‘Psycho’ just as scary 50 years later

Posted Jan. 29, 2010, at 7:26 p.m.

Can we slow it all down, just a bit?

For God’s sake, Dennis Hopper is making out his last will and testament, George Blanda is 82, and “Psycho” is celebrating its 50th anniversary of scaring the wits, and everything else, out of us.

When I was an obnoxious youth, not like now, I used to yell and scream at the movies as a sort of low-class entertainment. When the scary parts would come, I would scream, just to hear the chain reaction.

That all changed around 1957 when the French film “Les Diaboliques” showed up on American shores. When the dead body famously sat up in the tub, I started screaming as usual, then found I couldn’t stop.

That set the stage for “Psycho” a few years later.

In those days of yore, before Netflix, you actually went to movie theaters, which were as ornate as your normal castle. People used to wander in to a double feature at any time, then leave when it all started to become familiar. “This is where I came in,” was the expression.

With “Psycho,” for the first time no one was admitted until the movie was about to begin. When the movie ended, the theater was emptied. Before that, you could sit there all day like if you were skipping school or something.

You knew about Alfred Hitchcock and expected to be scared witless. But no one was ready for the star Janet Leigh (I thought she invented breasts) to be axed in the first few minutes in the shower, of all places. Have we ever felt safe in the shower in the last 50 years?

As memorable as the shower murder was, the slashing at the top of the stairs, with that incredible noise was far, far worse. I think I started screaming again, but at that point no one noticed.

I have patiently sat through most of the new slasher movies with their tons of gore. Well, they are a little scary, all right. I must admit that I turn off “The Shining” but that is because of the little kid on the bicycle.

But nothing like “Psycho.” That Hitchcock guy knew how to get under our skin.

Hitchcock scared you from head to toe. An employee in a California mental institution once swore to me that a lot of the people there were locked up after watching Hitchcock’s movie.

The fabled director said he made the movie after noting the success of the minor league thrillers “House on Haunted Hill” and “A Bucket of Blood,” and even gave a nod to “Les Diaboliques.” He knew he could do better. Much better. To save money, he used the same crew from his television show, used black-and-white film instead of color, he didn’t want the blood to be red in the shower scene, and brought it in for a mere $800,000, a pittance in Tinseltown.

It wasn’t the script.

I can’t imagine why, but Gus Van Sant tried to shoot a remake of “Psycho” in 1998 in a careful re-creation, down to the last shot. Instead of the delightfully mad Anthony Perkins and the luscious Leigh, we got Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. You can just imagine.

Film experts debate whether Hitchcock unleashed a cyclone of violence from his masterpiece, or he was just reflecting an increasingly violent country. At about the same time the movie was released, the Clutter family was massacred in Kansas, an event that produced Truman Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood.” Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein had just been discovered and arrested and was widely believed to be the “inspiration” for the book which led to the movie.

Gein’s grave-robbing, necrophiliac, cannibalistic, serial-killing rampage actually made the “Psycho” plot rather tame.

Trust me.

Some little-known facts about the masterpiece: The shower scene took seven full days to shoot. The “blood” was actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup (another reason to shoot in black-and-white) and the stabbing sound is actually a knife smashed into a casaba melon. Plus, the film showed a flushing toilet for the first time, if that’s important to you.

I don’t care if it is 50, 60 or even 70 years old like John Wallace. You sit in a real movie theater and watch “Psycho” again and it will scare the wits out of you. And everything else.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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