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Freshman Year Diary: Psycho Thrills

Hitchcock Movie.jpgDon’t worry, I’m not going to start in on movie reviews. However, Hitchcock, now in theaters, about the making of Psycho (and the vital roll played in Hitchcock’s creativity by his wife Alma Reville), put me in mind of a freshman year story.

One cold January evening in 1976, Psycho was shown in Webster Hall. This was back before Webster became the Rauner Rare Book Library, but after the Hop had been built, so the building was no longer used as the College’s central gathering place. Popular movies were shown in the aging space on Saturdays, in contrast to the arty films of the Dartmouth Film Society, which were put on in Spaulding.

The place was packed, as usual, both on the ground floor and in the galleries: my roommates and I sat in the front row, and the hard core folks of the DOC’s Cabin & Trail crew were up in the right-side gallery. They had prepared a surprise for us.

Tension rose inexorably in the film, and in its last minute, as Vera Miles famously hesitated at the top of the stairwell, trying to decided whether to descend to the basement to seek out Mrs. Bates, the C&T gang began to scream at her not to go down there. Group psychology being what it is, the folks on the ground floor, your humble servant and his buddies included, rose to their feet, too, and we all shouted the same advice at the top of our lungs. I recall pausing for a second to look around me, and I saw everyone else equally involved. Despite our imprecations, Miles went down the stairs; opened the door; saw Mrs. Bates; really saw Mrs. Bates; and was saved by her boyfriend from Anthony Perkins’ slashing dagger under the light of a swinging bulb — all to the din of our continuous mob howls. 120dB? I don’t know. I was yelling too loudly to hear anyone else.

As we later walked from Webster into the Hanover night, we could hear tension-releasing laughter all around the Green. The Master of Suspense (and Alma) would have been pleased.


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