often noted in several mirrors and windows." (Novelguid, s.d.) Although, Marion's personality is not noticeably split, it is rather a fight with herself, as a part of her keeps telling her that steeling the money was not right. Her struggles and internal war with self is often highlighted, such as when she makes the final decision to take the money, the camera focuses on the object than cuts to her unsure face. A more obvious and actual split personality is displayed on Norman, as he tries to keep his mother alive within his mind. 

"As Marion shudders while hearing Norman's mother yell at him, the audience's suspicions are heightened as Hitchcock has, at this point, made Marion the vital link between the audience and the plot. The initial confrontation between Marion and Norman Bates is used by Hitchcock to subtly and slowly sway the audience's sympathy from Marion to Norman. Hitchcock compels the audience to identify with the quiet and shy character whose devotion to his invalid mother has cost him his own identity." (Novelguid, s.d.) From the beginning of the film, the audience's and Marion's connection is slowly built up and even though we know that steeling the money is wrong, but the audience also knows her motives, which makes them be able to look past the crime. However, when the audience is introduced to Norman and we see how shy and nice he is, we already start to form a bond with the character.As the film spends more time with Norman on screen, the audience might start to feel more sympathy towards the young man, which makes it a shock at the end to reveal that he is the one indeed who murdered Marion and Arbogast. But as the psychiatrist explains that he has a split personality, it could explain why some might still feel sympathy towards him, even after he is arrested, as it is made clear that his kind personality is the one we feel connected with and not 'Mother', the murderous, mischievous and more psycho part. What brings the audience to bond or even like Norman is his innocent and boyish behaviour, while when 'Mother' is shown at the end, that personality seems very dominant and commanding, overtaking the weaker side, which causes a sense of uneasiness, with the sinister voice and grin. "Earlier that evening, he'd invited her to supper: "I don't set a fancy table, my kitchen's awful homey!" Perkins turns the second syllable of "homey" into a weird, bashful, gulping little laugh, with a vulnerable, boyish grin. ... Later, we will see his second grin, his mother's grin: sinister and predatory and defiant, bared at the audience directly." (Bradshaw, 2012)

Fig 6: Norman smiling

Fig 7: 'Mother' grinning


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