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3 Haunting Hitchcock Films and the Stories Behind Them

The following is a delightful guest post by Adrian Rawlings about three movies made by the first director I ever fell in love with: Alfred Hitchcock. I very much enjoyed this post because I learned a few new things. Among them was that The Birds was based on a novel of the same title written by Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is one of my favorite books and movies (which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock), but I have never read anything else by du Maurier. That’s about to change.

Hope you enjoy reading about what inspired a few of the Master of Suspense’s most iconic and enduring films as much as I did.

Alfred Hitchcock has been called many things throughout his prolific career, from one of the most influential directors to the Master of Suspense. He was a man who could take a script and scrutinize it down to its most basic variables – situation and characters – and then artfully dissect it to reveal the throbbing, horrific heart within. It’s why his movies, despite being several decades old, still hold up. They preserve the true spirit of suspense and the horror of the unknown.

More than 30 years after his death, the world has not forgotten the contribution Hitchcock made to all the thrillers, chillers, and horrors that came after his passing. There were numerous attractions erected in Universal Studios Florida attributed to this genius. He got two Hollywood Stars for his work in TV and film. The Chiller channel, according to an article, even christened their network launch with an episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, lending new meaning to his famous quote “TV has brought murder back into the home where it belongs.” All that in addition to the countless directors and writers who all point to Hitchcock’s brilliance as their source of inspiration.

But what inspired Hitchcock? What were some of the things he took into account when producing some of the most memorable and iconic thrillers to date?

You might be surprised…

Vertigo (1958)

Based on: D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud in 1954

Vertigo, now considered one of the quintessential Hitchcock films, was not his most well-received when it first came out. Starring the late-great Jimmy Stewart, the story of Vertigo follows the nightmarish life of former detective John “Scottie” Ferguson who, after witnessing a woman plunge to her death, is afflicted with acrophobia and forced into retirement.

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However, he’s called back into the fray to investigate a colleague’s strangely-behaving spouse…and starts seeing the dead woman who caused his acrophobia, or a woman who looks exactly like her. Much like the crime thriller it was based upon, the story of Vertigo drew horror not from the supernatural nightmares of the unexplainable, but from the horror of that which must be understood and the fear of the unknown inherent to the human experience.

Psycho (1960)

Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch in 1959

With the omission of a few minor and cosmetic changes, the iconic Psycho film remains pretty faithful to the suspense novel of the same name it was based upon. In it, you have Norman Bates – youthful motel proprietor who works hard and looks after his mother…sort of. In reality, he looks after her long-dead corpse, and receives both instructions and condemnations from her voice that has taken up residence in his own brain.

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Psycho is a pretty appropriate title given what transpires from the split-personality cross-dressing to the infamous shower murder of the great Janet Leigh. The only real difference between the adaptation and the novel is the age of Norman Bates. In the novel, he’s middle-aged. At the time, Hitchcock scoffed at the idea and made Bates younger. His reasoning being that the character would be more sympathetic, but many believe the change was made to give younger movie-goers someone to identify with…as perverse as the case may be.

The Birds (1963)

Based on: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier in 1952

Still one of Hitchcock’s most memorable (if not, most bizarre) films, The Birds was loosely based on a short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. In both versions, a town is terrorized by violent bird attacks, leaving the characters to find a way to weather the storm of pecks and gouges and make it through the next few days.