Top 5 films of Alfred Hitchcock – Master of the macabre

Alfred Hitchcock was Stephen King before Stephen King. Cited by John Carpenter as being the influence behind his movie, Halloween and Debra Hill’s casting suggestion of Jamie Lee Curtis for obvious reasons (Janet Leigh’s daughter), his directing style has influenced a generation of horror filmmakers.

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock

Director Emeritus

For years, Alfred Hitchcock reigned as the king of suspense. The product of a strict Catholic upbringing, he found himself at an early age being fascinated with the cinema.  According to IMDB, at 21 he joined the film industry as an artist.

Ultimately, this ability would serve him well when he became a director. Hitchcock or “Hitch” as he was known to his friends and colleagues was famous for creating elaborate storyboards for his movies. He planned his shots meticulously which is why each frame of his films could be considered a work of art.

However, there was a dark side to him that he kept well hidden. He had a penchant for focusing on his leading ladies in an obsessive fashion. There was even a phrase that was conjured up to describe his compulsions, the “Hitchcock Blonde.”

Most of his actresses were flaxen haired. Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Grace Kelly and Kim Novak. The subject matter in his films always contained hints of sexual innuendo. From Rope to Vertigo to Psycho, the idea of repressed sexuality bordering on obsession is almost glaring.

Brian DePalma began his career emulating Hitchcock as did John Carpenter and countless other directors. With a filmography as vast and varied as his it was a difficult task to spotlight 5 films. I will caution readers that this is not a regular list so there will be some unexpected choices.

Without further ado, here are the Top 5 films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Psycho

Psycho – Anthony Perkins – Norman Bates – Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

This film is perhaps the progenitor of many of the serial killer films or slasher films of recent eras. Based on Ed Gein, the mad man who used his victim’s skin to make wallets and furniture, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was so terrifying because he appeared to be the boy next door.

When you think about it, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th and even Silence of the Lambs share their origins with Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Audience reactions to Psycho were extreme in some cases. People fainted and had to leave the theaters because they were so disturbed. In the 70s, TCM audience members had similar responses.

The beauty in this film is what you DON’T see. For example, the shower death of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is artfully done. Quick cuts where you just see the knife slashing down but no impact to the flesh, blood running down the drain with no gore, it is all about the execution. A fun fact, the blood is actually chocolate syrup.

Unfortunately, while Gus Van Sant tried to pay homage to the Hitch classic in 1998 with some top actors like Vince Vaughn, Julienne Moore, Viggo Mortensen and William H. Macy it just didn’t feel right. Van Sant used the same dialogue and the exact shot plans but it was like watching a child trying to recreate the Mona Lisa. You can’t expound on perfection.

 

Frenzy

Frenzy – Barry Foster – Courtesy of Universal Pictures

This 1972 film has definitely influenced Brian DePalma’s work. Case in point, Dressed to Kill which had a very similar plot line. London is in the grips of a serial killer running amok known as the “Necktie Murderer.” Gritty and very realistic for Hitchcock, this movie delves into rape, strangulation and a depraved psyche.

When Richard Blaney’s ex-wife is found murdered, the police believe he is the man they are searching for but it is a case of mistaken identity. So, Blaney goes on the lam to prove his innocence. This plot was echoed to some extent in Harrison Ford’s remake of the Fugitive.

Perhaps because of his stringent religious upbringing Hitchcock let go of some repressed urges by dealing with this type of subject matter. We are always fascinated by behavior that is decidedly different from our own.

There are violent scenes and some that will stick with you after viewing the movie but this is a solid effort and one that is an underrated masterpiece of the director. If you enjoy well written psychological thrillers, this is a must-see flick.

 

Rope

Rope- James Stewart – Farley Granger – Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Based on real life murderers Leopold and Loeb, Rope is a horrific look at two college students, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) who decide to murder one of their fellow classmates, David just for kicks. Being bold and smug because they come from well-to-do backgrounds, they throw a party inviting their murder victim’s father, his fiancée and their old mentor and teacher, Rupert (James Stewart).

The centerpiece of this soiree is a trunk where they have hidden the body of their classmate. Its gruesome use is as a buffet table.

Their goal was to commit the perfect crime using their teacher’s theories. For those of you that watch ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, this movie would be right up your alley. They clearly borrowed from the concept of Hitchcock’s film.

This movie has so many layers to it. Rope is also known for being shot as a play which means that nothing was filmed out of sequence. This is what gives the film the appearance of being shot in one take.

As with Hitchcock’s other works, this one also contains a sexual subtext between Brandon and Phillip. Eventually, Rupert’s suspicions are raised when David doesn’t show up to the party. He is then approached by one of the guests who has found a personal item of the murder victim.

The boys begin to crack and eventually Rupert discovers their deadly secret. It is almost his undoing as well over feeling guilty for his students trying to prove his theories correct.

James Stewart was excellent in this role as were Granger and Dall. In my opinion, Rope ranks up there as one of Stewart’s best performances on celluloid.

 

Spellbound

Spellbound – Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman – Courtesy of Selznick International Pictures and Vanguard Films

Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck during the 1940s were two of the biggest box office stars of the decade. Prior to this film, Peck was usually cast as the stalwart heroic type while Bergman was the love interest with acting chops.

Spellbound is a tale of amnesia and psychology which already sounds like a recipe for intrigue and suspense. Peck plays Dr. Edwardes, a young, well-known psychologist who is replacing the head of Green Manors mental facility, Dr. Murchison (Leo G Carroll) in Vermont. Bergman portrays psychoanalyst, Constance Peterson a young gun in her own right.

Right off the bat, when the two of them meet there is an instantaneous, palpable chemistry. They start to become extremely close. As their bond increases, so does Edwardes bizarre behavior. He can’t handle the sight of stripes on a white robe plus he gets a serious panic attack during a surgery.

Eventually, Peterson figures out that he may not be who he says he is. Finally, he relents and tells Constance that he fears that he killed Dr. Edwardes and that he can’t remember anything. She also notes that his cigarette case has the initials, JB on it.

The Power of Dreams

Constance believes him and sets out to try and help him regain his memory and identity. However, he flees in the middle of the night and she ends up chasing him to New York. Then she tries to psychoanalyze him to see if that might jar him.

They end up being on the lam for a bit because Dr. Edwardes secretary alerted the police back at the hospital that Peck was an impostor. The idea of running and mistaken identity is a theme that carries through much of Hitchcock’s works.

Peck has a breakthrough after a bizarre dream which Salvador Dali created for the film. He tells Constance that his name is John Ballantyne and that he was being treated by Dr. Edwardes after the war. Peterson’s old boss, Dr. Murchison murdered Edwardes and Ballantyne witnessed it.

Constance confronts Murchison who confesses to her. He then pulls a gun out of his desk drawer and threatens to kill her. Instead, he commits suicide.

 

The Trouble with Harry

The Trouble with Harry – John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine – Courtesy of Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

The Trouble with Harry is a bit of a departure for Hitchcock. It is in fact, a murder mystery comedy. This film could very well have inspired the 80s comedic hit, Weekend at Bernie’s. When Harry Worp’s body is discovered in the woods, by hunter, Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) he immediately feels guilty.

See, he was shooting rabbits and not doing very well at it. So, he automatically thinks that he accidentally killed Harry with a stray bullet. He decides to bury the body.

However, due to circumstances beyond his control, he ends up having to tell various townspeople what happened. Most of them are complicit with his supposed crime even his mistress, Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine).

As a matter of fact, she seems happy that Harry is dead. Possibly because he left her on their wedding night due to a bad horoscope prediction.

Now, everyone is in on the act of trying to figure out how to dispose of the corpse. The Captain returns to the woods and gets ready to start digging the grave for the body when he is thwarted again by various entities.

This game of almost burying the body, trying to hide Harry continues with hilarious results. In between the hi-jinx, Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) gets in on the action and ends up wooing the Captain’s mistress, Jennifer whom he has had a crush on for years.

Finally, after more mishaps and other confessions to the murder, the cause of death is determined as a heart attack. In the end, the body is taken care of and Sam and Jennifer are free to consummate their relationship by getting married.

Epilogue

With such an extensive list of films to his credit, Alfred Hitchcock is going to have something for every lover of the macabre and suspense.

Much like Shakespeare for literature, it could be said that Hitch’s works and influence are very prevalent in all corners of the entertainment world from the cinematic to even television.

What is your favorite Hitchcock film? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you.