Hello Geeks and Ghouls, Famous Monster here. Well, it’s finally October and you know what that means? Breast Cancer Awareness 5Ks? Good guess. Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Delicious, but no. Halloween? YES. Horror movies? DOUBLE YES!
Welcome to 31 Days of Horror, where I’ll cover at least two noteworthy horror films a day for the entirety of the month. That’s 31 Days of Horror and 62+ scary movies perfect for a cold, dark October night. Be sure to visit Geeks of Doom every day this month for a double-shot of chills and thrills!
Today’s double-shot features the grandfather (or grandmother?) of the slasher sub-genre, Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1960 film, Psycho, and Tod Browning‘s 1932 Pre-Code horror film about sideshow oddities, Freaks.
Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from one of her employer’s clients and flees in her car. En route to California, there is a heavy rainstorm which prompts her to spend the night at the Bates Motel. Owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) tells Marion he rarely has customers because of his location along an older, less-traveled highway, and mentions he lives with his mother in the house overlooking the motel.
He invites Marion to have supper with him, when she overhears Norman arguing with his mother about his supposed sexual interest in Marion, and during the meal, Marion angers him by suggesting he institutionalize his mother. Norman admits he would like to do so, but doesn’t want to abandon her.
After her rather awkward dinner with Bates, Marion decides to take a shower. As she undresses in her room, Norman watches through a peephole in his office wall. Suddenly, a shadowy figure enters the bathroom and stabs Marion to death…
That Creepy Scene:
“When the mind houses two personalities, there’s always a conflict, a battle. In Norman’s case, the battle is over — and the dominant personality has won.” Norman Bates sits in a jail cell, his mind dominated by his dead mother’s persona. “Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly.’” Norman’s lips curl upward and form a devastating smile. Slowly, Marion’s car is recovered from the swamp.
At that moment, Norman Bates became cinema’s first truly iconic slasher – and the lingering image of him in his jail cell has inspired murderous pyschopaths from Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange to Heath Ledger‘s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. While everyone remembers the shower scene and the ultimate reveal of Norman Bates dressed in his mother’s clothes, it’s this scene of quiet insanity that sticks with me – the horrific grin, the sound of water rushing out of Marion’s automobile as it is slowly lifted out of the muddy water.
Hitchcock’s Psycho is perhaps the most intriguing murder mystery captured on celluloid. A true psychological thriller, the film was loosely inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein (whose cannibalistic ways also inspired Hannibal Lecter and Leatherface). While Norman Bates doesn’t make human skin lampshades or eat a census taker’s liver with fava beans and a nice chianti, he is a deeply disturbed individual that gave America a taste for the psychopathic.
As the grandfather (or grandmother?) of Slasher cinema, Norman Bates would lead the way for Leatherface, Michael Meyers, and an entire roster of boogeymen to slay pretty girls on screen. Initially, the film focuses on Janet Leigh’s Marion and the $40,000 she embezzled – but this turns out to be a bait-and-switch when Marion is killed off suddenly, a random and meaningless murder that pushes Bates to the front of the story.
When people talk about modern horror, they typically refer back to three films: Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist. Every horror film that is released today is intrinsically tied to one of these films. Movies like The Possession, The Devil Inside and The Last Exorcism are obviously linked to The Exorcist while 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, and Resident Evil enjoy tweaking Romero’s zombie formula.
As for Bates, the murderous psychopath lives on with Michael C. Hall‘s Dexter and Christian Bale‘s Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that, unlike Freddy Krueger and hordes of flesh-eating zombies, there have been countless real boogeymen that have carried on Norman Bates’ work: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer.
Directed and produced by Tod Browning (Dracula) and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Freaks is based on Tod Robbins‘ 1923 short story, Spurs, about carnival (funfair) performers. Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the eponymous sideshow “freaks,” rather than relying on elaborate costumes and makeup.
The film follows a self-serving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who seduces and eventually marries a sideshow oddity, Hans (Harry Earles), after learning of his large inheritance. At their wedding reception, the other “freaks” resolve that they will accept Cleopatra in spite of her being a “normal” outsider, and hold an initiation ceremony, wherein they pass a massive goblet of wine around the table while chanting, “We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble!”
A drunken Cleopatra reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules (Henry Victor), the strong man; she mocks the freaks, tosses the wine in their faces, and drives them away. The oddities of the sideshow work together to get payback on Cleopatra and Hercules… and ultimately leave them hideously mutilated – two more freaks for the traveling carnival’s exhibit.
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