Many thanks to the one and only Ben Nagy (@BJ_Nagy) for covering Slasher Life Lessons from A Nightmare on Elm Street. No Mutant Left Behind is our motto around these parts, in life and in blogging. LAST CALL returns this week with morality tales from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and more amazing art by T.J. Denton (@TDenton_1138).
Numero-Uno: Respectability isn’t always respectful.
Today, the thought of two consenting adults meeting in a hotel room is about as shocking as watching paint dry. But in 1960, it would have been a very big deal. Psycho’s risqué opening scenes still have power more than half a century later, and Joseph Stefano’s adaptation of Robert Bloch’s original novel is a big reason why. In a presumably seedy, pay-by-the-hour hotel, we meet Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) – the only place their life circumstances allow them to be intimate. She lives with her sister, he in a room behind the hardware store he manages, beset by financial burdens. Determined to either end it or make their relationship public, Sam assures Marion he wants to be with her under any circumstance, “even respectability.”
“You makes respectability sound…disrespectful,” Marion replies, telling Sam she’ll even lick the stamps when he mails his ex-wife’s alimony checks. They are both fully aware of the limitations their lives present. It’s here that the seeds of crime are planted. Because people desperate for a second chance — at life and at love — often do desperate things.
Numero Two-O: You can’t buy happiness or buy off unhappiness.
“You know what I do about with unhappiness? I buy it off.” So says Tom Cassidy, the frisky cowboy of an oilman whose flaunts his wealth to Marion after she returns from her afternoon tryst with Sam. “Are you unhappy?” he asks suggestively.
“Not inordinately,” she answers.
But she is. When Marion’s boss puts Cassidy’s Forty Grand in her mitts, it’s just too tempting. When it’s clear the money hasn’t been deposited and Marion has skipped town, Hitchcock recaps the crime’s discovery brilliantly as Marion speeds down the interstate toward Sam.
“Hot creepers, she sat there while I dumped it out. Hardly even looked at it! Plannin. And even flirtin with me!” she imagines Cassidy fuming — her look of satisfaction nearly as devious as Norman Bates’ when he tells us, as Mother, that he’d never hurt a fly.
Numero-Three-O: Don’t take tranquilizers on your honeymoon.
No explanation needed.
Numero-Four-O: Being blonde and beautiful will not save your ass.
Before The Final Girl became a common trope in horror films, Alfred Hitchcock turned it on its head, killing the film’s assumed leading lady in Psycho’s first 40 minutes. Featured prominently on the film’s posters (just like Drew Barrymore in Scream) and with no rival female protagonist in sight, an innocent movie-going public had no reason to believe Janet Leigh’s screen time would give way to another actress, Vera Miles, as Psycho’s plot shifts from Marion’s relationship drama, crime and eventual death to her sister Lila’s search for her. Hitchcock’s promotional showmanship helped. No one would be admitted late to the film and once the door’s closed, you were in for the long haul. We should have known: cool blondes never fare well with Hitchcock, on screen or off.
Numero-Five-O: Keep driving.
I try to put myself in Marion’s place. I’ve been on the lam for a little over 24 hours. An unexpected encounter with a State trooper has spooked me enough for me to trade my car, with him watching no less. It’s late. It’s raining. I’ve turned off the highway by mistake and found what appears to be a safe, comfortable motel. I’ve also just learned that Fairvale is only 15 miles away. Do I keep driving — to “safety,” to Sam — or start fresh in the morning after a good night’s sleep?
After a full day of driving, everyone knows that last leg of the trip is the worst, even under the best of circumstances. This plus Norman’s kindness and Marion’s decision over the course of the evening to head back to Phoenix and return the money means she stays, one night only, in the Bates Motel. The rest is history.
Numero-Six-O: There comes a time when every boy must leave home.
In his novel of the same name, Thomas Wolfe writes “You can’t go home again.” Sometimes, apparently, you also can’t leave. Norman’s relationship with his mother is the epitome of the word enmeshed, their personas, dysfunctions and maladaptive appetites feeding one another to the point of possible incest, murder and subsuming self-identification.
But Norman isn’t the only man who’s trapped. While Sam Alpha-Males Norman about the lengths he’d go to to escape his prison, the truth is they’re both trapped: Norman by his homicide-inducing attachment to his mother and conflicted sexual identity, Sam by the broken marriage for which he still pays his dues, literally and figuratively. Convinced Norman has killed Marion, Sam presses the hotel proprietor about the $40,000 it would take for him to be free, to create a new life. The moral of the story? Sometimes the other guy’s prison resembles your own.
Numero-Seven-O: There’s no safe spaces left, not even your own gul’durn bathroom.
There’s nothing like the cleansing power of a good hot shower after a long stressful day. Some people will tell you that’s where they do their best thinking. But Psycho ruined showers for Janet Leigh. And while we haven’t researched the relationship between the popularity of the walk-in shower with clear, sliding-glass doors and the release of Hitchcock’s classic, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a spike starting around 1960.
Next Up: The Last Call where He came home…