Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dark Passages: Psycho

In honor of this weekend's (limited) release of the film Hitchcock, the following Dark Passage is drawn from Robert Bloch's novel Psycho.  As the book opens, Norman Bates sits in his parlor doing some leisure reading--about the Inca-warrior practice of trans-forming enemy bodies into musical instruments.  In retrospect, the scene demonstrates Bloch's skillful foreshadowing (the information Norman reads no doubt appeals to him, and not just as an amateur taxidermist).  The fact that Norman imagines the primitive ritual in such horrific detail also serves as an early example of how much more gruesome Bloch's narrative is than the one that subsequently played on-screen:
Norman smiled, then allowed himself the luxury of a comfortable shiver.  Grotesque but effective--it certainly must have been!  Imagine flaying a man--alive, probably--and then stretching his belly to use it as a drum! How did they actually go about doing that, curing and preserving the flesh of the corpse to prevent decay?  For that matter, what kind of mentality did it take to conceive of such an idea in the first place?
It wasn't the most appetizing notion in the world, but when Norman half-closed his eyes, he could almost see the scene: this throng of painted, naked warriors wriggling and swaying in unison under a sun-drenched, savage sky, and the old crone crouching before them, throbbing out a relentless rhythm on the swollen, distended body of a cadaver.  The contorted mouth of the corpse would be forced open, probably fixed in a gaping grimace by clamps of bone, and form it the sound emerged.  Beating from the belly, rising through the shrunken inner orifices, forced up through the withered windpipe to emerge amplified and in full force from the dead throat.  (11-12)

Work Cited

Bloch, Robert.  Psycho.  1959.  New York: Tor, 1989.

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