A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.

For two consecutive Halloweens, I’ve watched a classic horror film that has become so ubiquitous in pop culture that its shocks, twists and scares surely shouldn’t surprise me. It came as no surprise when Jack Torrance went crazy and tried to kill his family. I knew from the opening titles that Norman Bates is dressing up as his mother and committing these murders. And yet Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins make me doubt myself with every passing minute.

They made three sequels. Not to mention remakes, spinoffs and prequels. Psycho is probably one of the most legendary horror films in Western cinema. I envy the generation that experienced Hitchcock’s landmark helter-skelter firsthand.


Of course, in classic horror movie fashion, Anthony Perkins’ career didn’t seem to take off. I thought Norman Bates was great. I know I was meant to – wouldn’t be much of a twist otherwise. But even knowing how Psycho ends, I found him pleasant and reasonable, if a little odd. I wondered if maybe 56 years of parody had misled my expectations for the film.

If that’s not a testament to excellent subversive, twisty turning filmmaking (and Perkins being deserving of wider work – rather than reprising the same iconic role three more times, all the way up until 1990), I don’t know what is. I can’t remember a time I didn’t associate the name Norman Bates with psychopathy and mummy issues. And I still wasn’t entirely sure what was happening until Vera Miles stumbles upon the corpse of Mrs. Bates.

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