Welcome to the Bates Motel, Hope You Enjoy Your Stay
Whilst there have been many influential horror movies made over the years there are two which are undoubtedly the most influential, John Carpenter's "Halloween" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". And in an amusing way it is Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" which was in fact influential when it came to John Carpenter's "Halloween" with the character name Sam Loomis and casting of Jamie Lee Curtis paying homage to Hitchcock's "Psycho". Not only that, "Psycho" ended up spawning a series of sequels, a remake and is probably one of the best known movies in history thanks to iconic elements such as the infamous shower scene and an exceptional performance from Anthony Perkins.
Following a midday liaison with her lover Sam (John Gavin - Spartacus), real estate secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh - The Naked Spur) returns to work and finds herself trusted with $40,000 in cash. Unable to resist the temptation she absconds with the money leaves the city hoping to use it to build a new life for herself and Sam. But after driving long and hard for a couple of days she decides to stop of at the Bates Motel where she meets the young owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins - North Sea Hijack) who lives with his domineering mother in the creepy old house overlooking the motel. When Marion's absence is noticed not only does her boss hire a detective to try and track her down but her sister Lila (Vera Miles - The Searchers) and Sam also set about trying to find the missing Marion.
"Psycho" actually starts out almost a little ordinary as Hitchcock sets about building up the character of Marion Crane. We get introduced to her in a cheap hotel room with her lover Sam Loomis and we soon learn that she longs to be able to spend more time with him. What follows builds upon this as she basically steals money from her boss and heads off in what we presume is a journey to start a new life with him. It has to be said that Hitchcock crafts this opening beautifully because there is an ambiguity about it, you are initially unsure whether Marion is stealing the money or just in a rush to spend the weekend with Sam and takes it with her. But then it develops and we discover that no, Marion Crane is stealing the money, a spur of the moment decision in the hope of finding happiness with her lover.
This build up culminates when after being hassled by a cop, and switching cars she finds herself pulling into the Bates Motel where she meets the owner Norman. Again Hitchcock handles this masterfully because are first feelings towards Norman is that he's a mummy's boy, someone who's never left home and basically does what he is told, happy in his own little life. But at the same time Hitchcock insinuates a creepiness about him, something underlying, unsettling about this young man who lives in a creepy old house on a hill with his mother.
Of course as we all know through one of cinema's most iconic scenes, Marion Crane gets knifed to death in the shower. A powerful and boundary pushing scene, actually series of scenes which the first time you see it has such an impact. I say boundary pushing because there are several elements a flushing toilet, naked flesh and a sheer visual ferocity to the murder which makes the shower scene both iconic and boundary pushing.
What is surprising is that the iconic shower scene comes halfway through the movie and Marion Crane, the character so meticulously built up during the first half of "Psycho" has been dispatched with and Hitchcock changes the focus to the character of Norman Bates. What follows is a look into the creepy world of Norman Bates as a detective, Sam Loomis and Marion's sister Lila try to track her down and discover that things are seriously wrong at the Bates Motel. And again what we watch and discover is boundary pushing as Hitchcock explores themes which prior to 1960 had never been shown in a movie. I'm not going to go into detail of this second half as whilst many know of the iconic shower scene before watching "Psycho" the outcome is not so well known although still iconic.
As you would expect being a Hitchcock movie "Psycho" is full of his little touches, clever camera angles, experimental styling but more importantly it's bleeding suspenseful. For that entire first half he builds up an atmosphere of not knowing what will happen and then shocks you with the shower scene. And during the second half he increases that level of suspense as we slowly discover more about the seemingly pleasant Norman Bates and his mother. "Psycho" is so well crafted that once it has you in its grip it doesn't let go, right up until the credits start to roll.
Whilst many remember "Psycho" for the performance of Janet Leigh as Marion Crane and her screaming in the powerful shower scene it really is the performance of Anthony Perkins which makes it such a brilliant movie. Perkins creates such a believable character, the nice young man, bossed about by a domineering mother yet there is something edgy about him, creepy, highly strung and slightly nervous. But it's those little mannerisms which makes it such a great character, the twitches and finger tapping as Sam Loomis questions him, the blank yet devious stare he gives. It's such a strong performance that playing the tortured Norman Bates changed the direction of Perkins career.
What this all boils down to is that "Psycho" some 50 years after it was released is still an amazing movie and so influential when it comes to horror. In the hands of Alfred Hitchcock he has created a movie which instils fear by not just being visual, which it is, but by playing on your mind exploring areas which were taboo and turning them into a tense, edge of your seat, iconic thriller. In many ways it's such a shame that so many people are aware of the iconic shower scene before watching "Psycho" these days because it lessens the impact but it doesn't spoil the clever storyline which follows.