What is it about psychologically disturbed characters that makes a movie so intriguing? It’s actually really fascinating to watch someone’s decline into mental insanity. Maybe we’re curious because it’s so easy to feel like we’re crazy in our heads, and watching someone actually go crazy for real touches a piece of our unspoken fears.

Two movies about psychologically disturbed men came across my path recently in the Psycho and The Shining. Although the movies are very different, the main characters do share that same plunge into the depths of insanity, and although I would never want to experience it in real life, the films were quite a ride.

Psycho (1960)

This movie is more of a classic now than a horror film. It’s fun just to watch the iconic shower scene and to see what was considered scary in 1960. However, I was looking for just a little bit more “crazy” from Norman Bates. His decline into insanity didn’t reach the depth that I’ve come to expect in films like this.

The one particularly interesting aspect was that the main characters were scattered throughout the film. The focus was on whoever was at the hotel at the time, and if something went wrong with that person, the attention was passed on to the next victim.

It was definitely a fearless call for any script to not follow just one person throughout the whole story. However, Norman Bates was the glue that held the film together, and without him, it would never have been possible.

Overall, it was definitely a good movie and worth a watch, but it’s not my favorite Hitchcock film.

The Shining (1980)

I have successfully avoided this film due to my aversion to Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson until recently when I was dragged to a special showing of it. And let me just say that this movie is AWESOME. I will never look at Jack Nicholson the same way again.

Every twist and turn of this film was a surprise, and it will quite literally keep you on the edge of your seat. It also was one of the first movies to use one of the most  useful tools while filming a tracking shot: the steadicam.

For non filmmakers, this is basically a way to hold a camera and walk with it without the bounciness that usually accompanies a hand-held camera. It gives more range of motion while maintaining a steady shot. This is what they used while following Danny on his tricycle while rolling around the hotel.

This could not have been filmed any differently and still have been as effective. It’s like going through a maze with the character, and every single time he turns a corner, it makes the audience clench their fists in anticipation for what might be waiting on the other side. It feels like you’re actually there.

The other incredible aspect of this film was the set design. The house was actually constructed to look like a maze that didn’t make any sense. A wall would have bedroom doors on it, but when you turn the corner, there was a hallway, leaving no space for rooms behind the doors. The maze in the hotel complemented the story of getting lost in the histories of the ghosts in the hotel:

I wish I could go on forever about how incredible this movie was. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. If even a non Stanley Kubrick fan like myself can enjoy it, then so can you.

Is Psycho one of the best horror/thriller films of all time? Will The Shining stand the test of time or one day be considered too outdated to be scary?

Rachel M Taylor

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Rachel is a writer/director. She loves character driven movies and really good cheese.

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