Posts Tagged ‘Psycho’


In the past decade there has been a spate of film and TV projects chronicling iconic show business figures and landmarks. It seems as if modern audiences are basking in a warm nostalgic glow, and alongside the endless remakes, sequels and prequels, the biopic has provided that irresistible glimpse into the past. In the past couple of months alone, there have been two, that’s right, two Hitchcock biopics. The Girl, a BBC project starring Toby Jones, pecked at the torrid shoot of The Birds, but this new film documents the precursor, the infamous Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins stars as the rotund, devilish auteur Alfred Hitchcock, heavily made up in prosthetics of course. Sacha Gervasi’s film details the origins of Psycho and how the shoot came to affect his relationship with longtime partner/collaborator Alma Reville, played by Helen Mirren. In early 60’s LA, Hitchcock’s magic was beginning to fade with Hollywood producers; they wanted a sleek, commercial hit in the vein of North by Northwest, while a jaded Hitch was keen to spread his wings with a more dangerous project. When the Psycho novel falls into his paunch, he revels in its gruesome depiction of murder and incest.

The studios however, are less impressed, and even Alma has her reservations. Forced to fund it himself, Hitch and Alma put their livelihoods on the line in order to ignite the project. Meanwhile, Alma’s attentions are drawn to the seductive screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), as the two work on his new screenplay. Hitch’s eyes are also straying again to his perennial vice; the buxom blonde lead actress, this time Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson). As the shoot goes on, the couple find themselves edging apart from one another.

Hopkins and Mirren are both excellent; Hopkins showing the same pained restraint as he did so memorably in The Remains of the Day, while injecting the film with a bout of much needed humour. Mirren plays Alma as both headstrong and whipsmart, but also someone quietly affected by Hitch’s weakness for his dream woman. The film as a whole though has something of an identity crisis. It starts off as a fairly gentle, witty domestic charade, then descends into worthy relationship drama, mingling misguided fantasy elements along the way. Ed Gein (the serial killer inspiration for Psycho) appears in a series of hallucinations to Hitch, advising him throughout the film. These intermissions feel unnecessary and only muddy the overall tone.

Hitchcock is an enjoyable romp, but has serious issues with drama and conflict. The film never really delves into why the Psycho shoot was so torturous and the obstacles (MPAA, his infatuation with Leigh, studio execs) are dealt with ease. His relationship with Alma doesn’t manage to ignite the audiences fire either, and it started to remind me of another biopic, Control. Was Ian Curtis’ relationship with his wife the really interesting aspect of the Joy Divison story, or was it simply a convenient thread for the film makers to cling onto? I have similar reservations here, in that Psycho speaks for itself as a striking piece of work. We don’t really need to know the story behind it, and here the film makers never convince us otherwise.

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Directing for Hammer Horror, James Watkins (Eden Lake) brings The Woman in Black to the big screen, complete with a much anticipated new role for Daniel Radcliffe. Critics have taken to the film with beady eyes, highlighting the simplicity of the plot, addressing the sparse characterisation and treating Radcliffe’s performance with pedantic scrutiny. When all is considered though, their in depth examination seems laughable in the face of what is a first-rate horror film like one we haven’t seen in years.

Based on Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black tells the tale of a young solicitor and single father, Arthur Kipps who heads to a desolate mansion on the English coast to see to a deceased woman’s paperwork. Kipps has a young son to provide for and the sadness of his wife’s death (who died in child birth) still hangs upon his shoulders. Upon arriving he is informed by the locals that he should not visit the mansion, as they believe it is haunted by a darkly clad female apparition. Applying reason to the situation Kipps decides to see the job through, as he must prove his worth to his employer for fear of losing his job.

Radcliffe’s first serious non-Harry Potter performance is in good hands with James Watkins who gives him a mature role, playing a grief stricken father. While Radcliffe’s acting range is discernible, Watkins plays to his strengths allowing us to invest suitably in his dilemma. Building the authenticity of the story Watkins selects some superb locations, particularly the mansion itself – the design team dressed Cotterstock Hall in East Northamptonshire to create the epically creepy Eel Marsh House.

Watkin’s shooting style brings to mind classics of the horror genre, notably Psycho, Halloween and Alien. The movement of the characters and the coordinated use of close ups and shallow depth of field keep us on edge knowing that something sinister is lurking near-by. The design and lighting combine to give us a sense that the woman in black herself is omnipresent, building a constant sense of tension. Use of CGI is limited and thankfully so – often the effects feel like some of the cheapest tricks, but Watkins reins it in. He also deserves credit for rejecting the initial proposal that the film should be shot in 3D – this would have destroyed the classical creep of the Edwardian set story.

Amping up the scares towards the end, in a fashion particularly comparable to Halloween Watkins makes The Woman in Black first and foremost a thrill ride, but this is not to say that the film lacks substance. The payoff requires credible emotional investment from the audience and it carries it off with precision, allowing the fear of the woman in black to make a real impression. This film, like the novel it is adapted from, is designed to haunt you after it has ended. Perhaps when you are home alone, or just going to bed it will come back to give you one extra scare – when you buy tickets to see a horror film that is what you pay for and The Woman in Black welcomely delivers.

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