Psycho is the ultimate spine tingler and also the reason people lock their bathroom doors when taking a shower. At the time of release it received mixed reviews, but was an outstanding box office succes; there are stories of three mile lines at drive in theatre. The film’s popularity has not waned, even now, almost fifty years after it’s original release it is as popular as ever.
Even people who have never seen the film are aware of the story, in particular the infamous shower scene (arguably one of the greatest and memorable movie scenes of all time) and the dead mother in the basement.
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Marion Crane steals $40, 000 from her employer and flees to meet her lover Sam Loomis in California. After getting caught in a storm, she pulls in at the secluded Bates Motel.
As she is the only guest, and the nearest diner is miles away, the manager Norman Bates invites her to eat dinner with him at his eerie house which stands atop a hill overlooking the motel. After Norman has a heated argument with his elderly, sick mother who questions his motives with Marion, they decide to eat in his office instead.
One of Norman’s passions is taxidermy and the office os filled with stuffed birds of prey. A discussion about these leads Marion to resolve to return to Phoenix, hand back the money and make ammends with her boss.
On returning to her room, she takes a shower, as Norman spies on her through a ppephole form his office. As she enjoys her shower, a figure dressed in woman’s clothing (we later learn that this is Norman) stbs her to death.
Marion’s sister Lila hires insurance investigator Milton Arbagast to find missing Marion. Arbagast heads to the motel where he uncovers sime nasty secrets.
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Behind the Story
The film was based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch, which was inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. In the novel Norman Bates is a chubby, older and unlikeable man, which is hard to imagine after Anthony Perkins did so well at making the role his own in the film. It was Hitchcock who decided to make him younger, more handsome and more sympathetic.
The legendary shower scene, is a powerful piece of cinema. Even though, it appears tame by modern ’slasher movie’ standards (you don’t actually see the stabbing) the power of suggestion makes it all the more gory. What happens in the viewers imagination is far worse than anything that could ever be shown.
There are no screams in the shower scene. The string instrumental by Bernard Hermann provides the entire sound for this scene. Hitchcock himself credited 30% of the film’s success to the score.
For it’s time, Psycho really pushed the envelope of censorship. It was the first American movie to ever feature a flushing toilet; Marion Crane appears several times in her underwear and the dialogue contains the word ‘transvestite’.
Hitchcock cameos as a man wearing a cowboy hat outside Marion’s office. He made appearances in almost all of his films. Towards the end of his career, he made them early on so as not to distract audiences from the story by looking for him!