Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock’s Oedipus Rex masterpiece turns 60

Anthony Perkins (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Anthony Perkins (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) /

Psycho, the progenitor of most slasher films turns 60 this year. We take a look at Hitchcock’s masterpiece which set the tone for the golden age of horror.

Psycho was extremely controversial when it hit theaters in 1960. Prior to that was Michael Powell’s disturbing, Peeping Tom. A film about a serial killer who liked to photograph his victims in their death throes which was met with so much censorship that the director’s career was forever ruined.

However, Alfred Hitchcock continued to thrive artistically after helming his effort which depicted a young man suffering from an extreme Oedipus Rex complex. Norman Bates, the burgeoning serial killer of Psycho, played with shy, boyish charm by the wonderful Anthony Perkins, was deceptively non-threatening. Why, he wouldn’t even harm a fly!

That is what made him dangerous. His psyche was beyond repair. A boy’s best friend may be his mother but in Bates’ case she was his destroyer.

There were so many levels to Hitchcock’s production. We can’t deny that it was violent and that the sexual overtones were buzzing just beneath the surface. Let’s face it in 1960, voyeurism was a taboo subject that Hollywood wouldn’t touch. Oh, and Norman loved to watch.

He could barely contain his excitement as he leered at Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) through a peephole as she got undressed. His repressed libido had to find an outlet, after all!

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Since his overbearing mother, Norma crippled his ability to function as a normal man, he turned to wielding a knife and killing the objects that he desired so that he would not incur her wrath. This plot was very adventuresome to say the least for the early 60’s and it is no small wonder that Paramount Pictures did their best to sabotage Hitchcock’s production.

Despite the reduced budget, the movie was made with the crew from the director’s television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins believed in the script so much that they worked for less than their usual fees.

Cut to a decade later and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas which is usually hailed as the first slasher film, has the director himself stating that Psycho was one of his primary inspirations. Even John Carpenter’s Halloween which ushered in the 1980’s golden era of horror was influenced by Hitchcock’s work.

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Dr. Sam Loomis, one of Donald Pleasence’s roles that introduced him to the younger generation was directly taken from Psycho. Coming full circle, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) was the lover of Marion Crane and Crane was portrayed by none other than Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh.

Carpenter and Clark aren’t the only ones to have taken a page from the classic film. Brian DePalma paid homage to Psycho’s great shower scene in his 1980’s thriller Dressed to Kill.

Believe it or not, even The Graduate has a little nod to Hitchcock’s effort in it. When Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson are lying in bed together, think back to Marion and Sam in the opening scenes of the movie.

No doubt, Psycho will continue to influence horror films for many decades to come.

Next. Thoughts from the Ledge: The Horror Legacy of Anthony Perkins. dark

You can stream Psycho on You Tube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, VUDU and Sling TV. 

What other films are similar to Psycho? Let us know in the comments.