Psycho – Alfred Hitchcock

•April 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In the Sixth Sense, it turned out that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time and we all collectively lost our shit. This is because the movie came out in 1998. The internet was still in its early days and the parts of it that weren’t naked women exploded with how people had been blown away with the ending. And because not every 15 year old sitting in a basement had access to the internet, the myth of that movie had space to grow without its plot being revealed a few seconds after the first screening. (Twitter was still an ornithological term… It was the good old days)

Plus, that kid was creepy.

Every film after the Sixth Sense had a twist ending, because Hollywood will try to milk a cow even after it had been served as a happy meal at McDonald’s. (There have been 7 Saw films… even though the killer died in the 3rd film)

Unfortunately, for every Fight Club we have these days, we have a dozen Secret Windows or Hide and Seeks. Or Signs. Remember the big reveal in Signs? The aliens die of water? And God has a lot of free time on his hands? And baseball?

But I want to talk about the mother of all twist-laden films.

1960’s Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock who, in an incredible career, managed to be smarter, wittier, creepier and batshit crazier than most of Hollywood.

Psycho has you follow the female lead as she steals from work and goes on the run. Then, after about 40 minutes of really getting invested in her because she’s Janet freaking Leigh, she gets stabbed to death…rather spectacularly. We then follow the stabber for the rest of the film. That would be like Rob Schneider getting munched on in the first act of Jaws and you being perched on a shark-cam for the rest of the film. That would actually be awesome! These guys’ll need a bigger boat

But this is just the first in a series of twists in Hitchcock’s most Hitchockian film. The true mind-fuck comes in the end when you realise that the stab-happy Mrs Bates is actually her meek son in drag, who also speaks to himself in her voice. This is nicely punctuated by a swivelling chair that reveals her desiccated corpse which Norman Bates has been looking after since he killed her. Sigmund Freud would have had the longest sustained orgasm in history had he seen Psycho.

These plot twists, and the ways that Psycho subverted the audience’s expectations were unheard of when the film came out. Not only did it make for an incredible experience, but the novelty of it was preserved throughout its initial run. Its secrets were firmly kept, making sure that the film had the same impact at every screening.

And this was managed because Alfred Hitchcock went totally insane to ensure that his plot twists would not be ruined by overzealous movie-goers.

Psycho was based on a Robert Bloch novel of the same name published in 1959. Hitchcock was blown away by its twists and wanted his audience to experience them the same way that he did: without any expectations or any inkling of what the story was about. He first sent an employee to track down and buy as many copies of the book as she could find to make sure no one else read it.

The film itself was shot in a closed set with Hitchcock forcing everyone, from the cast and crew to the maids and cleaners, to sign an agreement promising not to divulge anything about the plot.

Then the actors had to promote the movie without actually mentioning what the hell they do in it.

Hitchcock also prohibited anyone from seeing the movie early, and convinced cinemas all over the world to lock their doors after the start of each viewing to ensure no one was allowed to walk in late.

Finally, the last weapon in Hitchcock’s psychotic arsenal – see what I did there? PSYCHOtic? Nevermind – the last weapon in Hitchcock’s psychotic arsenal was him telling people not to mention the movie’s ending to anyone. While they were walking out of the cinema. In a recording he made himself. This mainly worked, because it was 1960, and because the audience had no doubt that if they spilled the secrets, Hitchcock would’ve come at them with the fury of a thousand angry birds. And if you think I’m talking about the game, you’re a kid and you’re a disgrace to mankind.

A film like Psycho would never work today in a world where people feel the need to post the consistency of their daily bowel movements online. I’d like to think though that had it come out these days, Hitchcock would’ve tracked down every single person using the hashtag Psycho and would’ve waited for them, just outside their shower.


•March 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This blog is stunning. 

Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett

•March 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Saying that Terry Pratchett is on the wane is like saying that Louie Spence is less camp these days.

Pratchett might have allowed a sense of melancholy to slither through the Disc in his last couple of novels, and it’s still debatable whether this has purely been a literary choice or a reflection of his personal circumstances, but he still spins a rousing romp in Raising Steam that is several notches above the modest pickings that we have had in the genre these past few years.

Raising Steam sees the rise of the steam engines in the Discworld.  The taming of steam might seem a tad anachronistic in a world on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle, but technology has been welcomed in the Discworld ever since its semaphore towers have allowed people to instantly share images of what they had last had for dinner.

The steam revolution on the Disc is a force of nature. There is a feeling throughout the novel that the cast of characters around it, with the notable exception of the indomitable Patrician, is just there to lay down the tracks (figuratively and literally) for it to progress on while they tinker with a few adjustments here and there.

And it is their undertaking that makes for a ripping tale.

Lord Vetinari is still at the pinnacle of a biting satire of management and politics. The different races in Ankh-Morpork still offer plenty of fodder for Pratchett’s views on social inequality, racial integration and blatant racism. But a less subtle but very biting caricature of extreme fundamentalism is also made on the back of what has been brewing in the Dwarf community for more than twenty novels. Terry Pratchett doesn’t pull any punches on this, and I will personally shake his hand if I ever get to meet him for the way this is portrayed.

Moist Von Lipwig is back and although readers will feel that the challenge that he is facing this time around is more straightforward and requires less of his ingenious and improvisational artistry, he accomplishes what he sets out to do with a panache that is expected from the Postmaster General and Master of the Royal Mint of Ankh Morpork. This novel unfortunately doesn’t offer him a Reacher Gilt to square up against, but he remains the Moist Von Lipwig that we know and adopted all the way back in Going Postal : a con artist, a fraud, and more honourable than most people on the Disc and in the real world.

Lord Vetinary remains 10 steps ahead of everyone, and this will never change.

Sam Vimes drops in and out of the novel;  a character that’s almost mythical and larger than life when viewed in a story that is not directly about him, and that is no less than what he deserves.

Notable figures, such as the Low King of the Dwarfs and Harry The Sewer King, come back to the forefront of the Disc in Raising Steam. What was revealed about them in previous novels, whether these be secrets or aspirations, is tackled head-on in the novel and this is immensely satisfying to long-term fans.

The Discworld novels will come to an end sooner rather than later. We can all sense it. But rest assured that Terry Pratchett will leave the series as it deserves to be left: with those that built it at the top of their game and the turtle hurling through space with a smirk on its face.

Snuff – Terry Pratchett

•December 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Snuff never quite wields that cutlass of social satire that has hacked its way through previous Watch novels, nor does it weave as intricate and compelling a storyline as its predecessors, but long-time fans of the series will know that these are not what this 39th Discworld novel aspires to.

This is a simple tale of Samuel Vimes being Samuel Vimes, and fans will love it for that.

The street urchin who grew up in the poorest areas of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork has, over a long career as a copper, earned more titles than any man should ever have in one lifetime, and is very well aware of that. The fact that he clings to the title of blackboard monitor, given to him as a child when he was made one for a whole term, amidst his loftier ones which include Commander of the City Watch and Duke of Ankh, very succinctly sums up his character. He has a profound contempt for the higher class that has never wavered while he has fought, grappled, choked and kicked his way up the ladder of society to become one of its most prominent figures.

In Snuff he finally agrees to take a well-deserved holiday. A break from Ankh-Morpork for his wife and six-year old son (who is very good at reading but chooses only to read about poo) sounds like a good idea. Until a crime is discovered, that is, and Vetirari’s terrier, one of Vimes’ less official titles, sniffs out the deep and dark secrets of the countryside borne from the attitude of its high and mighty towards what they consider to be the vermin of society.

While this may sound like a thematic dissection of the double-standards of society, rest assured that Snuff comfortably veers away from patronizing and over-condescending preaching about racism and morals. These themes may be obvious in the novel, but they are never zealously thrust into the readers’ faces, as lesser writers would do. Snuff develops into a simple tale of quintessential Vimes, who finds something wrong and moves heaven and earth, and hell, to set things right.

The other members of the City Watch tragically only have a few scenes in the book, and they are sorely missed as the best part of these novels have often come from the way the different officers use their idiosyncratic talents, (or lack of, in case of Sergeants Colon and Nobby) to tackle a case. However, Constable Feeney Upshot, who is the only representative of whatever tenuous law they have in that part of the countryside, is a welcome addition to the cast. Vimes becomes a mentor to him, with often hilarious results, in the same way that he mentored his own young self in Night Watch.

In the end, Snuff feels like a holiday trip for the long-time readers of the Discworld series as much as it is one for Samuel Vimes. Fans will be more than satisfied with it, until Terry Pratchett gets the whole gang back together for a more familiar Ankh-Morpork City Watch novel.

And so…

•December 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve decided to create my own blog, after a decade posting on others’. I’ve realised that I have developed, over all these years, a very distinct online persona with frighteningly consistent character traits. Its rants, for example, against religion,  pet owners and jaffa cakes (will explain someday) have become so predictable that I have an uneasy feeling that it might be becoming sentient. And that it will stop needing me at the keyboard to annoy gullible dimwits.

My own blog, I’m hoping, will give me more control over what I choose to write about and respond to, and therefore more control over that online persona which I’ve chosen to call Marvin.

Screw you, Marvin.