31 Days Of Horror: Psycho

It’s the thirty-first and last day of the horrorthon – Hallowe’en itself – and so I’m finishing with the grandfather of slasher horror, the original Psycho (1960).

Psycho
Classic imagery!

After the awesomely Herrmann-scored opening credits, we get a rather specific caption reading ‘Phoenix, Arizona, Friday December 11, 2:43pm’, which places the setting as 1959 rather than the release year of 1960.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her boyfriend Sam Loomis (he who Dr Sam Loomis from Halloween was named after!) are meeting for an illicit ‘lunch’ in a hotel.  Marion is done with being secretive, but the relationship is difficult, seemingly because of Sam’s ex-wife and money issues.

Marion goes back to work to find that her boss is making a good deal today – a client is buying a house as a wedding present for his daughter, paying with $40,000 in cash.  ‘He was flirting with you!  I guess he must have noticed my wedding ring,’ says the other secretary when the men go to the back room for a meeting.  Marion’s boss asks her to put the money in the safe deposit box at the bank, ’cause he’s nervous about keeping it in the office over the weekend.  Marion says she has a headache, and gets permission to go home after putting the money in the bank.

Marion doesn’t put the money in the bank.  Instead, she takes it home and packs a suitcase instead, seemingly deciding to steal the money and travel to Sam’s office in California.  As she drives out of town, her boss sees her in her car.

In the morning, a policeman bangs on the window of Marion’s car, where she’s been sleeping.  She’s nervous while being questioned, which arouses suspicion in the policeman, and when she goes to trade in her car for a new one in order to cover her tracks, she sees the policeman watching her.  She insists on rushing the purchase, much to the car salesman’s confusion, and just about escapes before the policeman catches up with her.

I like the mechanic of Marion imagining what people will say about the situation as she drives!  It’s really nicely done.  At this point, the rain gets too heavy for the windscreen wipers and Marion pulls into the Bates Motel.

The proprietor, Norman, says they’ve lost a lot of business since the highway moved away.  He comes across as really normal and a bit dorky – he invites Marion to eat with him, and goes to prepare a meal.  While Marion sorts stuff out in her room and hides the cash in a newspaper she bought earlier, she overhears a loud argument up at the house between Norman and his mother – the mother is very old-fashioned/unpleasant and doesn’t want Norman consorting in any way with women.

Norman returns, and they eat in the office to avoid his mother.  He takes Marion into a creepy parlour full of stuffed birds, and starts to reveal his weirdness.  ‘You eat like a bird,’ he says, but then immediately imparts the random factoid about birds that they actually eat quite a lot.  However, he says he’s not an expert on birds – taxidermy is his hobby.

The conversation turns to Norman’s mother and the fact he doesn’t have any friends.  ‘A boy’s best friend is his mother,’ he says, which should ring instant alarm bells.  He explains that his mother is mentally ill, but gets upset and mad-looking when Marion suggests putting her in an institution.  He says she’s harmless, just a bit mad, and ‘we all go a little mad sometimes’.

Marion has decided to go back to Phoenix and try to make things right.  As she says goodnight to Norman, she tells him her name’s Miss Crane, contradicting the guest signatory book where she signed her name as ‘Marie Samuels’.

After spying on Marion getting changed through a creepy peephole that he’s set up in the office, Norman goes back to the house.  Marion does her sums, working out on paper how much she’ll have to make to pay back the $40,000 in full, then rips up the paper and flushes it down the toilet.  She then gets ready for a shower, and we all know where this is going.

There’s not much to say about the infamous shower scene that’s not been said before, but I do like the fact that when Janet Leigh screams she looks just like her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.

‘Mother, oh god, mother, blood, blood!’  Norman finds Marion’s body and immediately sets about covering up the murder.  He puts Marion’s body and possessions in her car – including the money in the newspaper, which he thinks is just a newspaper – and pushes the car into a nearby swamp.

Cut to Sam at his shop in Fairvale, California, where he’s writing a letter to Marion.  Marion’s sister Lila arrives looking for him, along with the private investigator Arbogast, who has been put on the case because Marion’s boss doesn’t want to involve the police – he just wants the money back.  Arbogast is convinced she’s in Fairvale and that Sam knows where she is.  He proceeds to ask around at every hotel and boarding house in town.

Two days later, Arbogast arrives at the Bates Motel, which is apparently near Fairvale – this was not really made clear earlier, and I hadn’t realised Marion had got so close to her destination.  Norman claims there’s been nobody staying there for two weeks, but quickly gets caught out by contradicting himself – he’s not a very good liar.  Arbogast is good at baiting people, causing Norman to burst out at one point, ‘She didn’t fool my mother!’, meaning Arbogast naturally wants to talk to the mother.  Norman won’t let him, and Arbogast leaves, saying he’ll go and get a warrant.

Arbogast calls Lila to tell her about the Bates Motel.  He tells her he’s going back to see if he can talk to the mother, and will join them in about an hour.  He’s now sure that Sam didn’t know Marion was in town.  Returning to the motel, Arbogast finds that Norman’s not around.  He goes up the stairs in the house, but immediately gets attacked and killed by Mrs Bates.

Three hours later, Lila and Sam are getting worried.  Sam goes alone to check out the motel, telling Lila to wait in the shop.  Norman hears Sam calling for Arbogast, but doesn’t approach him.  Sam returns to Lila without having found anyone, and suggests they speak to Al Chambers, the local deputy sheriff.

Chambers thinks that Arbogast must have got a lead and gone after the $40,000 without telling them.  He also tells them that Mrs Bates has been dead for ten years – she killed her lover and herself in a murder-suicide.  Meanwhile, at the Bates house, Norman insists on moving his mother down to the fruit cellar, despite her angry protests.

The next day, at church, Lila and Sam bump into Chambers and his wife again.  They say they’ve been over to the motel, searched the whole place and the house, and found nothing – no mother.  Once they’ve gone, Lila insists to Sam that they go to the motel again.  She suspects Norman murdered Marion to steal the $40,000.

Checking into the hotel as a married couple, Lila and Sam search the room where Marion stayed.  Lila finds Marion’s sums in the toilet, but it’s not enough evidence.  She’s sure there’s more to find, though, and they decide that Sam will distract Norman while Lila goes looking for the old woman in the house.  Lila finds nobody in Mrs Bates’ room, but does find a fetching array of old lady dressing gowns and the impression of a body on the bed.

Norman is not at all forthcoming in his conversation with Sam, in contrast to his previous chatty self when he was with Marion, and gets annoyed at Sam’s suggestion that he would move the motel to a more profitable location if he could.  Sam starts accusing Norman, which is a pretty daft idea when Lila’s in a vulnerable position.  Norman whacks Sam with a vase and goes to find Lila, causing her to hide in the fruit cellar and find Mrs Bates, who turns out to be a decomposed skeleton in a great reveal that has been often copied but never equalled!  Norman comes in with a mad face and a knife, dressed as his mother, and nearly kills Lila, but Sam shows up and overpowers him.

At the police station, the resident psychiatrist has got the whole story from ‘Mrs Bates’, who has completely taken over Norman’s mind.  This means that the psychiatrist can spend about ten minutes explaining the whole plot to everyone, like at the end of a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie story!

Finally, we get a creepy scene with the possessed Norman, who, as his mother, believes the authorities will never think the murders were committed by a defenceless old woman.  ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!’  Roll credits.

Great film, great HD Blu-ray transfer, great way to end the horrorthon.  I’ll be watching some more horror films next year!

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