The Magazine

A Master's Stroke

America checks out at the Bates Motel.

Nov 2, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 07 • By SONNY BUNCH
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Torture porn refers to a subgenre of horror films primarily obsessed with showing, in graphic detail, the horrible suffering a human body can absorb, embodied most succinctly by the Saw series. When you remove the censors and encourage filmmakers to have at it without restraint, this is the inevitable endpoint. Thomson probably overemphasizes Psycho â s role in breaking down the censorship regime with regard to sex--foreign and art house films were largely operating without the restraints imposed by domestic ratings boards and thriving as a result--but Marion Crane â s bloody death was certainly a key moment in the evolution of just how much viscera could be exposed to the audience.

More interesting, from a critical perspective, is Thomson â s assertion that â the new tone in cinema said â Believe less in the story and its characters, but study the game being played. â â â This new meta-cinema, which is concerned first and foremost with form and subverting the viewer â s expectations, can be trying, at times. But when done well--as Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy proved this year with The Informant! and Duplicity--it â s a treat for audiences.

Did Psycho change America? More to the point, did Psycho change the way America looks at itself? Probably not. Public interest in murder dates to well before the year Alfred Hitchcock washed up on our shores. Just look at the heroes we made of public enemies plaguing Midwest banks in the 1920s and â 30s, or the folk status the murderous cowboy Jesse James achieved after his death--and in part because of his violent death.

Nevertheless, Psycho â s impact on the movies is undeniable, a key moment in Hitchcock â s oeuvre that has had as lasting an impact as anything the great auteur ever directed. David Thomson â s rereading of Psycho a half-century after its release shows us just how far we â ve come. And in some ways, how far we â ve fallen.

Sonny Bunch is a film critic at The Washington Times.