2. Psycho (1960)
When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) arrives at the Bates Motel, she is an embezzler running from the cops. Of course, she becomes more well-known for getting murdered in the shower, which is another way Psycho is surrounded by law and order themes. In fact, if you really think of it, horror very often has such themes, with Hitchcock’s classic being one of the early heavy-hitters. How influential are the police aspects to this story? Where do they come from?
Well, Psycho was ever so loosely inspired by the real-life burgeoning serial killer and grave robber Ed Gein, whose legendary freakishness would also inspire The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. Sure, characters like Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and Special Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) are more memorable than the police in Psycho, but Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is still about as interesting as Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) or Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (Ted Levine). The point is, the police have this psycho (with genuine mental health issues) right under their nose, and just barely catch wind of it. At one point, Marion is followed somewhat by a highway patrol officer (Mort Mills), but nothing really becomes of it, suggesting a lack of awareness.
In many ways, Psycho is about the random threats that can come from seemingly modest and gentle people and places. Unaware of the murder risk, Marion stops at an unassuming hotel, both to rest and to sort out her scattered thoughts. Obviously, she and Sam should have just sat to discuss their financial problems, but she threatened the whole relationship with her rash decision to run away with stolen money. Then, of course, comes the fascinating theme that her life was never endangered by Norman Bates regarding the cash, as he never knew Marion had it.
Basically, this movie ends up pairing a clumsy office criminal with someone who murders without necessarily knowing it. On the bright side, there is no indication that Bates would rape and murder her, or his other victims, so the killings apparently aren’t sexual in that sense. By the time the police discover Marion’s body, they offer us a strange tale involving Norman’s murderous jealousy of his mother and how his murders were an odd, unfortunate way to cope with his own original murders (or something like that). In a perverted sense, his mother was his partner, and this secretary was just an outlet for that Freudian psycho-sexual aggression. That’s where a lot of the Ed Gein stuff comes into play.
Obviously, Ed Gein processed the death of his own mother in a very strange, grisly way, as he ended up murdering and, well, “processing” his victims. When his crimes were discovered, they shocked the world. While Psycho never takes it to Gein’s extremes, it was still considered an extreme film in its day, and it really paved the way for a lot of what is now a given in the psychological thriller genre, and even in slasher films.