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Psycho ~ A Capsule Book Review

Psycho ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie, Psycho, is a slice of pure cinema. In the directorial hands of a master, it’s a movie where all the different parts—writing, acting, music, film editing, sound, set design, directing—come together in just the right way to create an enduring film masterpiece that has easily stood the test of time. In the hands of a less talented director, it could easily have been just another schlocky, soon-to-be-forgotten stab movie with breasts, a scintillating boudoir scene, and a sensational shower scene, complete with blood going down the drain.

Psycho is a horror movie about a cross-dressing, knife-wielding, multiple-personality maniac, but it’s a high-class horror movie that somehow manages to be tasteful, eschewing blood and cheap horror for a more subtle brand of thrills. It broke new artistic ground and set the standard for movies of its kind. It has been copied, imitated, parodied and emulated, but the one thing it never has been is equaled.

There never would have been the movie Psycho without the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch. Before the movie comes the novel. When Alfred Hitchcock chose the novel to make into a movie, he plucked it from almost certain obscurity. Not that it wasn’t read by readers of its day, but if would never have lasted the way it has if the Hitchcock movie hadn’t made it famous. It is “pop” fiction with little literary merit, except that it makes entertaining reading.

We all know the story. Norman Bates is an odd boy-man who runs an obscure motel on an out-of-the-way California highway. The Bates Motel doesn’t get many guests, except one rainy night, a runaway girl who has lost her way stumbles onto the motel and decides to spend the night. She has just stolen forty thousand big ones from her employer and is on her way to her debt-ridden boyfriend in Fairvale, California.

If the runaway girl, Mary Crane (Marian in the movie), has a secret, Norman Bates has an even bigger one. He has always had a mother fixation. He murdered his dear old mother out of jealousy (she had a lover, you see), but mother’s not resting in her grave. Years earlier, Norman stole her body from her grave and keeps it in the creepy old house behind the motel. He has a split personality. He’s Norman, but he’s also mother. He dresses up in her clothes and wears her wig and, as mother, stabs Mary Crane to death as she’s taking a shower. He hides the body, of course, crying to cover up mother’s crime. Then he has the arduous task of keeping people from finding out what he is and what he has done.

All right, if you want some light reading and you want to read a story that by now is familiar to you, you can’t go wrong with Robert Bloch’s Psycho. It’s not Sister Carrie, but it’s plenty engaging and will keep you turning the pages. The movie follows the novel closely, but, as I said, it makes a much better movie than it does a novel. The movie is distinctive and the novel is not.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

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