Hitchcock's 'Psycho' returns to movie theaters as testament of frightfully good filmmaking
House of secrets
55 years after its release, this masterpiece still reverberates
A young man’s strange, motherly obsessions form the core of a landmark film released 55 years ago.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho” -- shot in stark black and white -- jolted audiences with chilling imagery and unorthodox narrative.
“Psycho” is returning to the big screen on Sunday, Sept. 20, and Wednesday, Sept. 23, in more than 550 movie theaters across the United States.
“This is one of the most influential films ever made,” said Dann Gire, president of the Chicago Film Critics Association. “The impact of this film cannot be underestimated. It subverted the conventions of storytelling.”
The special showings of Hitchcock’s masterpiece are set for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time on both Sept. 20 and 23.
They are presented by Colorado-based Fathom Events and television’s Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Ben Mankiewicz, TCM host, will provide an on-screen introduction for the classic. "Psycho," rated R, is being brought to screens via Fathom's digital broadcast network.
Gire said that one way Hitchcock fiddled with cinematic tradition was to introduce Janet Leigh -- playing Marion Crane -- as the heroine or protagonist who faces an enthralling moral, and legal, predicament.
“Then, 45 minutes into the movie, she’s dead,” Gire noted.
Audiences at the time expected main, likable characters to be around much longer.
Known for its gritty depiction of the stabbing murder of a woman in a shower at a creepy, remote motel, “Psycho” -- in some ways -- had the feel of a low-budget horror-suspense film.
But it was released by a major studio -- Paramount Pictures -- and had a famous, established director in Hitchcock at the helm.
Much of the film’s violence is in the mind’s eye.
Gire points out that in the taut shower scene, the assailant’s blade is never actually shown penetrating Marion Crane’s body.
But the footage is still graphic because it is accompanied by the sound effect of a casaba melon being stabbed, according to Gire.
He likewise noted that chocolate syrup was enlisted to represent blood in the shower scene, which took seven days to film, according to TCM.
The 1960 motion picture was shot in black and white, as opposed to color, as a way to “soften the gore” and avoid showing bright red blood that may have been too disconcerting for audiences, Gire said.
“You’re already killing a naked woman in front of everybody,” reasoned the film critic for the Daily Herald newspaper in suburban Chicago.
Ben Clement, a screenwriter, recalls seeing “Psycho” for the first time in Gary, Ind.
“It was screened at West Side High School,” he said. “It was the most frightening motion picture I’d ever seen.”
Clement believes the writing and narrative sets the thriller apart from other similar works in the horror-suspense genre.
“Psychologically, it really toys with the audience,” said the executive director of the Gary Office of Film and Television. “The storytelling is what creates the fear it induces in the audience.”
In a twisted way, Hitchcock prompts moviegoers to build up an affinity for the mild-mannered -- but mysterious -- Norman Bates, portrayed by Anthony Perkins.
Hitchcock “got ordinary, regular people to be on the side of the psycho killer,” Gire said.
Despite simmering emotions and his odd relationship with mom, there are relatable attributes of Bates, according to Gire.
“He’s a really nice guy; he gets a sandwich for Marion Crane,” Gire noted. “He’s protecting his mother. You sympathize with him.”
When Norman tries to dispose of Marion’s corpse that is in her car’s trunk, he goes to a swampy area to sink the vehicle.
Strangely, audience members might subconsciously feel sorry for the villainous Norman when he’s taken aback by the sight of the car not completely sinking below the surface.
“The bog isn’t taking the car completely down, and you’re going, ‘Oh, it’s gotta go down!’ -- but yet, you hate Norman,” said Wes Gehring, a film professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Gire said “Psycho” also managed to fuel the “sexual attraction equals death” theme in future slasher/horror movies.
That plot element seemingly punishes sexual urges.
“Psycho” likewise rocked the boat 55 years ago by merely showing a toilet bowl in a scene that finds Marion ripping up a note and then flushing it, according to Gire.
Visit http://www.fathomevents.com/event/psycho for a complete list of theater locations that have “Psycho” scheduled for the September showings.
The website can also be used for ticket information and buying tickets online.