The first time I watched Psycho a scene captured my attention in particular, the one right after Marion’s murder. We see Norman cleaning up, disponisng of her body in the car trunk, hiding the car in the lake.
I watched this scene and thought “That’s boring. Wouldn’t a montage be better?”.
It’s a pretty long scene, and nothing new happens. Yes, he disposes of the body and cleans up the bathroom, but a couple of shots that take up less screen time and would have done the job as well.
Later I realized that the scene is long probably on purpose. After the adrenaline filled shower scene we needed something to take us back to earth. This does the trick.
It also shows us that unlike lesser horror movie villains, Norman is not a tentacled monster with green eyes, he’s a man. Performing a task we can all do like wiping the floor.
This is what makes Psycho so frightening, the fact that the monster is just “a guy”. And the worst part is that this part of the story is not too far from reality.
In reality there aren’t cool montages or editors that cut away the parts we don’t like to see. Just like that in reality a killer cannot “skip” the aftermath of the murder. He must stay there and cover his traces if he doesn’t want to get caught.
Many murders never get solved because the killer does what Norman is doing in this scene: clean up. It might be a simple thing, nothing violent or graphic, but it’s real, and that’s what makes it terrifying.
Other recent horror movies have decided to mix reality with the unrealistic to give the audience a sense of genuine fear:
Get out depicts an unrealistic chirurgical procedure that allows an individual to live forever, but also the very real struggle of a minority who’s identity and culture is considered nothing more than a “fashion choice”, and who’s rights are stripped away for other people’s benefit.
A quiet place mixes monsters who attack if they hear a sound with the frightening reality of two parents trying their best to raise their kids in a dangerous environment, who spend their days worrying about them and trying to protect them.
Psycho, is essentially the story of a woman living her life who gets killed by a stranger for no logic reason. That sounds boring and depressing, right? Pointless even.
This is the feeling I had watching this scene for the second time, Marion’s story was pointless. The movie sets us up for a journey about redemption: a woman commits a crime, feels guilty about it, realizes that she made a mistake, comes back and redeems herself.
Or at least this is what should have happened, but it didn’t, because her journey was interrupted. Now she’ll never have the chance to right her wrongs, and finish her story. This is ultimately the message of her character, accept your life for what it is, don’t put yourself in danger trying to get more.
Why is this scene the best one in the movie? Not simply becuse it’s realistic, but because it let us grieve our protagonist. Before this moment, Marion was present in every scene in the movie, after this moment, we’ll never see her again.
Norman has essentially wiped her out of the planet, her bodiy, her belongings, they’re all gone. And that’s what’s frightening, the idea that someone (not an alien or a ghost, but a man) can do that to us. Take our lives and our stories and sink them in a lake.
Fortunately, Psycho give us an uplifting ending (if you can call it that). Marion is not forgotten, her sister and her boyfriend fight until they manage to find her. Her killer is brought to justice and she can rest in peace.
The revelation of Norman’s montal illness and the troubled past of him and his mother are usually what comes to mind when thinking about this movie. The mistery behind the mother is certainly intriguing, but that is not the frightening part.