Saturday, February 12, 2011

Avenging Marion Crane: The Vendetta of a Daughter

In the early 1960’s the world is black and white. You are in the bedroom. You are looking at the bathroom. Inside a woman is showering. She has blond, short hair. The water cleanes her as if it were a baptism or a birth. Suddenly someone enters the bathroom. Through the translucence of the shower curtain you can’t tell quite who it is, but the abrupt, quiet motions of the mysterious visitor let you know that it’s going to be a surprise. Swift motion. The unknown visitor rips back the shower curtain revealing the unsuspecting bather and... with one foul swoop… yells “Boo!” at her mother.

I know what you thought you were going to see. Anthony Perkins dressed up in his mother’s Sunday best. The legendary chocolate syrup running down the shower drain. The sound of many a ripe melon resounding as the carved “flesh” of one Janet Leigh. This image is so ingrained in your brain; it’s like retina or plasma burn. Nine times out of ten you would have seen just that. Janet Leigh would be dead, and Anthony Perkins would be up in the house on the hill yelling at his mother over the blood “she” had just spilled. This time, you just witnessed Jamie Lee scaring her mommy… sometime, somewhere in a fantasy moment beyond the pale of time or reality.

I can’t tell you if this moment actually, truly occurred. If Janet Leigh was my mother you can bet your overpriced Ugg boots that I would have had a field day scaring her shower cap off (pre-med doc terror hi-jinx). Kind of makes you think, how did Jamie Lee Curtis get into the whole horror business? Two of the most pivotal horror pictures in all of film history involve a mother/daughter team (that would be Psycho and Halloween), and I don’t think you’re allowed to call it a coincidence. Breeding? Upbringing? I’m no historian. I’ve read about as much of a biography on these two stars as IMDB or Wikipedia would allow (this isn’t an investigative journal into the truths of mother/daughter starlet teams… this is a tribute). I’ve seen all of Jamie Lee’s horror pictures. I’ve seen Psycho. I’ve caught glimpses at Janet Leigh’s other works (including Houdini which is a must see). The Curtis’s are not my specialty.

Why does Jamie Lee Curtis follow in her mother’s footsteps and wander into the annals of horror (suspense if you’re being blasphemous) history as a member of the scream queen elite? The answer my fiendish friends is simply, a butcher knife. (this is like the Dr. Terror version of the Twilight Zone so if you know the real answer, keep it to yourself and realize we just entered the fifth or sixth dimension and we can’t hear you anymore… :sticks out tongue: ).

Enter Norman Bates… I mean Anthony Perkins. Enter a motel off a side, side road somewhere in the middle of Hollywoodland, CA. Enter Marion Crane or Janet Leigh, whomever you see when she folds that big stack of cash in that newspaper and then the magic realization that Thou Shall Not Steal. Create a little balance sheet to make you feel all kinds of right and good and God fearing. Then it’s off to the shower so you can cleanse yourself of the sins of the past couple o’ days (and you have a new car to drive home in). Fast forward a couple minutes into the future. You know the murder and the music. The audience gets to play dentist to dear departing Janet’s incisors. Like we said retina burn only this time I’m talking about Norman Bates killing Marion Crane and not Jamie Lee, hypothetically, scaring her mother. Right now we’re talking about murder (and fake-syrup blood). Mommy dies in Psycho. Anthony Perkins kills Janet Leigh. Norman Bates’s mother (Mrs. Bates) kills Marie Samuels… “DOH!” I mean Marion Crane. It’s murder, and it’s just so gosh darn famous.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be JLC growing up knowing mommy got killed by a mad man dressed up like his mother? Mommy is just so famous for this amazing murder scene, but mommy doesn’t actually get to live in the picture to know just how famous she’s going to be. Norman Bates beat up your momma. Norman, the original slasher, is a hero! Play that back in your head at age eight, age ten, age twelve (count by two’s and go from there) until you are nineteen years old (stop counting by twos) and John Carpenter is half heartedly knocking on your door. Play shy to get the part because that’s what the depart demands (totally). You aren’t John’s first choice for the role, but you look beyond the script (as Michael Myers will looks beyond those walls to the night he will come home). Curtis sees Norma Bates in a William Shatner mask painted white and slightly altered.

Curtis is a genius at playing the unlikely hero. If this is 1978 you expect her to die. I mean, Annie died. Paul died. Linda died. Dog died… Even Bob died (and you thought he was going to save everyone as he reached for that closet door) see where I’m going here? Maybe Tommy Doyle and Lindsey get to live because they’re kids, but you… you get to die too right? If you’re Laurie Strode (I mean Ms. Curtis) you’ve read the script and the only thing that gives you nightmares isn’t The Shape. It’s a re-write where you die and Donald Pleasance saves the day in spite of your death and you follow in mommy’s footsteps (dead and the victim). Maybe you don’t end up on the shower floor, but you’ll end up with a butch knife in you just the same. Panic stricken shooting. Waiting for the kitchen knife to fall (we haven’t gotten to axes in the slasher genre quite yet).

I think the turning point is a knitting needle in the neck. All Laurie needed was an open window and an opportunity. A stairwell and a closet to hide in. A clothes hanger in the eye. You make it out of Halloween night. Out of the shower in the Bates Motel. Donald Pleasance may have shot Michael Myers, but you didn’t let the knife get you (even though Nick Castle did just as good a job as Anthony Perkins as an actor). What is the drive for Jamie Lee Curtis to play Laurie Strode and to win? She had to get revenge on her mother’s killer. Not Norman Bates, but a large kitchen knife. She had to avenge a bathroom shower and a shower curtain that fell too soon like a curtain goes down on a stage without the chance for Janet Leigh to take a bow.

I fully realize that Halloween II comes along and the battle continues (face it folks… Curtis still kicks Shape-butt). H2O comes along draws the parallel between Halloween and Psycho with the faint whisper at Bernard Hermann’s amazing score and magical Janet Leigh cameo (I’m still smitten).
In my head, I shot this whole fantasy in black and white. I was smoking a cigarette and wearing a rather dapper, 50’s suit and spoke with dramatic pauses, but I don’t think Rod Serling ever said “Gosh Darn”. I was in another dimension where I couldn’t hear you. I was in a dimension where Halloween: Resurrection is Laurie Strode’s conscious effort to take a final bow out of the movie spotlight to give another starlet the chance to beat the knife (pass the torch) and not Michael Myers final resolve to kill her realized.

And through this whole experience I have just one question I keep asking myself. “Does anyone realize just how perfect Janet Leigh’s belly button is?” It’s probably the most overlooked belly button in horror movie history. I bet Jamie Lee has that very same belly button, a belly button that beat the Michael Myers and ... the knife. … in the Twilight Zone.

Consider this Doc Terror's contribution to the illustrious Women In Horror Recognition Month.

-Dr. T and the Women.

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