"A boy's best friend is his mother."
"It is absolutely required that you see Psycho from the very beginning!"Psycho
, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
, was released in 1960.
It has two big famous plot twists; at the time, Hitchcock went to great lengths to keep them secret (including an ad pleading "Don't give away the ending — it's the only one we have"), but these days, most people know about both through Popcultural Osmosis even if they know nothing else about the film
begins as a crime thriller Film Noir
: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals a large amount of cash from her employer and sets out for California, where she plans to hook up with her lover and start a new life. She stops for the night at the out-of-the-way Bates Motel, run by Momma's Boy
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives with his domineering mother in a house behind the hotel.
Twist #1: As Marion has a shower in her hotel room, a dimly-glimpsed knife-wielding maniac suddenly appears and stabs her to death in the film's most famous and oft-parodied scene.
After that, Psycho
changes gears into something more along the lines of a psychological horror story (while retaining a few noir elements). The rest of the film follows the investigation into Marion's disappearance, first by a detective hired to recover the money she stole, and then, after he also falls victim to the knife-wielding psycho, by Marion's lover and her sister. It appears that Norman's mother may be killing off any woman he shows an interest in (the local sheriff mentions two other unsolved disappearances of young women in the area). This leads into...
Twist #2: Norman's mother has been dead for years. Her domination is now entirely in his head, a split personality with the persona of his mother. It is Norman, under the influence of this personality, who has been committing the murders. Though the Mrs. Bates personality insists that Norman is the real killer because she can't move.
Being such a popular movie, it naturally spawned three sequels (one being made-for-TV) that few know exist. Despite Sequelitis
naturally setting in, they received better reviews than expected:
- Psycho II (1983). Norman is released from a mental institution after decades of incarceration. He is cured but relatives of his victims conspire to drive him insane again, hoping to have him re-committed. Score composed by Jerry Goldsmith. This is not based on Robert Bloch's 1982 novel of the same name, which has a completely different plot which Universal flatly refused to film. Given that among other things it has a scene where many of the male movie stars of the day are portrayed as gaynote - not to mention the whole "Norman vanishes at an early stage before his fate is revealed towards the end of the book, and oh yeah he was killed" thing - you can see why.
- Psycho III (1986). Norman is involved with Maureen Coyle, a mentally unstable former nun. Her suicidal tendencies confuse him... just as "Mother" starts up her old habits again. Directed by Anthony Perkins himself.
- Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990): Norman has been rehabilitated and lives with his girlfriend Connie. He panics when he learns that Connie is pregnant, fearing that the child will inherit his mental illness. The film explores his younger years and his problematic relationship with his mother.
There was also an unrelated 1987 TV movie, Bates Motel
, involving a man who'd befriended Norman while being institutionalized with him, and on his release learns that the now-deceased Norman has willed the motel to him.
In 1998, Gus Van Sant released an almost shot-by-shot remake starring Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn. To the extent that it was the same as the original, it was widely regarded as pointless, and to the extent that it was different, it was widely regarded as inferior (probably the most notable difference being a shot of Norman masturbating
and a gratuitous scene of Viggo Mortensen
's butt). But the fact that somebody thought it might be a good idea suggests what a big place the original film has in the public memory. Indeed, Van Sant may have been doing us a favor: in his own words, he did it "so no-one else would have to". Look at the current trend of horror-film remakes (The Amityville Horror
, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
, Halloween (2007)
, The Hitcher
, Friday the 13th (2009)
, and even a new version of Hitchcock's own The Birds
came close to getting made at one point), and you'll notice he was ahead of the game in preventing Platinum Dunes from touching this one. Of course, he could just be backpedaling
The 2012 film Hitchcock
is based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
and deals with the filming of Psycho
And in 2013 a TV series, also titled Bates Motel
and a prequel
(albeit set in the modern day) debuted on the A&E Network.
The shower scene is now part of movie culture and the music used, along with the film itself, is used in many scholarly courses as prime examples of their chosen subject. It's also Trope Namer
for Psycho Strings
and "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody
This film provides examples of: