Thursday, March 3, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #92 WGA Script of All Time - Psycho (1960)

[Quick Summary: When a young woman absconds with her boss' client's money, she ends up at the Bates' motel, where it's always the wrong place & wrong time.]

I do not like horror nor creepy, & have never read nor seen the whole Psycho.

So how surprised am I that this is the best horror script I've read to date? Very.

This is an extremely fast read (even at 133 pgs.) & breaks all kinds of rules.  ex. The protagonist, dies about 1/3 into the story & is replaced by another one (Norman Bates).

But Psycho is heads & tails above all other horror scripts because it structures the fear so well.

Every level pushes the character off a ledge (cliffhangers = high vertical suspense), & can only be answered by the next level (this increases pace = fast horizontal speed).

ex. LEVEL 1 - The writer establishes empathy for Marion & sends her to the Bates motel. This sets up an unresolved question: Why did she have to die?  We liked her & this is disturbing!

LEVEL 2 - Then the writer sends a private eye to the motel & he dies.  The fear rises to a panic: Doesn't anyone notice?  Who will stop these deaths?!

LEVEL 3 - So when Marion's sister & Marion's boyfriend come to investigate, the fear is at an all time high.  Don't split up! Why are you two splitting up? You know there are crazy Bates who've killed twice!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The genius of Psycho is that we expect Marion to live, but she doesn't...& the script doesn't die, but speeds up.

Psycho (1960)
by Joseph Stefano

1 comment:

Marcus P. Smithers said...

I believe the genius in the script - way ahead of its time - is its use of misdirection at every turn. As a writer, there's no way around it: this is a script that was written with the ending in mind first. Robert Bloch knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish and furthermore, Stefano and Hitch knew what they wanted to change without changing the ending.

The other genius is how our sympathies change from Marion - once she's killed - to Norman who effectively becomes the main character. We sympathize because of his overbearing mother, because of the way Sam Loomis bullies him... Norman comes across as a victim here (after all, Marion and Sam were the ones having the taboo relationship). And there's poor Norman, trying to cover up what his mother did.

The revelation near the end of him being the killer wouldn't be anywhere near as effective if the audiences sympathies didn't shift to him after Marion's murder.

If there's anything this script proves, it's that great writing is the outcome of effectively manipulating your audience.