Horror Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello


57 years after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the most influential films ever made.

Certainly, every horror film ever released since 1960 owes a debt to Psycho.  The infamous shower scene has been duplicated so many times that I’ve lost count.  Whenever a big-name actor is unexpectedly killed during the first half of a movie, it’s because of what happened to Janet Leigh in that shower.  If not for Psycho, Drew Barrymore would have survived Scream and that shark would never have eaten Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.  Every giallo film that has ended with someone explaining the overly complex psychological reasons that led to the killer putting on black gloves and picking up a scalpel owes a debt to Simon Oakland’s monologue at the end of Psycho.  Psycho is so influential and popular that, decades later, A&E could broadcast a show called Bates Motel and have an instant hit.

What goes into making a classic?  That is question that is both asked and answered by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho.  Starting with the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, Rebello’s book goes on to examine the writing of Robert Bloch’s famous novel and then the struggle to adapt that novel for the screen.

This book is a dream for trivia lovers.  Ever wanted to know who else was considered for the role of Marion Crane or Sam Loomis or even Norman Bates?  This is the book to look to.  Read this book and then imagine an alternate world where Psycho starred Dean Stockwell, Eva Marie Saint, and Leslie Neilsen?

(That’s right.  Leslie Neilsen was considered for the role of Sam Loomis.)

The book also confronts the controversy over who deserves credit for the shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock or Saul Bass.  And, of course, it also provides all the glorious details of how Hitchcock handled the film’s pre-release publicity.  Ignore the fact that this book was cited as being the inspiration for the rather forgettable Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren film, Hitchcock.  This is a fascinating read about a fascinating movie and a fascinating director.

First published in 1990 and still very much in print, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho is a must-read for fans of film, horror, true crime, history, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Psycho.

A Movie A Day #268: Destroyer (1988, directed by Robert Kirk)


A year and a half ago, serial killer Ivan Mosser (Lyle Alzado) was sent to the electric chair for murdering 23 people.  On the night that he was electrocuted, the worst prison riot in American history broke out.  The prison was closed and abandoned.  A year and a half later, a film crew has entered the prison to make a women in prison film.  Robert Edwards (Anthony Perkins) is the sleazy director.  David Harris (Clayton Rohner) is the screenwriter who fights to maintain the integrity of his script and who is an expert on the prison’s history.  Susan Malone (Deborah Foreman) is a stuntwoman and David’s girlfriend.  And Ivan is the murderer who is still half-alive and full of electricity.

Watching a forgettable, direct-to-video movie like Destroyer, it is impossible not to feel sorry for Anthony Perkins, who went from getting nominated from Oscars and working with Hitchcock to appearing in films like this.  According to the Perkins biography, Split Image, Perkins was brought in at the last minute to replace Roddy McDowall and was miserable during most of the shoot.  Since Perkins spent a good deal of his later career working with directors like the one he plays in Destroyer, it’s not surprising that he gives one of the two good performances in Destroyer and he also gets the movie’s only memorable death scene.  The other good performance comes from Lyle Alzado, a former football player who had exactly the right look for his role and who plays Ivan like a ghost who is in the throes of roid rage.  Unfortunately, both Alzado and Perkins would die within months of each other in 1992, four years after co-starring in Destroyer.

Insomnia File #27: Remember My Name (dir by Alan Rudolph)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble sleeping last Tuesday, around one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched Remember My Name, an odd and sometimes frustrating little thriller from 1978.

Remember My Name opens with Emily (Geraldine Chaplin) showing up in a small town in California.  From the minute we first see and hear Emily, something seems to be off about her.  She views the world through suspicious eyes.  Whenever anyone talks to her, you’re never quite sure whether she’s going be friendly or if she’s going to lash out.  When she speaks, there’s something weird about her vocal inflection, as if she’s always struggling to figure out what she’s supposed to say.  She seems to be separated from the world, almost as if she’s walking through a living dream and only talking to figments of her imagination.  There’s nothing about her that feels at all authentic.

She moves into a small apartment and enters into a relationship with her handyman (Moses Gunn), a relationship that seems to be largely defined by her refusal to open up about herself.  She gets a job at a grocery story that’s managed by a Mr. Nudd (Jeff Goldblum).  Mr. Nudd mentions something about Emily knowing his mother.  Apparently, they met in prison.

Soon, Emily is stalking a construction worker named Neil Curry (Anthony Perkins).  When Neil spots her, he calls out her name and Emily runs away.  And yet, Neil doesn’t bother to tell his wife, Barbara (Berry Berenson), about Emily.  Soon, Emily is even breaking into the Curry home, silently shadowing Barbara as she walks through the house.

I described Remember My Name as being a thriller and I guess that, technically it is.  There are a few moments of tension, especially when Emily is stalking Barbara.  However, the film itself is directed in a detached manner by Alan Rudolph.  Rudolph was a protegé of director Robert Altman (who also produced Remember My Name) and Rudolph’s approach is very Altmanesque, often to the detriment of the film.  (Chaplin and Jeff Goldblum had both appeared in several Altman films, most famously in Nashville.)  Though the film is dominated by Chaplin and Perkins, it’s still very much an ensemble film and the action plays out in a deceptively casual, almost random manner.  It tries so hard to be Altmanesque that Remember My Name gets a bit frustrating, to be honest.  Chaplin gives such a good and memorable performance and she works very hard to make Emily a character who is both frightening and, at times, surprisingly sympathetic but, for the most part, Rudolph’s technique makes it difficult to get emotionally involved in any of the action unfolding on-screen.  Rudolph observes the action but refuses to comment on it.  As a result, Remember My Name is occasionally intriguing but, just as often, it’s rather boring.  Just like real life, I suppose.  And, just like real life, it’s not for everyone.

That said, it was interesting to see Anthony Perkins playing a role other than a knife-wielding inn manager.  Without resorting to any of the familiar tics or the neurotic speech patterns that typecast him forever as Norman Bates, Perkins plays Neil as just being a regular, blue collar guy and he actually does a pretty good job.  Watching the film, I got the feeling that this was perhaps Perkins’s attempt to change his image.  (Whenever Neil appears shirtless, both the film and Perkins seem to be saying, Check out this physique!  Would someone only capable of playing a psycho have abs like this?)  Neil’s wife, Barbara, was played Perkins’s wife, Berry Berenson.  Neither one of them is with us any longer.  Perkins died of AIDS in 1990 while Berry Berenson was on one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center on 9-11.  They both did good work in this film, as did Chaplin and Goldblum and, really, the entire cast.  It’s just a pity that the film itself isn’t as good as the performances. 

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run

A Movie A Day #111: I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990, directed by Tobe Hooper)


Sweet and repressed Amy (Madchen Amick) is a college student who has too much on her plate.  She has to take care of her greedy grandmother (Natalie Schaefer, of Gilligan’s Island fame).  She has to read a book for her study partner (Corey Parker).  She has to sew a dress for her older sister, Gloria (Daisy Hall).  She has to find props for the school play.  It is her search for props that leads to her buying an old chest at an estate sale.  Inside the chest is a red cloak.  Amy turns the red cloak into a dress but what she does not know is that the red cloak was previously won by Aztec priests while they conducted human sacrifices.  As Professor Buchanan (Anthony Perkins) later explains, anyone who wears the dress will be driven to do evil.

Like Hitler’s Daughter and Deadly Game, I’m Dangerous Tonight was a USA original film.  Like those two films, and despite the combined talents of the star of Psycho and the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’m Dangerous Tonight is not very good. Perkins is mostly just used for exposition while Hooper’s direction suggests that his main concern was picking up his paycheck.  I’m Dangerous Tonight will be best appreciated by fans of Madchen Amick.  Amick is not only beautiful here but she also plays a character far different from Twin Peaks’s Shelly Johnson.

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for R. Lee Ermey, playing a tough, cigar-chomping police detective as only he can.

A Movie A Day #5: ffolkes (1979, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen)


A group of terrorists, led by Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins, at his bitchiest) and Harold Schulman (Michael Parks), have hijacked Esther, a supply ship that services two North Sea oil rigs, Ruth and Jennifer.  Kramer demands that the British government pay him 25 millions pounds.  If he’s not paid, he’ll blow up the two oil rigs, destroying the British economy and causing a catastrophic environmental disaster.  Kramer has also rigged the Esther with explosives.  If anyone tries to board the boat, he will blow both the ship and himself up, taking the crew with him.

The British Prime Minister (Faith Brook, playing Margaret Thatcher) could pay the ransom or she could call in counter terrorism expert, Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger Moore).

(Though the name undoubtedly looked odd to American audiences, ffolkes is a common Welsh surname and is often spelled with both fs lowercase.)

Made in between The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, ffolkes was Roger Moore’s attempt to defy the typecasting that had defined his career.  Other than his loyalty to Queen and country, ffolkes has very little in common with James Bond.  James Bond was a suave smoker who bedded several women per film, lived in a hip London flat, drank Martinis, and was always ready with a quip.  ffolkes is humorless, drinks Scotch, hates cigarette smoke, and lives in an isolated castle.  The biggest difference between Bond and ffolkes?  Embittered by one bad marriage, ffolkes has no interest in women and refuses to work with them.  Instead, ffolkes loves cats.

ffolkes had always been overshadowed by Moore’s work as James Bond but it holds up well as a good, old-fashioned adventure film.  In many ways, Anthony Perkins’s Kramer feels like a predecessor to Die Hard‘s Hans Gruber and, if ffolkes had been released ten years later, it probably would have been referred to as being “Die Hard at sea.”  If you can get used to him playing someone other than James Bond, Roger Moore does a good job as the eccentric ffolkes and James Mason provides welcome support as ffolkes’s only friend.

Though ffolkes was a box office disappointment, it retains a cult following and it used to show up regularly on British television.  (I saw it at least once every summer that I went to the UK.)  When it was originally released in the U.K., it was called North Sea Hijack.   When it was released in the U.S., presumably under the assumption that American audiences wouldn’t be able to find the North Sea on a map, the title was changed to ffolkes, which probably left audiences more confused than the North Sea ever would have.  When the movie was first broadcast on American television, the title was changed yet again, this time to Assault Force.

To quote Roger Moore: “The film has so many title changes that I’ve lost count.  But everyone seems to like the character I played.”

For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s another film where Roger Moore did not play James Bond, The Cannonball Run.

roger-moore-is-ffolkes

A Movie A Day #4: The Glory Boys (1984, directed by Michael Ferguson)


glory-boysProfessor David Sokarev (Rod Steiger) is a nuclear physicist who is scheduled to give a lecture in London.  When he is informed by Mossad that a Palestinian splinter group is planning on assassinating him, Sokarev wants to cancel his trip.  However, the Israeli government insists that he go to London and put his life in danger.  To do otherwise would only serve to embolden the terrorists.  Accompanied by two Mossad bodyguards, Sokarev reluctantly leaves for London.

Three Palestinians are intercepted as they attempt to sneak into England.  Two of them are killed but the youngest, Famy (Gary Brown), survives and makes his way to London.  He meets up with McCoy (Aaron Harris), a world-weary member of the Irish Republican Army.  Though McCoy would rather just spend his time with his innocent girlfriend, Norah (Sallyanne Law),  he has agreed to help the Palestinians but is shocked to discover that Famy is so inexperienced that he doesn’t even know how to drive.

The head of MI5, Mr. Jones (Alfred Burke), is tasked with keeping Prof. Sokarev safe.  He recruits Jimmy (Anthony Perkins), a retired agent.  Jimmy once saved Jones’s life but now he is an alcoholic and is considered to be unpredictable and insubordinate.  Once Jimmy comes out of retirement, Jones worries that Jimmy is so obsessed with violence that he’s willing to use Sokarev as bait to draw out the terrorists.

The Glory Boys was originally a three-part miniseries that was made for Yorkshire Television.  It was later re-edited into a 104 minute movie that was released in the United States.  Even late into the 1990s, it was not unusual to come across the edited version of The Glory Boys on late night television.  Based on a novel by Gerald Seymour, The Glory Boys holds up well and the issues that it raises, about how far the government should go to battle terrorism, remain relevant today.  Rod Steiger brings a lot of dignity to the role of Sokarev and Joanna Lumley has a small role as Jimmy’s girlfriend.  But ultimately, the main reason to see The Glory Boys is because of the strange casting of Psycho‘s Anthony Perkins as a British intelligence agent.  Perkins’s accent is dodgy but his jittery persona works surprisingly well for the role.  Jimmy (Is the name meant to be a swipe at the infallible persona of James Bond?) is ruthless, paranoid, and possibly sociopathic, which makes him perfect for intelligence work but worthless for almost every thing else.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, Anthony Perkins returns in another British spy film, ffolkes.

glory-boys-2

Horror Scenes I Love: Psycho


Psycho

It would be difficult to get through October and not point out one of the best scenes in horror ever.

There’s Janet Leigh’s performance which conveyed the utter terror the scene wanted to convey. We have Bernard Hermann’s discordant film score highlighting the attack. Despite being a very bloodless sequence the way Hitchcock filmed the scene made audience imagine that they were actually witnessing something more violent and gory.

We all have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for this most iconic of all horror scenes.