Before we begin, I should point out that this preview contains spoilers. Although I'm almost certain that anyone who happens to stumble upon this piece will have already seen the film in question, as it is perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of cinema ever created.
This weekend, FACT is showing one of the original slasher films, which could easily (for those of you with a darker sense of humour) have found itself scheduled one week earlier in the Mother's Day 'Vintage Sunday' time slot. Any ideas? Psycho. You know, Psycho, the one about the middle-aged, bespectacled, ginger man who runs a motel in Fairville, California. No? Well I would have been with you until very recently, however I have just finished reading the novel by Robert Bloch, which was first published in 1959 and contains a slightly different version of Norman Bates than the character we recognize today from the film.
I first saw Hitchcock's voyeuristic classic at the tender age of nine years old, and I remember that BBC 2 had a season dedicated to 'Hitch to commemorate his 100th birthday. I had heard about the film's importance in cinematic history, so unbeknownst to Mother, I crawled downstairs post-bedtime in the dark of the night and recorded the film onto a blank, decoy VHS tape, which was labeled '1960's Batman'.
The next morning, I arose with great anticipation and watched the film in short and calculated segments so as to avoid detection from the family elders. Luckily, my tactics worked and I never viewed a film in the same way again: Psycho had set the benchmark. The direction, casting, score, editing, end twist and of course that scene, all pieced together to create what can only be described as cinematic perfection. Obviously as the years have gone by, I came to comprehend and appreciate just how impressive all of the previous factors were and still are; my nine-year-old self was certainly more excited about the thrill ride on offer rather than the mise-en-scene.
Since my initial viewing I have been lucky enough to visit the actual Bates Motel set on location at Universal Studios in Hollywood, I have also watched the three sequels (Psycho II being very underrated) and more recently the TV series prequel, which is just about to commence its third season. Only in the last fortnight, however, have I read Bloch's novel. I was surprised to find that apart from the characterisation of Norman and a few details here and there, the film is extremely faithful to the book. I believe that Hitchcock's shifting of Norman from an overweight, forty-something, to a young, slender and stuttering, boy-next-door type only enhances the horror of what's to come, as he is transformed into the quintessential American young man - the true horror of the story. Psycho dragged the genre by its heels into our everyday world from the realms of ghosts, monsters and aliens which audiences had become all too familiar with.
Robert Bloch's pulp fiction story was a simple yet shocking tale of greed, stagnation and circumstance, very much driven by character rather than plot (the $40,000 perhaps being the most easily recognisable macguffin in any modern day piece of fiction). The massive gamble Hitchcock took on producing this picture himself without any major investment from the studios of the era, ultimately paid off with rewards far greater than he could have imagined. The grainy black & white images in a decade when colour was the norm only adds to Bloch's world and the 'dirty' atmosphere within.
Psycho is a film I have seen countless times and I could probably recite a good 90% of it unaided, yet I have never experienced it on the big screen as it was originally intended and that is the main reason why I cannot wait for this Sunday to come around.
So whether you are a Bates veteran like myself, or if you're new to this world and want in, I'll see you on Sunday, because I'm as excited as I was when I first popped that sneaky VHS into my player back in the late 90's.
Psycho will be screened on 22 March as part of Vintage Sundays. Tickets available soon.