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The old 'Psycho' gets a new rating


Left to right, the original "Psycho" poster; the poster for a 1969 reissue with the "M" rating, the equivalent at the time of what is now PG;
the back of a recent DVD release with the R rating prominently displayed.

From the Oct. 14, 1984, Deseret News

Would you believe "Psycho" has been rated R?

Those who remember Universal re-releasing the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film in 1968 may recall that it received an M rating, the equivalent at the time to what is now PG.

But apparently the current ratings board, upon reviewing it once more, feels the film deserves an R. Considering the gore in some PG-rated movies these days, and the relatively bloodless violence depicted in "Psycho," giving Hitchcock's classic an R seems slightly ludicrous.

So why is "Psycho" being re-rated at all you ask? Therein lies a tale.

Last year, Universal's Alfred Hitchcock series, which returned five of the most highly regarded films by
"The Master of Suspense" to theaters for the first time in more than a decade — including "Vertigo" and "Rear Window" — was an enormous success.

So, naturally, a sequel is in the works.

Universal is reportedly considering releasing other Hitchcock classics theatrically in a series package, as the studio has a total of 14 Hitch films in its vaults.

Hitchcock, of course, worked for most of the majors during his Hollywood tenure and rights to his films are owned by eight studios. But Universal retains rights to "Shadow of a Doubt," "Saboteur" and "The Birds," which have reportedly been unavailable theatrically for some years (though they frequently pop up on television), as well as "Psycho," "Marnie," "Frenzy," "Family Plot" and "Topaz." (And, naturally, the five purchased from Hitchcock's estate for last year's series — "Vertigo," "Rear Window," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "Rope" and "The Trouble With Harry.")

Though Universal has not yet formally announced another specific theatrical series reissue akin to last year's five-film retrospective, trade papers have reported that the studio is planning to release some of the films theatrically — and not just to repertory houses. That would seem to be substantiated by Universal's submitting three of its Hitchcock classics to the ratings board two weeks ago.

According to Variety's weekly listing or the most recently rated movies, "Saboteur," "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Psycho" were all submitted for ratings pending a theatrical reissue. As might be expected, "Saboteur" and "Shadow" both received PG's, but "Psycho" copped an R.

My personal experience with "Psycho," which I consider one of the best fright films ever made, dates back to its initial release, when I was 12. I remember the notice in the lobby that no one would be admitted during the film's final 15 minutes, and the audience was urged not to give away the chilling twist ending.

The film is unique in many ways, and in my estimation remains without equal today. Perhaps most startling, however, is a trick Hitchcock devised that really put his audience off-guard. He made the entire first third of the movie a red herring, removing the film's star, Janet Leigh, with one of the most famous scenes in all of cinema — the shower murder in a room at the Bates Motel.

Like everyone else who saw the film, I refused to get behind a shower curtain for months, but I also saw the film's artistic value, which escaped me in most movies up to that time.

I took my wife to see it at an Army post in Germany in 1969, after its reissue, and I refused to tell her anything about it. She had heard about the shower scene, of course, but the rest was a complete surprise. When it was over, she said, "I'll never forgive you for that." She was kidding, of course, but she still refuses to let me take her to horror movies.

My next encounter with "Psycho" was 10 years later, when I took a friend to see it at the Utah Media Center, as part of the 1979 United States Film Festival. And an interesting thing happened. I had forgotten about most of it, except for the shower scene and the climax, and in fact I remembered it as quite a blood-ridden film, with several graphic killings. I was expecting something on par with "Halloween," which had come out a year earlier, or perhaps some of the subsequent, even gorier horror films.

Instead I got "Psycho," which, beyond its artistic merits, boasts only two killing scenes, and we never see that knife connect with skin. Hitchcock knew how to make us see the gore in our minds without showing it to us on the screen — an art that has long since escaped most modern filmmakers.

Now, of course, "Psycho" is available on videotape and is occasionally shown on television, and no doubt seems quite mild to today's young audiences.

Then, of course, there was "Psycho II" last year, which started out quite bloodless but caved in with a few gore scenes toward the end, earning its R.

But to rate the original "Psycho" R, unless Universal has thrown in something Hitchcock left out, seems once more to point up the discrepancies in the ratings system.

These are the same folks who gave PGs to "Conan the Destroyer," "Romancing the Stone" and "Cloak & Dagger," all much more gory than "Psycho."

Mind you, I'm not suggesting "Psycho" is a movie for young minds. I'm just saying, as I often say, that the ratings board is extremely inconsistent.

But that's a little like advising you that the sky is blue.