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Marion (Janet Leigh) dreams about living a carefree life with her lover
Sam (John Gavin) ... but they're both in debt, he's living in another
town, and the prospects for at least the next at least couple of years
aren't exactly promising - so when her boss asks her to deposit $40,000 in
the bank, and she feels the lump of money in her hand, she has a lapse of
judgment, takes the money, hops into her car, and drives all the way up to
her lover's hometown. But the ride's longer than expected, and her guilt
weighing in on her makes her making all kinds of bizarre decisions ...
until she loses her way in the rain and finds a safe haven at Bates'
Motel, a place off the beaten track that hasn't seen a guest in weeks - so
it's no wonder that the hotel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a nice
and handsome enough young fellow, is totally excited about the new
arrival, imposes on her a bit, has long conversations with her, makes her
sandwiches ... but as I said, he's always nice enough, and he seems to
have a dragon of a mother (whom Marion only ever hears nagging) so he
deserves sympathy, and something in what he says makes Marion decide to
drive back the very next day and deposit the money after all the way she
should have, and to face the consequences. Sure, Norman also has his
flaws, like he likes to spy on Marion when she has a shower, but after
all, he's just a man ... and then, Marion is slaughtered in the shower by
a woman, Norman's mother apparently, and while he's shocked, he still
removes the body and all traces Marion was ever here. Not too hard a job
as she checked in under an assumed name ...
Lila (Vera Miles), Marion's
sister, arrives at Sam's shop, believing he hides herand the money and
wanting to persuade the both of them to give it up to avoid severe
trouble. But Sam assures her he didn't even know Marion was coming (which
is true), and Lila, who has never met Sam before, believes him and the two
try to figure out what to do yet - and are soon joined by Arbogast (Martin
Balsam), a private detective hired by Marion's boss to retrieve the money.
At first, he suspects the two of them even, but he's easily convinced they
have nothing to do with it but are as adamant as him to track Marion down.
Arbogast checks all the hotels and motels in the area until he happens
upon Bates' Motel ... and something doesn't ring true about Norman, plus
Arbogast is sure the key to it all is Norman's mother - but when he tries
to sneak into the Bates-residence behind Norman's back, he's attacked by
Norman's mum, stabbed and pushed down some stairs to his death.
Sam grow worried about having lost Arbogast, but knowing where he has
gone, they check into Bates' Motel, posing as a couple, and soon they come
to the same conclusion as Arbogast, that the key to the mystery is
Norman's mother - so while Sam keeps Norman talking, Lila is to sneak into
the Bates residence ... and she finds traces of the mother but not mum
herself - until she looks in the basement ...
Norman meanwhile has
figured out Sam is diverting him so Lila can meet mum, so he strikes him
down then storms back to the residence to keep Lila away from mum ...
the basement, Lila finds Mrs Bates sitting in a chair, but when she turns
the chair around she finds it's only a mummified dead body - while Mrs
Bates storms in behind her knife in hand, but just before she can strike,
Sam enters from behind and wrestles her down ... to reveal her to be
Norman himself dressed up in drag.
The story behind this, Norman has
killed mum and her lover ten years ago out of jealousy but kept her
mummified corpse with him ever since - and by and by he has assumed her
personality to, including her jealousy over every girl who sexually
arouses Norman, jealousy that usually ends in murder ...
let's state the obvious first, Psycho is of course a masterpiece, a
relatively late masterpiece in Hitchcock's career, whose oeuvre had by
1960 already been somewhat marred by Hollywood gloss, too big budget and
the sheer availability of whatever needed - in other words, he had become
mainstream through and through. Psycho though was made on a very
limited budget (still a far cry from actual low budget productions of the
day mind you), with hardly a big name (other than Janet Leigh, and she
gets butchered halfway through) in the cast, and the man had to relie more
on his ingenuity once again ... and succeeds tremendously, making this one
his best movie, and probably also his most influential (at least in terms
of modern horror, serialkiller and slasher movies). Plus, Bernard Herman's
musical score is pretty much as iconic as several scenes (first and
foremost, duh, the shower scene), and Anthony Perkins' performance was
flawless enough to typecast him for the rest of his life. And I could go
on and on praising the movie, but at the same time it's not without flaws,
and the biggest two are probably:
1) Martin Balsam's death scene: When
he is stabbed and then walks down the stairs backwards in an awkward way,
it looks more like slapstick than anything horrific, and at least for me
it mars the tension with every viewing (and I've watched it often).
The psychiatrist's (Simon Oakland) monologue at the end that rather
unnecessarily ties up all the ends, especially those that weren't loose.
Now rumour has it that Hitchcock was pretty much forced to add this scene
by the studio - might very well be, but he could have seen to it that the
delivery was less camp and the whole thing was better and tighter written.
Probably, because the film still is a masterpiece - but at the
same time I do feel I'm right ...
But yeah, a must-see nevertheless!