Hitchcock's creepy thriller about sex has imprinted itself on the psyche of two generations of moviegoers.

By Bill Wyman
Published August 17, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam and John Gavin
Universal; widescreen (1.85:1)
Special features: making-of documentary, original trailer, rerelease trailers, storyboards, much more

Another horror film about buildings and food. And Alfred Hitchcock's implacably sexual 1960 black-and-white shocker does it all in the manner of, as Norman Bates' perceptive mother puts it, "the cheap erotic fashion of men with cheap erotic minds!"

The food is a Hitchcock fetish -- uneaten sandwiches and last suppers, each the setting for one gruesome tale after another. The architecture here is the cheap masonry of Phoenix; the prefab construction of the Bates Motel; the absurdist Gothic of the Bates family manse; and, most memorably, Janet Leigh's brassieres, extravagant constructions all, an ironic white during an afternoon liaison and then darkest black after she becomes a thief.

But of course this is really a movie about sex. We get afternoon adultery, a secretary whose mother gives her a tranquilizer on her wedding night and a leering nouveau riche cowboy -- all in the film's first 10 minutes, long before we even meet Norman himself, filmdom's most lovable voyeur.

The fabulous Universal "collector's edition" DVD includes a slew of features, from a newsreel to lobby cards to Saul Bass' shower-scene storyboards. Two features stand out. The first is Hitchcock's six-minute original theatrical trailer, a droll minor masterpiece of horror in itself. The second is an engrossing and sturdy 90-minute making-of documentary that does its best to explain how a low-budget ($800,000) shocker turned into an enormously profitable 110-minute classic whose frights -- just three scenes, perhaps a minute of true horror -- have imprinted themselves permanently on the psyche of two generations of moviegoers, all of them, as Hitchcock himself put it, "aroused by pure film."

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

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