31 Days of Wicked Watch [DAY 6]: Origins are the Best Medicine

One of the films that started it all comes from one of the greatest film minds of all-time: Alfred Hitchcock. “Psycho” starring Janet Leigh (“Halloween’s” Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother) is one of the most brutally effective visual stories in my film library, and it is one that, despite the black-and-white film that so many are vehemently opposed to, is a film everyone should see in their lifetime.

What Hitchcock was so good at was one of the most important qualities of horror: suspense. His use of jump cuts and his clean editing lines between scenes, such as the swirl of blood to the swirl of an eye, are truly remarkable works of art. He also emphasized the importance of sound, integrating what has been one of the most influential killing screeches in horror soundtrack history.

While the resolution of the film is slightly less than desirable–the times didn’t necessarily allow for a full and true explanation of Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates and his transition–the film itself plunges us deep into the depths of Oedipal complexes and the fact that “we all go a little mad sometimes” (a line that was brought back to life thanks to Wes Craven and Skeet Ulrich in “Scream”).

Where this film takes off, the desire to escape one’s personal demons, is a feeling so many of us can relate to and quite often which we could accomplish. As Leigh enters the world of the Bates Motel, Hitchcock provides us with a glimpse of white flight and loneliness–two ideas that normally don’t seem to be synonymous. Leigh’s unnatural behavior couple with Bates’ natural attraction, lead to a short, yet complex interaction of the two characters. With Bates acting incredibly maternal and Leigh exhibiting masculine characteristic within the framework of a bombshell’s body, Hitchcock switches the script on our traditional viewing of the female character in what Carol Clover would eventually call the Final Girl. For those that have seen the movie, Leigh isn’t necessarily the complete embodiment of that idea, but she is the beginning of our shift in how we look at women in film, particularly in the horror genre.

Leigh’s work later inspired a number of leading ladies in their acting and scriptwriters in their writing; she gave way to the “scream queens”–a title her daughter is still known for to this day. Leigh would earn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for this role, and she would win the Golden Globe for Best Support Actress–further cementing her legacy in film and paving the way for horror roles to be recognized for their excellence (I’m sure Jodie Foster would agree). Perkins, on the other hand, despite playing one of the most intellectually and psychologically intense roles of the film, would only be celebrated for his acting. A number of documentaries specifically coin Perkins as the birth of the slasher and his acting capabilities as near perfection.

As we learn in the film, “a boy’s best friend is his mother,” so make sure to tell your mother you love her today; just make sure that you watch this film after as to not color your judgment.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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