COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN -HITCHCOCK IS FOR HORROR
Alfred Hitchcock did not make horror movies, not really, and yet his 1960 telling of Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho is often in amongst best ever horror film lists, and it does have some claim to being the first ever slasher movie. In fact though Hitchcock did work several times in the horror genre most notably with Birds (1963) and the brutal Frenzy (1972). Indeed many directors, well known for their work in the horror genre, have named Hitch as a major influence on shaping their works – John Carpenter’s Halloween for instance is very Hitchcockian, and virtually every Brain De Palma movie is a riff on good old Hitch.
Alfred Hitchcock was born August 13, 1899 in London, the second son and youngest of the three children of William Hitchcock, a greengrocer, and his wife, Emma Jane Whelan. He was educated at various Catholic boarding schools in London, and always spoke of his childhood as lonely and protected. The director claimed that as a boy he escaped into the fantasy world of his imagination to relieve the boredom of life on the working class London streets, and the brutality of his Catholic schooling.
Back to Psycho though – the movie starts out as a crime melodrama but then about half way through turns into an out and out horror cum slasher picture. It was a bold move and an unusual way to tell a story – Hitch started off with a story of a woman who steals a lot of money, and then after spending most of the screen time concentrating on the woman before killing her, losing the money and starting up a whole new story. And in this new story we are introduced to Norman Bates,a never better Anthony Perkins, as he gets rid of the woman’s body and unknowingly the money. The movie is now a very different beast indeed as the woman’s sister turns up with a private investigator and starts looking into the strange goings on at Bates Motel, which leads us to one of the most shocking climaxes in movie history.
The Birds (1963) kicked off a sting of ecological horror stories,but none did it with quite the panache of Hitch’s little tale – based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, the movie is slow moving but builds suspense through suggestion so that by the time the remarkably filmed bird attacks begin, the viewers are wound up like a spring. Another nice touch is that there is absolutely no music in the story with natural sounds used to fill in those silent moments – watch the movie on a good set up and this lack of a musical score is very effective.
Frenzy (1972) whilst not up to the high standards of many of Hitch’s classics, it is the nastiest picture the director ever produced and shares some similarities with his Lodger (1927), which was itself a telling of the Jack the Ripper story. Though this is the early Seventies and the rapes and murder are shown on the screen in a way that was not possible in earlier decades. The hero himself is a rather un-likeable character which makes the film all the more real, and often difficult to watch. The killings in this movie are not the blood soaked stylistic murders favoured by Hollywood, but rather realistic and truly unsettling scenes of psychopathic cruelty.
Of course when Hitch’s entire canon is taken into account it would be absurd to call him a horror director, but the director understood suspense and was not averse to using a sudden shock moment or a gross out scene, which is something all horror directors have learned for. In the evolution of screen horror Alfred Hitchcock stands tall.