Growing up I was generally a very agreeable child. I did what I was told and rarely pushed the envelope. So why did I go against my father's better judgment and watch PSYCHO, even though he told me I'd regret it when I woke up with nightmares? Well, I was 14-years-old and I guess it was my way of proving to him and myself that I was a mature young adult who couldn't be scared by a silly, old black and white movie. I had never heard of Hitchcock or this film and had no idea what to expect. Besides it was on in the middle of the afternoon, where children younger than me could see it, so how scary could it really be?
I had tested my capacity for horror a few times before and was smart enough to know the answer. Secretly watching JAWS when I was eleven had kept me out of the ocean since, but I didn't consider that much of a sacrifice because I hated swimming and didn't live anywhere near a beach. Plus, shark attacks DO happen, so my behavior wasn't completely irrational. Almost drowning in the ocean had already made me wary of the water, JAWS just sealed the deal.
If that wasn't warning enough, the previous October, while at a friend's house, I was coerced into watching the film HALLOWEEN. What was I supposed to do? My parents weren't picking me up for a few hours and all the other kids would have made fun of me for declining. My first Rated-R experience was not a happy one. A man-eating shark is one thing -- that you can avoid -- but a mindless, ruthless serial killer bent on slaughtering as many pretty young girls as possible was a scenario that never entered my realm of possibility - until that night. It took years for me to divest myself of the fear that someone was under my bed or hiding in my closet, waiting for just the right moment to stab me to death.
While still traumatized by my introduction to Michael Myers, you'd think a film with the title PSYCHO would have sent me running to the hills...or at least given me pause. Well, like I said I didn't know what I was in for. See, it was my week to clean the living room, which I was allowed to do with the television on and, for once, I got to watch whatever I wanted. No consensus with the siblings needed.
When my father walked in and then issued his warning, I couldn't believe what he was saying. As a film on Channel 38's Monster Week, it was pretty lame so far. Just a story about a woman named Marian who embezzles some money from her boss in order to live happily ever after with her penniless lover - what was so "psycho" about that? People steal things all the time. Big deal. Sure, the hotel she was forced to stay at after she skips town with the cash was a bit rundown, isolated and creepy, but it was just for one night.
Nothing in my limited cinema experience prepared me - or the audience in 1960 - for what happened next. Norman seemed like such a nice fellow, quirky to be sure, but harmless to a world-weary, intelligent woman like Marion. Unfortunately for her, his "Mother" wasn't as friendly and kind-hearted. I swear every frame of the shower scene has been burned into my brain. I took baths for months and found it almost impossible to shower in a tub that had an opaque curtain. To this day, I'm glad my shower door is glass. psycho3.jpgThe detective's ensuing death on the staircase only compounded my terror, compelling me to fear the dark in a whole new way. I know that psycho killers will probably not be harmed or dissuaded by bright lights - unless they are a vampire or zombie - but that rational was never enough to keep me from flicking the switch. In fact, I slept with a night light on for the rest of my childhood. I claimed it was a safety measure - so I didn't stumble down the stairs on a nocturnal bathroom break - but that was a lie to hide my shame at being scared silly by a movie.
By the end of the film, I was literally shocked into a stupor. How could he kill his main character like that? Janet Leigh was a super star at the time. Her presence in the film is what filled theater seats. Before that, the only time lead actors died in major films was if the movie was about a fatal disease or they played a heartless criminal...and then their death happened at the end. Hitchcock broke all the rules with Marian's murder in the middle of the movie, not to mention Ms. Leigh's apparent, total nakedness.
It caused a sensation at the time and I have to say I know exactly how those first audiences felt. The brutality of the crimes, which occurred for no good reason at all, left me confused and horrified yet strangely captivated until the end. It wasn't until much later, when I became a film connoisseur that my terror turned into awe at the sheer audacity and genius of Hitchcock's filmmaking. He knew exactly what he was doing and the fact that he pulled it off is a movie miracle. Only ALIEN, THE CRYING GAME and THE SIXTH SENSE have been able to provide the same sort of shock value since that time, proving how hard it is to keep cinema secrets.
Unlike horror films made today, he demonstrated that you don't have to be gross and bloody to cause nightmares. It's the anticipation of the threat, that keeps you glued to your seat and when you least expect it, jumping out of it. After you've seen one severed head you've seen them all. I prefer to be scared with style...and Hitchcock was the master. If you don't believe me, you should see my electric bill.
THE FILMS THAT SCARRED MY CHILDHOOD
1. Psycho (1960)
2. Halloween - Have never seen this film again. Never want to.
3. Jaws - Now one of my all-time favorites. Go figure.
4. Piranha - Not a great movie, but who cares about quality when you have killer fish?
5. Poltergeist - Got rid of all my stuffed animals after this one. As if clowns weren't already totally creepy.
6. Blood Beach - The poster and trailer were enough for me. Just another reason to avoid the ocean.
7. The Birds - What can I say? This film only proved my suspicion that they are out to get us.
8. Kingdom Of The Spiders - Thousands of spiders. I don't think I'm the only one this film scares the crap out of.
9. Carrie - Can't drive by a cemetery without thinking of the end of this movie.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street - Never actually saw this film, but I still had nightmares about Freddy Kruger.
-- By Lisa Dinsmore