Hitchcock: Behind the Psycho

Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock on the set of "The Birds"

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Good e-e-evening. I'd like to tell you a story about a man, a normal looking, well respected man. A man with shadows and secrets. A man who can turn your blood cold with fear and have you pay for the priviIge. A mysterious man who had a secret weapon... his wife.

The name Alfred Hitchcock has become synonymous with fear. Not the kind of ax murderer in a mask kind of fear. Oh no, Hitchcock could send chills up your spine using your own psyche against you. His famous technique of panning the camera away from the action left the most brutal scenes largely up to the viewers interpretation. A brilliant move as it not only saved him a ton in production costs, but he was keenly aware that we would instinctively imagine the worst, in essence doing his job for him. It's genius, but not his genius. Well, not entirely anyway. Hitchcock gives mad props where mad props are due to his wife Alma Reville, but we'll get there in a second. (That's called suspence... nice, eh?)

Hitch, as he was known, gained fame with British hits such as The 39 Steps before launching his American career with Rebecca. That success was followed with hits like Spellbound, Notorious, and Stage Fright. When he came over to Paramount Pictures, he liked to cast James Stewert as his leading man, while Grace Kelly, Kim Novac and Doris Day became his newest "Hitchcock blondes". They started churning out classics like Rear Window, To Catch a Theif, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Then came Vertigo... and it was a box-office stinker. Although Hitch introduced the "zoom dolly" effect, it did not please audience goers, in turn displeasing studio heads who were now hesitent to fund his "innovative" horror films. Hitch was intrigued about a seriel killer named Ed Gein, who had made national news with gruesome findings at his home. The deranged Gein murdered several women and more disturbingly, dismembered and kept many of their body parts. Police reports indicate he made chairs out of human skin and had a cardboard box full of female body parts that were painted gold. He used human skulls as bowls, but most disconcerting was that his dead mother was rotting in her bedroom upstairs. This was the inspiration for the movie Hitch wanted to make. He wanted to call it "Psycho", and the studio wanted nothing to do with it. There were two people left in the world who felt that there was an audience for psychological thrillers, one was Hitch, and the other was his loyal wife, Alma. This is basically where the movie starts.

For fans of the director, Hitchcock gives you little treats throughout the movie. Anthony Hopkins gave the labored delivery with deliberate timing with the perfect rear tilt of the head, so as to look directly down his nose at you. His famed profile makes several appearances in the film, just for fun. Every tidbit of a rumor that has floated across the L.A. basin for the past 50 years has a little cameo in the movie... a penchant for lost or on-the-run blonde heroines and sexual undertones are all addressed in the film. Scarlett Johansson playes the decent and sweet Janet Leigh, the female lead in Psycho. Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, who is treated punitively by Hitch for choosing children over a career as he hints to a feeling of abandonment by his "leading ladies". James D'Arcy is a creepy resembelence to Anthony Perkins, his charactor who plays "Norman", the psychotic motel operator who lives with his dead mother. Charming, yes?

A person could really get the heebie-jeebies were it not for the many scenes at home between Hitch and Alma, played spot-on by Helen Mirren. Some say behind every great man is a great woman...rolling her eyes. Well, Alma was the woman rolling up her sleeves and taking care of business. I had to admire her dutiful attitude of suffering Hitches stage-crushes, long working days, frustrations and creative blockages. She allowed him the room to run himself ragged, and when he would collapse, she swoops in with complete directorial know-how and a chop-chop style that got pictures made. She was an assistant director, screenwriter and editor in her own right and was basically the eagle-eye of Hitch's productions, catching the smallest of inconsistancies and flaws that would go unnoticed by the rest of the crew. Mirren plays your steoeotypical English lady with a soft side that longs for passion and ultimatly finds it in her own backyard.

Three Stubbies. The picture is good, not great, with the performances being the selling point. Still, anyone who enjoys horror flicks, movies about Hollywood, or a good biography will enjoy Hitchcock. It's a nice fly-on-the-wall view of a guy who could skillfully deliver deadpan humor before completely scaring the bejeezus out of grown ass adults. Fun stuff on the website includes tons of vids and a make your own interactive movie poster.