Robert Bloch and Inside Psycho

Last week brought the final episode of the six part podcast series Inside Psycho. I had been stockpiling them since the first episode released and then listened to them all over a few days’ time. I am so happy that I did, because this series sure was wonderful!

Psycho is a particular favorite of mine. I couldn’t even guess how many times I’ve seen it, and if I’m flipping through channels on TV and it’s playing, I will sit there and watch the rest of it. I love it for so many reasons: Hitchcock, film making/cinematography, creepy and weird, Anthony Perkins is pretty perfect.

With all that said, I must admit, I was a little apprehensive of Inside Psycho. So much has been written and made of the 1960 film, I wasn’t sure if there was anything to add. Would this podcast be more for the neophyte and offer nothing new? I was certainly wrong and delighted about that.

The first episode, of course, talked about noted Wisconsin weirdo Ed Gein, who was the inspiration behind Norman Bates in the book Psycho, written by Robert Bloch. Episode 2, however, revealed so much. Notably, I was unaware that the young Robert Bloch frequently corresponded with HP Lovecraft, the latter who encouraged Bloch’s writing and creativity. The letters have been collected in a book.

All six episodes were stellar. The production itself was an engaging amalgam of documentary-style, radio drama, and a little horror, thrown in for good measure. Yes, of course, there were aspects of the story’s history that I was well aware, but details, for example, like the film making process was more than appreciated. Psycho was innovative in its craft and film making. There was also a particularly humorous account about how the rating censors couldn’t agree if there actually was nudity in the shower sequence.

Also, can you guess another horrifying sight that the censors thought obscene? The shot of the toilet in the bathroom. The idea of showing a toilet in a film or television show was greatly verboten. THE HORROR!


Dead lady? Yes. Flushing toilet? GOD FORBID!



The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

“There fell on them, emerging now and again from the confused babel of hoarse shouts, the one clear word “Murder!”

the lodger coverMarie Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel clearly influenced by the real-life Jack the Ripper murders was gripping and suspenseful. The suspense manifests itself from crafting a psychological mystery within the minds of the main characters.

The Lodger begins at a boarding house owned by the Buntings, a married couple that had spent their lives, up until then, in service. They haven’t had a paying lodger in ages, and the two have turned to pawning most of their belongings and going without food for long periods of time. It is also during the opening that information is revealed about a series of ghastly murders in the East End of London, which are perpetrated by a villain called “The Avenger.” When the Buntings are almost down to their last bit of money, they receive a visitor late at night. A strange man wrapped up in his heavy cloak comes seeking lodging. He agrees to pay a larger sum than is normally required with the promise that no one else shall board in the rooms.

Mrs. Bunting is terribly relieved about the new household income. This strange lodger, Mr. Sleuth, is surely a gentleman (at least in Mrs. Bunting’s eyes) and this is the excuse she gives herself any time she needs to rationalize his strange behavior (his daily “experiments,” his obsessive reading of the bible, his queer kind of fear and dislike of women, and his predilection for leaving the house only at late hours that coincide with the times of the murders). She is the one who has the most interaction with Mr. Sleuth, but her husband also has a wee bit. Independently from each other, both Buntings begin to have doubts about their lodger.

the lodger hitchcockThe book is more about the psychology of the Buntings–mostly Mrs. Bunting. Through her eyes, Belloc Lowndes is cooking up doubt and deception. With all of his strange behavior and schedule perfectly matching up with those of The Avenger’s murders, Mrs. Bunting refuses to admit that Mr. Sleuth is anything but a scholar and a gentleman. Each day unfolds with new strange behavior from the lodger. Belloc Lowndes writes with an acute sense of detail and the book is rich with information about the crimes sensationalized through the newspapers that Mr. Bunting buys throughout the day. Rarely, though, does the novel leave the inside of the boarding house, with the rare exception of Mrs. Bunting’s visit to the public police inquest. The mystery and intrigue are mostly confined to its walls, which give the reader a claustrophobic and paranoid feeling. I shan’t reveal anymore, because it would be a crime to give away the reveal (although, I do admit that the ending was very abrupt and I found myself rereading the final few paragraphs).

Also, in 1927, film audiences saw the Hitchcock adaptation that is extensive in its shadows and intrigue. The Lodger played by Ivor Novello is handsome, dark, and suave. The silent film relies on many plot points of the original book, but like most film adaptations, does veer away from the source material. With that said, however, I very much enjoyed the film, which can be watched for free in the public domain (it is remarkable that it remains intact and of good quality considering many early films have been lost or destroyed, re: London After Midnight). I urge you to watch the film, especially if you are a fan of Hitchcock or shadowy dark films in the German Expressionism vain. Although, I haven’t seen it, word on the street is that the 1944 adaptation is also a very good film.

Besides films, the book has also been adapted for radio series. The two I’ve listened to have Vincent Price and Peter Lorre as the lodger, respectively. They, too, are available to listen to for free in the public domain.

  • Vincent Price offers a lodger who is slick and his voices gives the appearance of a gentleman scholar even when on the brink of losing it. @Hollywood Star Time (1946)
  • Peter Lorre is far creepier. His voice lends less to a creeping psychopath, but more to a man cloaked in mania ready to burst at the seams. @Mystery in the Air (1947)

One last suggestion of supplemental works is the Spring 2011 article ‘Using a woman’s wit and cunning”: Marie Belloc Lowndes Rewrites the Ripper’ available in the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies journal.

11 Books Better Known For Their Movies

Movie ReelRecently, Jay at Bibliophilopolis posited the idea in the comments section of last week’s book review of Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin of works that are better known for their film adaptations than from the original book (or short story).

This got me thinking. I’ve come up with a list of the first few that popped into my mind. I haven’t read them all but I’ve seen all of the movies. Are there any film/book combos that I’m forgetting??

  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. One of my favorite movies of all time, this Kubrick directed film is loosely adapted from Peter George’s novel Red Alert. At first, George co-adapted the novel into the screenplay with Kubrick but later disapproved of the satirical road it took.
  • The Graduate. Another favorite film of mine, I first learned of the book as a college student, when in the final weeks of my final semester, my Literature & Sexuality class was assigned to read Charles Webb’s The GraduateApparently, the book was given mediocre reviews when it came out but when I read it, I completely connected with the anxiety faced by Benjamin in the book. Just one word, plastics.
  • Soylent Green. Much to my surprise as I read Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! was that soylent green was not people. What a let down. It’s been ages since I read it and I don’t remember much of the book, but I do remember Harrison successfully portraying the sweaty, overcrowded claustrophobia of the setting of the book.
  • Psycho. I’ve never read Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, Psycho, but I can never get enough of Hitchcock’s film adaptation. After once being told that Bosco chocolate syrup was used in the infamous shower scene, my Pavlovian response is to crave an ice cream sundae while Marion Crane is brutally murdered on the screen.
  • Secretary. Mary Gaitskill is a favorite author of mine and, in 2002, a film adaptation of one of the short stories from Bad Behavior was made. Although, many liberties were taken with the adaptation, I highly suggest nabbing up any one of Gaitskill’s books….right now!
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps. A classic “man-on-the-run” story, John Buchan wrote this slim book while he was convalescing due to an ulcer. The book has been adapted several times both into movies and theatre. The most notable film adaption was made by Hitchcock. The novel is available for free through Project Gutenberg. Read the book, watch the movies, see the stage play, if you like to have a good time.
  • The Illusionist/The Prestige. Okay, maybe it’s not fair that I’m lumping two very different texts into one point but the film adaptations came out around the same time and they both concern magicians (or illusionists, if you prefer). Eisenheim the Illusionist is a short story by Steven Millhauser, while The Prestige is a novel by Christopher Priest. I won’t give away the magic behind either text but they are both mysterious and enthralling.
  • Planet of the Apes. Admit it. You love it. I love it. We all love Planet of the Apes (and if you’re like me, find great pleasure in its sequel–Beneath the Planet of the Apes). But, it was first a novel written by Pierre Boulle (original French title being La Planète des singes).
  • Girl, Interrupted. Before it was a movie, Girl, Interrupted was the 1993 memoir by Susanna Kaysen about her time spent as a patient in psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. One of things I liked most about the book is the inclusion of Kaysen’s medical records from her time there.
  • Full Metal Jacket.Private Joker is silly and he’s ignorant, but he’s got guts, and guts is enough.” Kubrick adapted his film from Marine veteran Gustav Hasford’s semi-autobiographical book The Short-Timers. Hasford’s early literary career was concerned mostly with sci-fi, but in the late 1970s, he penned his first novel about his time in Vietnam.