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Movies you missed: 'Psycho'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time again for Movies You Missed, our series that revisits movies that listeners, friends and colleagues have somehow managed to avoid. This week...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PSYCHO")

ANTHONY PERKINS: (As Norman Bates) We all go a little mad sometimes.

SIMON: ..."Psycho," the 1960 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh and a bunch of great character actors who don't make it all until the last reel, if you catch my drift. Cathy Wong, a graduate student at MIT, which is not the Michigan Institute of Taxidermy, joins us now. Have you, like me, been avoiding it? What was your reason?

CATHY WONG: Oh, my God. Yeah. I have been avoiding this movie it almost feels like my whole life. Almost everything that I know about "Psycho" comes from - we should double-check this with my mother - but my particular memory is that we were in the Acme supermarket and we were walking literally through the watermelon section. And apropos of almost nothing, my mom turned to me and said, there's this movie called "Psycho," and a woman in it is stabbed. And the way that they make the sound is that Hitchcock himself stabbed this watermelon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PSYCHO")

JANET LEIGH: (As Marion Crane, screaming).

WONG: And. Then she was so specific about it, she was like, you know, this woman is in the shower. She's screaming. There's all this stabbing. There's this disturbing violin string sound. And then you see her blood going down the shower. I don't know why she knew so much about this. She was like, but it's actually chocolate syrup. And for months, I couldn't take showers. And if I was in showers, I would just shower with my eyes open, letting the shampoo...

SIMON: Oh, my word.

WONG: ...Run into my eyes because I was so terrified.

SIMON: Of course. Of course. You have to be alert every single moment you're in the shower, right?

WONG: And I was shocked when I actually saw the movie. It was so funny. It was so campy. I could barely even hear the watermelon.

SIMON: I was avoiding it, too, until this week. And, all right, let's talk about it. Can you summarize the plot for us?

WONG: I think it opens with kind of a red herring involving a woman who is having what feels like a torrid affair and makes a series of paranoid and impulsive decisions. And she winds up in this innocuous-seeming motel run by a bird taxidermist and is violently murdered, and a series of kind of additional violent murders unspool from there.

SIMON: Well, what did you think?

WONG: I mean, I found it overwrought. There's kind of a comic aspect to the way that everyone staggers through their death over several seconds. But I actually - I was seeing it with a group because I'm such a wimp about horror. I was, like, actually just terrified of seeing this. You know, we all knew there was going to be this kind of climactic stabbing. But then there were so many more, which none of us knew about. And people just viscerally screamed. Like, there was a girl next to me, and when the violin picks up, I just heard her scream.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the production aspects. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates - what did you think?

WONG: I loved Anthony Perkins. I was actually really rooting for him. I - the only person that I wanted to see through on his stuffing mission was Anthony Perkins. And I do know some things about Anthony Perkins. I mean, I was watching this movie with, like, a very queer group of friends. And all of us - our association with horror is that villains in a movie are kind of often coded, I guess, with various features that are kind of ascribed to their sexuality or their gender presentation. And so I was, like, kind of feeling this like, oh, my God. Wait a second. Is this going to be, like, a mother's clothing dressing thing? Is that "Silence of the Lambs"? Is it both of these? But also, I thought Anthony Perkins - I was like, he's the only person talking normally in this movie. Everybody else is kind of deep in their trans-Atlantic accent. And Anthony Perkins is like - you know, he's amazing (laughter).

SIMON: Well, terrific - and I mean, we'll note, biographically, lived kind of a closeted life.

WONG: Right. There have been times when I've seen movies - like, I feel like "Pulp Fiction" was one of those where I was like, oh, I'm seeing kind of the archetypes of this thing that has become so deeply enmeshed in my perception of movies. And I felt that watching Anthony Perkins. I was like, I can just see this cascade of movie villains from "American Psycho" to "Silence of the Lambs" that have all - even just like, you know, arbitrary serial killers on TV today. And they all just feel like imitations of this, like, very specific kind of stuttery, deranged, charming person.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERNARD HERRMANN'S "PSYCHO THEME")

SIMON: Cathy Wong has watched "Psycho" for us. Thank you so much for being with us. And - OK, everybody listening, hit the showers.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERNARD HERRMANN'S "PSYCHO THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Danny Hensel