Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Goosebump Moment -- Psycho (1960)

Where better to start the month-long walk through of my favorite scary and other Halloween-themed movies and tv shows than with the scene that gave birth to the modern horror movie.

Now, everyone knows about the Psycho shower has become a part of American pop culture, and as such, has been parodied to the point where it has lost its ability to shock.

So, I'm telling you to watch it again. But first, imagine that you're in a theatre in 1960 seeing this for the first time.

Here's the set-up (and like most of my posts this month, spoilers abound):

Janet Leigh is Marion Crane, a sweet but slutty bank secretary who steals a bunch of money to run away with her married boyfriend. For nearly the first hour of the movie, she is in every shot, and much of the time in some state of undress (seriously, essays have been written about the significance of when she changes from a white bra to a black one).

Prior to Psycho, Janet Leigh was known primarily for lighthearted comedies, costume dramas, and for being Tony Curtis' (R.I.P.) wife. And although today Alfred Hitchcock is often (mistakenly) associated with horror, in 1960 he was known for lighthearted suspense movies and for his droll introductions to his weekly TV series.

So, here we are in 1960 when married couples on TV still slept in separate beds, and Psycho opens with Janet Leigh in her (white) bra wrapping up a lunchtime quickie with shirtless John Saxon (see the poster above). What follows is like an extended episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- there are no horrific overtones at all -- just a suspenseful drama as she steals the money and gets paranoid that everyone is on to her.

Then about 45 minutes in, the movie effectively grinds to a halt as she gets lost in the rain and stops to spend the night at the Bates Motel. She has a long conversation with the odd but polite motel manager Norman, who is stuck taking care of his cranky mother. She realizes that she has made a mistake and decides to return the money the next day. As the clip above starts, we've just seen Norman peep on her while she strips out of her clothes (!) to take a shower. Then in quick succession we see her flush a toilet (!!) and get naked in front of us (!!!).

Remember, no one at this point knew what the movie was really about....they were likely titillated by what they were seeing.... a couple minutes and 70+ camera edits later they were likely reeling in their seats.....

Tomorrow: Brian DePalma pays homage to Psycho and proms are never the same....

No comments: