Wednesday 16 July 2014

We all go a little mad sometimes...

Apologies for being a bad blogger of late - I've been working on a new project and trying to enjoy the unusual amount of sunshine.

I'm currently reading Robert Bloch's Psycho for the first time, partly because I'm going to do a blog on it for The Murder Room to celebrate Orion bringing the novel out as an ebook, and partly because I've always wanted to read it.

In the meantime, here's another piece I wrote earlier this year on the classic film version.

Mother's Day 2014: Psycho - Mason Cross

When I was asked to recommend a crime film that would be appropriate viewing for Mother's Day, my thoughts naturally turned to Alfred Hitchcock's heart-warming tale of a boy and his mother.

That's probably because Psycho is so hard-wired into popular culture that associating murder and mayhem with mothers inevitably makes one think of the film that is, for my money, the greatest of Hitchcock's masterpieces.

It must have been something to come to this movie completely fresh, as almost everyone who hadn't read Robert Bloch's original novel when Psycho was released would have done. Norman Bates has become such an iconic screen murderer that it would be nigh-on impossible to watch the movie for the first time in 2014 without an awareness of the film's two stunning reversals. The shower scene and the climactic image of Anthony Perkins dressed in a wig and dress  have become so burned into the collective human psyche, that these audacious twists barely register as such any more.

But audacious they are. It's striking that this black-and-white classic from over half a century ago doesn't just hold up, it feels disconcertingly modern. Not just in its unflinching violence and (daringly frank for its time) depiction of sexuality, but because of those twin narrative reversals. The audience is suckered into thinking it's watching a noirish melodrama about a secretary stealing money from her boss and going on the run from the law… right up until she's dispatched at the halfway point to make way for the film's real protagonist. But once we've had time to adjust to the new picture we're watching - a psychodrama about an ineffectual motel manager cleaning up after and covering for his homicidal mother - we're hit with another doozy of a twist. Norman Bates is the homicidal mother.

The more conventional thriller elements of the film are so strong that we sometimes forget how groundbreaking that structure is. Hitch was subverting the expectations of a crime and horror audience decades before Scream and From Dusk til Dawn  were being hailed as cutting edge. Due credit to Bloch for coming up with the story, of course, but it's hard to imagine anyone but Hitchcock firing on all cylinders being able to make such a challenging and unconventional screen version, particularly in 1960.

So if you're looking for a nice old black-and-white movie on DVD to go with the chocolates and flowers this Sunday, look no further than this classic from the master of suspense. Your mother will love it, if she has any taste.

Unless, of course, she isn't quite herself today…