Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Startling For 55 Years

In 1957, author Robert Bloch wrote a novel so intriguing, it caught the eye of cinematic mastermind Alfred Hitchcock. Determined to complete his movie, he payed just over nine-thousand dollars for the story, and began to put his plan into action. By 1960, he completed what was to become one of the most iconic Horror movies to date. That film was the unforgettable cinema gem known as Psycho, which received a widespread release on Thursday, September 8th of 1960.

Still from Psycho
Still from Psycho

Based on a novel inspired by the situation of Ed Gein, a strong cast personified this story with such brilliant vigor, they had their immediate audience fleeing the aisles. This group included Anthony Perkins, at age twenty-seven a stage and screen veteran, in the role of motel keeper Norman Bates, Janet Leigh as ill-fated lodger Marion Crane, Vera Miles as Leigh’s concerned sister, rising star John Gavin as Leigh’s boyfriend Sam Loomis, and Martin Balsam as doomed Detective Milton Arbogast. Hitchcock was already well-known for his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1940’s Rebecca, 1954’s Rear Window, and many more. His marketing tactics upon the release of Psycho proved to be his most anticipated picture yet. In order to keep the infamous twist a secret, Hitchcock purchased and withheld as many books as he could find, and would not allow anyone into the theater once the picture started. A high intrigue among the public, lines wrapped around buildings, breaking records in its first fifteen engagements. The film grossed approximately seven million, the highest in Hitchcock’s career.

Still from Psycho
Still from Psycho

The story begins with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh: Touch of Evil 1958, The Manchurian Candidate 1962), a secretary from Phoenix who steals $40,000 from her employers client, a desperate attempt at a better life for her and her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). On the run, she finds herself seeking shelter at the Bates Motel, run by a peculiar man named Norman, whose crazed and jealous mother can be heard from the nearby house. Marion unfortunately does not make it through the night, meeting her demise in the infamous shower scene. A week or so later, Marion’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles: The Searchers 1956, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962), along the with help of Sam and private investigator Detective Milton Arbogast, look into her disappearance. Their search only raises more questions, especially when Arbogast goes missing. Determined for answers, Lila and Sam take matters into their own hands, and eventually discover the truth behind Norman Bates and his overly controlling mother.

Still from Psycho
Still from Psycho

Beside the ending twist, the most talked about scene was Leigh’s murder while in the shower. It took seven days to shoot, with multiple cameras set up to capture every angle. In a memoir reminiscing of making the film, Leigh revealed that she took baths only, a habit she continued until the end of her days. Although the most suspenseful moment of the film, the shower scene was not very violent. Good angles, clever music, and artful intercutting displayed the iconic moment. Hitchcock was actually not pleased with the footage, until he heard the suspenseful music by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane 1941, The Twilight Zone series), an additive that sealed this scene into the minds of the audience.

Anthony Perkins was perfect for the part of Norman Bates. Being both charming and eerie, it is still his most memorable role to date. It is possible he could somewhat relate to the character, being a boy who was raised by a single mother, Janet Esselstyn. His father, Osgood Perkins, passed when he was five. As far as playing the role, some may argue it followed Perkins his entire career. Once considered a heartthrob, the talented young actor was forever associated with the character of Norman Bates for the rest of his career.

As far as Hitchcock, Psycho could be considered his crown achievement in a career that set the standard for Suspense with all-time greats including 1958’s Vertigo and 1964’s The Birds, among others. The plethora of film directors Psycho inspired is endless and within the series itself, it spawned Richard Franklin directed Psycho II in 1983, Perkins directed Psycho III in 1986, and finally, Mick Garris’ directed Psycho IV: The Beginning in 1990. There was even an attempt to remake the film in 1998 by Gus Van Sant with a then rising star, Vince Vaughn (Swingers 1996,  Wedding Crashers 2005), portraying Norman Bates. Sadly, the re-visioning fell short, and was considered a failure at the box office.

Still from Psycho
Still from Psycho

The grandfather of today’s Horror genre, the original Psycho leaves an impression so deeply embedded in people’s minds, it continues to impact film makers in modern entertainment. In fact, Anthony Hopkins (The Elephant Man 1980, The Silence of the Lambs 1991)  and Helen Mirren (The Queen 2006, Monsters University 2013) starred in 2012’s Hitchcock, an adaptation of the filmmaker’s marriage during his thirty day trial filming Psycho. Proving the concept can successfully be adapted into modern times, the popular television series of A & E’s Bates Motel was launched in 2013. Starring Vera Farmiga (Orphan 2009, The Conjuring 2013) as Norma Bates and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005, The Spiderwick Chronicles 2008) as an exceptional Norman Bates, Bates Motel has been a hit and returns for its fourth season in early 2016. A complex, sometimes sympathetic character, the blast from the past proves Norman Bates is still an impactful figure on entertainment society today.

For Horror fans new and old, Psycho is a must see. It is a perfect masterpiece throughout, born into a time when the audience had to use their imagination. Hitchcock’s meticulousness truly paid off, his attention to every detail, including his marketing routine, set a historic stone in its genre. Sparking sequels, remakes, a hit television show, and generations terrified of taking a shower, it is safe to say Mrs Bates and Norman are not going anywhere for awhile.

psycho poster
Paramount Pictures

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