Friday, April 17, 2015

Fear, Birds and Thriller - Taking A Look At Alfred Hitchcock

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Alfred Hitchcock Image

"Drama is life with the dull bits left out" - Alfred Hitchcock.

Mention the name Hitchcock and my immediate reaction is one of admiration, for a man who terrified me as a child, transforming the most ordinary of things into the most bizarre, and bringing them straight into my home...

Who else could successfully shock with the unlikely, crafting imagery so vivid that they become deeply engraved in memory? I am, of course, referring to the 1963 thriller The Birds, itself based on the 1952 novella by Daphne du Maurier. Starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, the plot focuses on a nightmare scenario in which wild birds unexpectedly begin attacking and killing people at random. Taylor will always be a favourite of mine thanks to his performance in the spectacular 1960 sci-fi adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

I am not Alfred Hitchcock's biggest fan, though it is more through lack of commitment than dislike. His career began during the silent films era, and spanned several decades from the early 1920s through to the 1970s - he died in 1980, at the age of 80 years! A master of psychological thrillers, Britain's greatest filmmaker is known for movies such as The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), North By Northwest (1959) and Marnie (1963). It is, undoubtedly, thanks to The Birds and one other movie that haunted my imagination: Psycho (1960), the story of Norman Bates (played magnificently by American actor Anthony Perkins).

If one gave us crazed winged vertebrates, playing on fear and uncertainty, then the other handed out a complex study of split personality, as the protagonist of the tale encompasses both self and mother, committing murders and concealing the crimes. But both handed us slices of edge-of-your-seat tension on a plate - with side salad!

Imitating the success of Hitchcock is always going to be a difficult, if somewhat impossible, task. Just ask Rick Rosenthal, the man who directed the 1994 television movie sequel The Birds II: Land's End - the end result was so bad that Rosenthal chose to disown the film by removing his name and replacing it with Alan Smithee (the preferred pseudonym chosen by directors to relinquish responsibility for work they no longer wish to be associated with). And the embarrassment doesn't end there... Director Gus Van Sant presented us with a shot-by-shot "remake" of Psycho in 1998, casting Vince Vaughn (Swingers) as Norman Bates. Not wishing to add anything new to the franchise, this attempt received negative reviews and Golden Raspberry Awards.

Whether or not the official "sequels" were fruitful are a matter of opinion, but all starred Perkins in the main role and that is good enough for me! "Psycho II" (1983) saw Bates released from the mental institution after a twenty-two year confinement - director Richard Franklin had been a fan of Hitchcock's work since childhood, and so was the perfect candidate for an official sequel to the 1960 masterpiece; Canadian-American actress Meg Tilly even starred alongside Perkins for this outing, a favourite of mine after having seen her in Abel Ferrara's 1993 adaptation of "Body Snatchers".

Psycho III (1986) saw Perkins take on the role of both actor and director, and though not as successful as the previous two, this feature still had enough to excite. Sadly, "Psycho IV: The Beginning" (1990) is the least Hitchcockian of the three follow-ups, directed by Mick Garris. Still, we do have Hithcock to thank for how it all began all those years earlier, the continuing "Psycho" legacy is testament to his skill as a creator of suspense and forming characters that remain popular with future generations - just think of the new audience that has discovered Norman Bates thanks to A&E's Bates Motel (2013). Who knows where it will go from there...

As for "The Birds", there have been a number of attempts to bring this tale back to the big screen, as a remake. The beautiful Naomi Watts had been mentioned to follow in the footsteps of Tippi Hedren, though the casting is uncertain. I guess there are two questions: (1) Is a remake even necessary? And (2) Just who could follow in the shadow of Hitchcock's everlasting legacy?

Image source courtesy of Article © Alwyn Ash 2015.
Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only; no infringement of copyright is intended.