Psycho: Sex, Blood, and Mommy Issues

In 1960 an unsuspecting audience purchased a movie ticket expecting a good scare. The groundbreaking film they did watch would make history, changing the horror genre and inspiring such classics as Halloween and Jaws. Alfred Hitchcock believed in Psycho so much that he used his own money to fund the film after failing to be funded by studios who feared that the controversial nature of the film wouldn’t do well on screen.

Needless to say, the studios were wrong. Not only does Lila Crane have an affair with a divorced man and then traipse around in her underwear on multiple occasions throughout the movie, but the Texan she stole from shamelessly hit on her (total creeper) and Norman Bates had a peep hole to spy on her in her motel room. The movie was much more sexual than I expected from a film made in 1960, and was one change Hitchcock brought to the horror industry.

Hitchcock opened Psycho with the star in her underwear (something that surprised me and resulted in Boyfriend making a snarky remark). Lila Crane and her lover Sam had just finished some afternoon hanky panky. Her lunch break was over, and she needed to return to work (don’t know how long her lunch break was, but mine tends to be under an hour, so either she was horribly late or they were quick!) She returns to work and her boss introduces her to his latest client, the Texan ,who is buying a house for his daughter as a wedding present (must be nice). He was paying for the house in cash ($40,000! I mean, I know the Bay Area is oober expensive, but $40,000 dollars for a house? Oh inflation… you disappoint me). Lila is trusted to take the cash to the bank and takes the opportunity.

Instead of going to the bank, Lila takes the money and runs. She plans to go to California, to Sam, where they could run away together and live happily ever after. The woman leaves town wide eyed (even runs into her boss while she is at a stoplight and he crosses the street). Acting really suspicious throughout this trip, she doesn’t know how to play it cool when the cop stops her. So she’s not a master criminal.

The cop begins following Lila because she is so jumpy and suspicious when he talks to her. She gets off the freeway (in Bakersfield, which Boyfriend rewound to confirm, excited to see his hometown on screen) with the cop still behind her. He parks across the street as she quickly buys a new car. Even the car salesman can tell that something is up with her, but the salesman and the cop let her go. I kept waiting for that cop to show up again in the movie, but maybe Lila drove out of his jurisdiction.

Buckets of rain begins falling down (that much rain in California? Ya right!), so Lila stops at the Bates Motel. We are first introduced to Norman and he seems to be an awkwardly charming guy (and cute! Boyfriend didn’t appreciate me pointing this out). He gets Lila checked into the first room (conveniently located right next to the peep hole in his office) and makes her thoroughly uncomfortable over a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That awkwardly cute first impression quickly turned creepy. Well done, Hitchcock.

So, Lila has made it to the Bates Motel and decides to take a shower.

(I can’t watch this scene without thinking of the “That 70’s Show” parody of the movie. I can understand being so upset over losing expensive shampoo).

We are led to believe that Norman’s mother comes in and kills Lila in the shower. Though you never see Lila stabbed (an intentional choice made to make the 1960 film appeal to the audience), we see the dark blood run down the drain and Lila’s body slumped over the tub. Norman discovers the murder and precedes to clean it up. This is where Hitchcock did something pretty cool. The main character is killed off. We no longer see the story through Lila’s eyes, but through Norman’s. That shift could have been jarring for the audience, but Hitchcock did a great job transitioning the point of view.

It’s at this point in the movie, though, that the plot really slows down. We watch Norman clean the bathroom.

All of it.

In real time.

And with a mop (actually more effective cleaning the blood off the shower than I would have guessed).

We also see Marion (Lila’s sister) looking for Lila and Sam joining her in the search. They hire a private investigator (Arbogast. There’s a mouthful of a name) to help them find Lila. We see him wander the motel grounds. He really did just wander for a bit. Just like bathroom cleaning scene, that dragged on.

I was reminded of another parody of this movie when Arbogast was killed. He moves on from investigating the motel and enters Norman’s home. While walking up the stairs, he meets Norman’s mother, who stabs him and from her point of view, Arbogast falls to the bottom of the stairs. I think I enjoyed the drama of Arbogast’s death over Lila’s. The point of view was interesting; it really made the scene memorable.

The plot picks up again when Marion and Sam go to the motel to look for Lila and Arbogast. They pose as husband and wife and check into the hotel (I was worried for a moment that Sam and Marion would find feelings for each as they deal with the tragedy that occurred at Bates Motel. Luckily that didn’t happen. I think that would have been unfair to Lila, even if she was dead). Sam distracts Norman while Marion looks through Lila’s room and makes her way up to the house. She is hoping to find Norman’s mother and ask her questions but is surprised to find the house empty. Norman storms into the house, looking for Marion, and she is forced to hide in the basement (Classic horror movie move. Corner yourself in the dark basement. Great idea.) In the basement she finally finds Norman’s mom (the mummified remains!) Norman had used his taxidermy skills to preserve his dead mother who he had killed earlier in a jealous rage over the new boyfriend (or was it husband? I can’t remember).

Norman comes storming into the basement dressed as a woman, which explains why we thought we saw a woman killing Lila and Arbogast. Helpless Marion is saved by Sam and Norman is arrested.

I actually really enjoyed the last scene of the movie. A psychologist interviews Norman and then reports back to Sam, Marion, and the officers. He explains how Norman’s personality was broken in two, his own, and his mother’s. He was already mentally unstable before killing his mom and once she was dead, he couldn’t let her go, so he took on her personality. The psychology major side of me was fascinated! I was just thinking about the history of mental illness, where it was in 1960 and where it is now. The explanation about Norman was impressive (in my amateur opinion). Just as I was surprised by the amount of sex in this movie, I was also surprised by how thorough Norman’s mental illness was explained. I can imagine being a movie goer when this movie originally came out and being floored by this plot and the twist (I wish I didn’t know it ahead of time! That was unavoidable though. The movie is almost sixty years old). Hitchcock ended it well, tying all the loose ends off and then showing us Norman. He speaks like a woman, thanking the officer for the blanket, and then smiles at the camera, really showing us how evil and crazy he truly is.

Overall, Boyfriend and I enjoyed Psycho. The beginning and end were great! The middle dragged onnnn. But the movie is a classic and it continues to be entertaining today.

What did you think of Psycho. How does it compare to other Hitchcock movies? Do you have a favorite that you would recommend? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

The next movie was written by two actors that also starred in the movie. Think Catcher in the Rye meets Stand and Deliver.

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