Tuesday, December 28, 2010

As Far Away From Christmas as I Can Get

I hope everyone enjoyed the second annual 25 days of Christmas films...but now that its over, I am so glad to bid the Christmas movies farewell.  And in honor of that, I figured I would try to get as far away from Christmas as possible with tonight's choice.  However, before we get to that, I'd like to give a shout out to my family and the wonderful gifts I received.  You guys know about the mixer and pizza stone my mom gave me...but my Dad upped the kitchen ante with a set of new high-quality pans and my Uncle Mike gave me a hot water dispenser.  So now I've got a kitchen full of new appliances and a cabinet full of new cookware.  The chef in me is squealing with delight...in fact I cooked up a storm last night.  It was a nice change this year, I only got a few movies.  Most of my new ones I bought for myself after the fact.  Tonight in fact, I'm going to talk about one of my new purchases.  It is a classic in both mystery and horror circles, and is always a chilling tale for newcomers.  Also, it ruined showers and motels for just about every skittish person in the world.  So dim the lights, lock the doors, and make sure to watch out for intruders as we revisit Alfred Hitchcock's and Robert Bloch's macabre Psycho.

Marion Crane is a real estate agent's secretary living in Phoenix who is dissatisfied with her life.  She has a wonderful boyfriend, but he cannot marry her due to his debts and his ex-wife's alimony.  Her job is dull and unfulfilling, and she never seems to be able to get a break.  However, the answer to her problems seems to land in her lap when her employer takes a cash payment of $40,000 dollars from his latest client and entrusts Marion with its deposit in the bank.  She skips out with the deposit and a claim of a headache and then heads home to pack her bags and leave town with the money.  It all seems like the perfect plan, but Marion is not the perfect thief.  She runs into her boss on the street on her drive out of town, gets followed by a policeman, and acts very suspicious when she trades her car for another one.  Suddenly stealing the money doesn't seem like a great idea, so when a small motel appears out of the dark rainy night, she sees it as a sign to stop and think about her choices.  While at the Bates Motel, she meets Norman Bates (owner and proprietor) and feels sympathy for his solitary existence and the way his mother treats him (she overhears them having a fight).  As anyone who's seen the film knows, I cannot say anymore lest I spoil the grand plot twists therein.

Psycho was a film that almost never happened.  Robert Bloch's original novel was thought of as a decent chiller by some reviewers at the time, but most thought it was simply a pulp work with no merit.  However, Hitchcock saw potential in the book and optioned it.  Then there were problems with the script.  The first draft by one writer was dull and boring (if you can imagine a boring telling of this story) and Hitch had to find someone to give the story the edge it needed.  Enter Joseph Stefano who made several changes to the story to make it work better as a film.  First, he changed Norman's character from a balding, overweight, pervert in his 40s to a young, mild-mannered man in his mid to late 20s to make the audience like him and identify with him more.  He also changed the beginning of the story.  In the book, the story starts with Norman and then introduces Mary (Marion in the film) before having a flashback explaining how she ends up at the motel.  For the film, Stefano begins with Marion's story so that the audience thinks the movie is about her and not that the story is about Norman.  When Hitch heard this approach he simply said "We could get a star to play that part," and Stefano knew he had the job.  The script is not the only thing that's good about Psycho.  Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins are still talked about today for their performances while Bernard Herrmann's haunting score still sends chills up my spine.  Its an excellent movie where every element works.  If you want a good thrill, turn this one on.  You'll love it.  (P.S. Leave your nasty comments about the remake at the door, I happen to like it too)

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