March 29, 2007

Psycho, Haunting and other Spooky Stuff

No matter how many times I watch Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho I always dupe myself. I know it's quite ridiculous, but every time the movie stars I forget that at the 45-minute mark Marion Crane will die. Her story is so ostensibly sidetracking to the viewer that it's not hard to imagine why audiences were shocked - nay, downright paralysed - to see Janet Leigh's Marion die in the shower. That's one of the reasons why Psycho is so good. All the story strands would make entirely great movies on their own. A feature-length movie about Marion Crane would be so interesting to see. What could happen to her and Sam? The possibilities are endless. And then there's the story of Norman Bates. And so on.

The way the movie builds up to the shower scene is, obviously, some of the finest movie-making ever. That's a pretty much accepted fact. So too is the shower scene itself. I'm not sure if there's ever been a better scene in movies. Ever. And that's saying something. It is shocking and frightening and I can never believe what I'm watching. How did anybody think of this? It seems mindboggling today to think of a director making a film as audatious as Psycho. The closest I can think of is The Sixth Sense, but even that works on a completely different level.

Psycho is more than just a great horror movie. It's seriously a complete and total work of art.

It should come as no surprise to people who have seen them that I got the urge to rewatch Psycho after watching Robert Wise's The Haunting. Another extremely wellmade classy fright flick. I swear I jumped out of my seat when the woman popped out of the attic and then again on the road. Jesus. Those thumping scenes, too, were just edge-of-your-seat material.

I'm not sure why prestige directors these days seem to have deserted horror movies. Robert Wise made this black and white haunted house movie just three years (if I'm not mistaken) after his Oscar-winning West Side Story. And he made it a couple of years before another Oscar winner, The Sound of Music. Why can't someone of the likes of Steven Spielberg or, this could be interesting to say the least, Clint Eastwood or any number of other higher profile directors direct scary movies?

I believe there's still a place with modern viewers for movies such as these. More adult-oriented horror stories. The only recent movies that I can think of that fit the mold are Alejandro Amenabar's The Others and Shyamalan's Signs. Two movies that are incredibly well-made and legitimately scary (for some). And, hello, they were big hits. They made more than all of the Hostel-type movies and all the remakes of 1970s movies that nobody particularly asked for. If someone makes a good scary movie, people will go and see it. The remaking-Asia trend is finally breathing it's last breath (they're all shithouse so it's about time) and surely they'll start running out of American horror movies to remake soon enough. SURELY. PLEASE. Maybe the next trend will be old school scary movies. Maybe somebody will make a black and white one! God, I'd love that.

There was a rumour a while ago that Spike Jonze was going to make a horror movie. Yet, that never eventuated into anything, unfortunately. Oh well, at least we have the classics like Psycho and The Haunting.


JA said...

Hear hear! I was soooo hoping that Frank Darabont would do The Mist in black and white; it would've fit so wonderfully into that sort of mise en scene. Granted, that's more of a 50's B-movie vibe I'm talking about here, than the classic haunted house type film, but still.

The Haunting always leaves me in awe of what Wise manages with just sound effects; we see so very little, but it freaks me out every time.

I've been wishing for ages that Spielberg would make another (Jaws, ahem) horror film; even in his not-strictly horror films, like Jurassic and War of the Worlds, when he goes for a scare he does it brilliantly. To see him just go for it all the way would make me a very happy person.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I hated War of the Worlds though, but that was such a BIG film. The really frightening ones always seem to be so intimate and enclosed. Even Jaws.

I can imagine The Others and Signs as black and white. But none of the other recent horror movies would work. It needs to be a very specific type.

That first scene in The Haunting where things, literally, go bump in the night was just so scary.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Oh, and also, the remake was horrible. Like, incredibly so. I remember seeing that in the cinema and after it going "So that's why it got 1 star in the paper!"

And that was, what? 1998?

JA said...

That Haunting> remake is seriously one of the worst movies ever made. Lily Taylor won a little cred back with Bettie Page, but in that between time I'd totally written her off because of it. I mean, she was just horrible in it, beyond the movie itself sucking so hard; her performance is GODAWFUL. Ugh. That movie makes me gag.

I know you hated, WotW Glenn, we need not speak about that. ;-) But even with it being BIG, Spielberg just knows how to shoot, edit, frame something scary; that - for me - jaw-dropping initial attack, where the tripod comes up out of the street, only proves that he knows how to do these things as skillfully as anybody out there, and if he were to train his eye on a smaller, more horror-focused picture, he's got the goods to make it work.

I did just watch Poltergeist the other week again, and with all those rumors out there that Spielberg took up some of Tobe Hooper's slack and shot a bunch of stuff himself makes sense to me still; it's so typically Speilbergian (and wonderful) through and through.

All of this is idle rambling, anyway; what with his Lincoln biopic and Indy 4 and whatever he wants to do at his fingertips, I don't really see him making something like a small spooky picture. But I do think he'd knock it outta the park if he did.

Same with Shyamalan; we agree on Signs being wonderfully scary, and I'd love to see him pull his head out of his ass (though I think we both agreed that Lady in the Water wasn't as terrible as people were saying as well) and try his hand at some straightforward storytelling again, because he too knows the basics of setting up and maintaining an horrific atmosphere and using the frame incredibly well to hide and reveal details like nobody else.

I'll shut up now.

Paxton Hernandez said...

The 1970's, the decade that you seriously despised on horror, made some of the greatest and finest american horror films of all time.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre frequently tops th charts in any poll made amongst hardcore horror films, no matter how PERFECT Pyscho is.

JA said...

He's hating on the remakes of 1970's movies, not the originals. I don't think Glenn would argue against the genius of the original TCM (though he does love that remake) or The Exorcist.

Kamikaze Camel said...

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre routinely floats around the top of my ALL TIME list. So, I definitely love it to death omglol. And I love lots of other horror pics from that period, but yeah. Remakes. Remakes of remakes. Sequels of remakes of remakes. And so on.

As much as I love the TCM and Dawn of the Dead remakes (that latter one being a remake of a sequel!) most of them are just getting ridiculous. I mean, they're remaking The Last House on the Left! All the power that the original had (itself a remake) was because of the hardcore drivein atmosphere that could have only come out of an extremely low budget and resources.

What's next? A remake of I Spit On Your Grave or Cannible Ferox? God I hope not. They were bad enough the first time.

Paxton Hernandez said...


Anyway, I was one of the few who hated the TCM remake and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Good grief!

Scott said...

This post made me swoon. Psycho is my favourite film, and I also adored The Others (the superior Kidman performance that year - but that's another story...).

Very incisive commentary mate - I'm totally with you.