Saturday, April 16, 2011

Psycho and Taboos

Slasher films are probably my least favorite subgenre of horror films- I suppose I prefer psychological horror/thriller films. The characteristics which define slasher films are precisely the reason I don’t seem to like them. Victims are often morally repugnant, and not in any way sympathetic. They are dumbed down and fall into the same traps like splitting up from other characters. It frightens me more when characters that are harmless get axed them characters that are “asking for it.” Also, slasher films to me follow the same patterns and are followed by some ridiculous sequels.

That being said, Psycho is as classic a film today as it was edgy for the time. I’ve seen a number of Hitchcock films but I cannot recall in any of them the female characters walking around half-dressed or lying in bed with their boyfriends. The film can be dated by the language and elements that were seen as “racy” at the time. You don’t ever see Janet Leigh’s navel- that would have been a no-no until I Love Jeannie eventually forced the taboo out. I even discovered through the magic of the Internet that the flushing of the toilet was even taboo at the time.

I wasn’t familiar with the “sequels” to the Psycho film until Wikipedia directed me to them. In these sequels Anthony Perkins return as Norman Bates, commits more murders, but all because “Mother” has come back into his psyche and taken over. The sequels, instead of incriminating Bates, try to make the audience sympathize with him. Perhaps in the decades that followed the original, when the sequels were made, there was not only a greater understanding of mental illness but sympathy for people with those conditions.


  1. It is definitely a fact that horror films/slasher films and the taboo go hand and hand. Look at any of the films we've watched during this portion of the semester. Night of the Living Dead and racial tension, Black Christmas and women's rights, Psycho and adultery/"nudity". Horror films are always the ones to take what we are afraid to look at or talk about and put it right in the audience's face. The scariest part about slasher films is the fact that serial killers are real and murder happens every day. Sure, in reality, we would probably not fall for the classic horror film mistakes (going outside by yourself, splitting up, etc. etc. etc.) but in the end, it is that fear of what literally could be watching from the other side of the window that scares us the most.

  2. I agree wih Kaitlin that slasher movies focus on gore and special effects, especially ones of today. The emphasis on special effects takes away from the plot. Psycho was able to merge the aspects of a slasher film along with a thriller movie. Bates murdered two people in the movie, which allows the movie to be considered a slasher film. However, there are only two murders in the film, which is atypical of modern slasher films. Slasher films are normally based solely on developing ways to kill the entire cast, except for the hero/heroine. Hitchcock was able to develop a story surrounding slasher deaths. I think he was successfully able to accomplish this because he developed the characters and their backgrounds in depth. This created sympahty for the characters, which increased the stakes in the horror film. In modern slasher movies the audience does not care about the existence of the characters. However, in Psycho Hitchcock focues on character development, which generates a interesting thriller.
    Also, Hitchcock challenges the role of women in the movie. The main character, Marion, does not portray a damsel in distress. She steals money, evades cops, and solves a murder, which shows a very strong independent woman. This is atypical of horror movies in general. I think it strengthens the plot. There are moments when she demonstrates damsel in distress qualities, but overall she is a strong character. Psycho was a milestone for horror movies as it emphasized character development and challenged the norms of the time.