Hitch on the Hump: Fascination with Fear's Christine Looks Deep Into Psycho's Eyes
It’s hard to imagine what one could even write about Psycho that hasn’t been said before, and yet - when asked to contribute to this Hitchcock series, I couldn’t NOT write about it. Oh, I thought about Rear Window and Strangers on a Train, as well as several others. But the Norman Bates lover in me would not stop the voices in my head screaming Psycho! Psycho! So I had to go with it.
Obviously a review of the film would be a moot point. Anyone worth their salt and reading this blog has seen (and treasured) Hitchcock’s most famous film. Hitch's brilliance is undeniable here. There have been discussions about every darn frame of the film, and finding something to focus on became difficult for me, even though I would count it as being one of my top two favorite films. Ever.
So I chose to focus on something perhaps less ordinary. The eyes. This masterfully filmed movie has more focus on the character’s eyes than you can shake a stick at. Someone once said (a very long time ago) that the eyes are the window to the soul, and I have to agree...
Though Sam is stuck paying alimony to his ex-wife, for the life of me I still can't figure out why he and Marion are sneaking around. He's divorced, so what? Regardless, you can see the yearning in his eyes as he longs to have a normal relationship with his beloved. But Marion seems somewhat distracted. Could it be she feels she's at a dead end with Sam? At any rate, the eyes tell the story of a pair of troubled lovers, with no idea of the events yet to come.
At first, he seems like the perfect host, rather nerdy and flustered around a beautiful woman. His eyes say so much at this point in the film. Here is where I fell in love with Norman Bates, folks. Right. Here.
Those boy next door looks, gentle demeanor, and soothing voice just took me away. And I think it took Marion away too. His eyes here are quite kind - just what our Marion needs to make herself feel better. Us too, as viewers. We're already aghast that Janet Leigh is playing a criminal, right?
But before the big screeching murder scene, we see something else. The true Norman Bates. We are privy to his little hole in the wall (and I don't mean his house or business). We see he's actually rather disturbed, even more than we thought after the parlor rant. Here is the place in the movie where we all recognize the signs of psychosis. With just one look.
I'm certainly not saying Norman Bates is a pervert, because I don't see him that way at all. I see a boy trapped in a man's body - someone that wasn't allowed to grow up the same as other children and someone whose mother has cheated him out of a normal life and exposed him to such things as jealousy and hatred when he neither deserved it nor had a clue how to deal with it.
Though truth be told her eye would certainly be dilated after death, that scene in which the camera goes from the drain to her lifeless eye is what I would call a big money shot. After all, they killed off Janet Leigh for Christ's sake! That particular scene has been played over and over in countless retrospectives and clips, but it just never gets old. Very, very effective.
But better than that, in my opinion, is the shot of Norman after he's sent Marion's car to a watery grave, attempting to destroy all the evidence that she'd ever been there to protect "Mother". It is a quite panic, and shows us all just how fragile and panic-stricken he is. At first, he seems simply nervous. But as the car sinks to the depths of the swamp, we see that chilling look in his eyes. Now that's the Norman most people are familiar with. I've no idea how Anthony Perkins didn't win an Oscar for this performance. It has so many layers and nuances I can't keep up. Damn! The simple soul we met in the motel lobby turns into the indignant mama's boy in the parlor, then morphs into the manipulative yet detached villain, only to end up the confused crackpot we feel sorry for as the credits roll. And every bit of it is easily experienced just by the looks on his face. Every emotion, every tell-tale sign of his madness shows in his eyes.
And that look remains intact when she whips around to see Norman dressed as his dear old mama, wielding a butcher knife with deadly intent. Powerful stuff. Even the eye sockets of Mother's mummified remains are expressive. See, you don't even need actual eyeballs in this film to relate feelings.Better yet, Hitchcock's fantastic talent with the camera is never better than right here, where the bare light bulb hanging by a string casts long shadows through the empty sockets of Mother's corpse. Absolutely brilliant. If someone wasn't a fan of Hitchcock before this film (and just who are those people, anyway?), then this one certainly hitched them. (Pun intended.)
In all my countless days of watching horror I have never witnessed a more effective scene in my life. As I've mentioned at the beginning of this post, the eyes are the window to the soul. And it has never been as true as in the final moments of Psycho.
As I suspected, that was incredible stuff from Christine. Check her out over at Fascination with Fear, and come back here on Friday to check out another entry into the Spring Slashers. Then Sunday I'm kicking off a brand new feature!