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Script Review: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

Written by: Lou Zammichieli, Special to CC2K


Image On November 17th, 1957 in Plainview, WI, two sheriff’s deputies arrived at the secluded farmhouse of Edward Gein. Ed Gein was at the time being held down at the station, suspected of being involved in the disappearance of local hardware store owner Bernice Worden.
What they found gave new meaning to the word “abomination”.
Two years later, author Robert Bloch took aspects of that case to compose his masterpiece, Psycho. The subsequent movie version was a smash hit and became a cultural touchstone. Ten years after that came The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, also borrowing aspects of the Gein case and becoming a slightly more minor cultural touchstone. The ad copy said the film was based on a true story, and, to a degree, it was.
Fast forward another fifteen years or so to the publication of Thomas Harris’s novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. All three villains from those books (Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde and Jame Gumb) each could trace their origins to some facet of Ed Gein’s  . . .um . . personality. Needless to say, these aren’t just cultural touchstones, but cottage industries.
But none of these would have happened if those two sheriff’s deputies from fifty years ago hadn’t walked through the backdoor of Hell.
Forgive me if I refrain from discussing exactly what they found. I have a pretty strong stomach and/or nerve for these things after years of crime reading/movie watching but thinking about it makes me want to lose my last eight lunches. If you’re of a mood, there’s always Google. Do your homework, young man/lady!
Still, for all the influence Ed Gein has had, you’d think he’d be more well-known, joining the ranks of celebrity boogeymen like Ted Bundy, “Chuckles” Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. This movie should change all that.

The script tells three stories simultaneously, making a connection between Ed Gein, Alfred Hitchcock and Norman Bates (vis a vis the aforementioned “making of Psycho). What do all three of them have in common, other than being deeply weird? Monstrous mother-figures, it turns out. Norman Bates’s “issues” are all to well-known, so there’s no need to go into them. (Actually, Tony Perkins had some too, but not nearly as bad, so the script doesn’t mention it). Hitch’s were only slightly less severe, taking the form of verbal and emotional abuse. Ed Gein’s relationship with his mother was one based on mutual parasitism: he relied on her emotionally and mentally to tell him what to do, while she needed him to listen to her paranoid religious fantasies and moralities. Toward the end, she relied on Ed physically, as she was bedridden from a debilitating stroke. After she died, Ed lost it. Big time. Starting with grave robbing, he eventually turned to murder.

Hitchcock didn’t go quite that far, although he was probably tempted. At the time he came across Psycho (the book), he was getting tired of making “big movies with big stars”. That, and the fact that many Young Turk filmmakers seemed to be making much more with much less made Hitch realize he needed a change. So he simplified: only one established star (Janet Leigh), film on location only when he couldn’t use backlots, and use the crew from his long-running TV show.
Not surprisingly, the suits weren’t pleased in this change of direction, and fought Hitchcock tooth and nail over this “lowbrow” property. End result? Hitch ended up financing the entire movie out of his own pocket, and thereby setting himself up to win the lion’s share of the profits. In short, Hitch got rich!
Hitchcock is the omniscient narrator in this script, taking the same role he often took in his TV show, weaving in and out his own life story as well as Ed Gein’s, then applying both to the making of the titular film.  Though I haven’t read the book this script is based on (but intend to), some questions arise on how much Hitch/Ed/Norman overlapped in real life. Per example, the cross-referencing of the scenes where Norman peeps at Marion juxtaposed with Hitch doing the same to Vera Miles during a costume fitting to Ed spying on his own mother in the shower (don’t ask). Subtle? No. Effective? Yes, but his this all true?
Although there are a few artistic liberties taken to ratchet up the tension (Ed being arrested at a house he’s having dinner at after we’ve gotten a full look at the house of horrors) this script works pretty well. The only false notes I saw were in characterizations: Ed in real life was thought to be mildly retarded, but here is shown as being halfway pretty bright. More hard to believe was the scene where one of the deputies offers Ed comfort not long after witnessing the atrocities within the Gein house, justifying it by saying “he’s still a human being”. Pretty forward, progressive thinking for a small town. In a farming community. In Wisconsin. In the late 50s. Guess these are the “small-town values” we keep hearing about.
Part of why I’d like to see this film get made is to see how the film makers address Eddie-baby’s “perculiarities”. I’m also enthused about Anthony Hopkins playing Hitchcock (with Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma, who he called “mother” . . .oh, dear). If nothing else, this is some good post-modern humor (the portrayer of AFI’s #1 villain portraying the creator of AFI’s #2, while going back to the case that inspired the lead actor’s most famous role, etc. etc.)
It’s a safe bet the revulsion will be filmed, but not televised. Heh heh heh.

Author: Lou Zammichieli, Special to CC2K

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