Psycho. Ah, good old Psycho. That trusty Janet & John book of film analysis subject matter. Dear old Psycho. All those bird references. Phoenix, Arizona. Marion Crane. ‘You eat like a bird‘. And look at all those mirrors. They must mean something. Hooray! Here comes the shower scene and the chocolate sauce and look! It’s Norman in a frock. Whoops, there I go, giving the game away.
But wait. Poor old Psycho. Examined to death. Pored over by critics and film students and men in pubs for nearly fifty years now, often with all the plagiaristic Freudianism of a daytime TV psychologist. It’s about as worn out and dried up as a corpse in a fruit cellar. Is there anything else we can do with Psycho? Well, here’s an idea. How about turning it into a sort of parlour game?
No really. It’ll be fun. Hitch would’ve approved. He saw Psycho as one big practical joke at the expense of the audience anyway. Have you ever seen the original trailer? There’s the director, literally leading you up the garden path. Seemingly telling you the entire plot of the film before you’ve even seen it. Guiding you through the rooms of that big old house. Setting you up for a fall from a great height. Just to make sure that the heroine’s departure at the end of the second reel is as shocking as a carving knife in the ribs.
Here’s something you can try: Spot The Anus. What’s the matter? Don’t look at me like that. Let me explain. There are plenty of explorations of Hitchcock’s work out there that will tell you all you need to know about how his Catholic baggage runs through the films. Sex + money = worthless filth as any good priest will tell you. Psycho was arguably the point of no return, so to speak, for these themes. It was the moment when the Big Man reached the turtle-necking stage.
Just to make the point he scattered any number of anus-like images and references throughout the film, both on screen and in the dialogue. You don’t seem convinced. Well he dropped the odd ‘big O’ into films before Psycho you know. There’s a nice one in North By Northwest. Check out Cary Grant as that moneyed ladies’ man Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for? Nothing. And there it is, sandwiched between the R and the T on his personalised book of matches. What a load of old rOt. What’s that Mr. Hitchcock? Your films don’t mean anything? A big fat round zero? Like the O at the end of Vertigo? And the O at the end of Psycho?
So what I have in mind is a sort of Psycho sphincter spotter’s guide. A bit like those I-Spy books you used to be able to get. We won’t bother with any kind of rarity weighting system. In this game no one anus scores higher than any other. Just keeping a series of five bar gates will suffice. Not sure you can spot any? Let me start you off.
If you think of the whole film as one big alimentary canal you’ll note that at the beginning we enter in through the mouth that is the window of the hotel room to find Sam standing over Marion and at the bitter end we have a ringside seat as the dead girl’s car is dragged from the sewer that is the lagoon. As soon as we’re in that hotel room in Phoenix the digestion references commence: ‘never did eat your lunch did you’, ‘these extended lunch hours give my boss excess acid’.
Once we begin to chew our way through the plot those ‘plot-holes’ start coming thick and fast. There’s an easy one for starters; Marion’s car number plate ‘ANL-709′. Just one letter off ‘ANAL’ and oh look, there’s a nice round zero between the 7 and 9. Later we see Lila picking through Norman’s belongings in his attic room. She discovers his record player and the LP at the top of the pile is Beethoven’s symphony no. 3 in E flat major, otherwise known as Eroica. And there it is, another word one letter short of a naughty word, and one with a nice round O in the middle. Not to mention the hole in the middle of the LP.
Look out, here come some more. Marion’s $40,000 scribbled calculation, all those zeros that she tries to flush down the toilet. Then there’s her gaping screaming mouth in the shower, the shower plug hole, Marion’s iris close-up, then later there’s Mother’s hollow eye sockets. Did you notice any more references in the dialogue? Cassidy’s forty grand, the McGuffin cum turd: ‘Hot creepers! She sat there while I dumped it out‘. Mother thinks Norman is a dirty boy for having those feelings towards the girl: ‘do I have to tell her ’cause you don’t have the guts, boy?’
See how many more you can spot. 10 = good, 15 = excellent, 20 = outstanding. Any more than that and I’m guessing you’re a practising proctologist.
[A version of this post first appeared on the Big Picture website on 27 May 2009]