Psycho and What Lies Beneath – Did Zemeckis copy Hitchcock? Essay

Robert Zemeckis has recently been accused of copying from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 slasher movie, Psycho, in his new film, What Lies Beneath. As a private investigator hired by relatives of the late Alfred Hitchcock, I will look at all available evidence and decide whether or not Zemeckis copied Hitchcock. Psycho was made in 1960 and was the most controversial film of the time. It had many firsts, including the first flushing toilet in a film, and was nearly banned for the nudity and violence. Psycho is probably the most famous film of the twentieth century, and Hitchcock could well have been the most famous director.

All ready there is clear reason why Zemeckis would copy Hitchcock, but I still have to examine the evidence within the films. The first thing I noticed when I watched these two films was that they both have trick beginning. In the first few scenes of Psycho, Hitchcock makes the audience believe that the film is the love story between Sam and Marion. In What Lies Beneath Zemeckis has tried to do the same thing by convincing the audience that the film is all about Claire’s love life. Then Zemeckis makes it seem like it’s about Claire’s missing her daughter; he then surprises the audience when the story turns to the next-door neighbour, Mary.

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He continues to mislead the audience into thinking that Mary is dead, and then shocks them completely when Mary turns up at a party. To me, this seems very similar to what Hitchcock did in Psycho by killing off what appears to be the main character after only forty-minutes on the film. It seems clear to me already that Zemeckis has copied at least two of Hitchcock’s ideas. When I looked at the music in these two films, I noticed both similarities and differences. In Psycho, Bernard Herrman arranged the music using only string instruments, mainly violins and cellos.

This works extremely, creating suspense and scaring the audience. For example: when Lila is walking up to the house, violins play high to create suspense, and cellos play low which makes the scene rather creepy. In What Lies Beneath the Alan Silvestri arranges the music in a different way. High music is used in the same way, but a whole orchestra is used, not just strings. Silvestri and Zemeckis use the music to make their audience jump by using a loud sound, like a drum. This is used when Claire is spying on Mr Fuer, and he appears at the window.

A massive bang from a drum made everyone I was watching the film with jump out of their seats. In my opinion Zemeckis has used mainly his own ideas for the music in What Lies Beneath, and didn’t actually copy Hitchcock. Camera angles are very important in films, and Hitchcock has used some very fascinating camera angles to keep his audience interested. One of the camera angles that Hitchcock used quite a lot is the point of view shots. In Psycho’s famous bathroom scene, Marion’s point of view shots really make the audience empathise with her as she is getting murdered.

Zemeckis also uses this technique to make us feel scared as Claire is drowning in What Lies Beneath’s bathroom scene. An obvious similarity between the two films is the bird’s eye view of the stairs. In Psycho the bird’s eye view of Norman carrying his mother down the stairs makes you feel quite uncomfortable, as if you are spying on them from the ceiling. Zemeckis takes this idea and uses it when Norman is carrying Claire up the stairs. He uses the same camera angle as is Psycho to create the same effect.

Although Zemeckis has clearly used some of Hitchcock’s ideas, I believe that Zemeckis has used a few of his own techniques as well. When Claire is lying paralysed on the hallway floor, the camera tracks towards her and then goes down, underneath the floor. This angle of Claire from beneath makes the audience feel uncomfortably close to the character; it also links in with the title of the film, What Lies Beneath. Most people would say that the colour in Psycho and What Lies Beneath are completely different; Psycho is in black and white and What Lies Beneath is in colour.

I would say that there are more similarities than one would think. Hitchcock chose to make his film in black and white, even though most films in the 1960s were made in colour, and Zemeckis chose to use as little colour as possible without actually making it black and white. I think that Zemeckis did this to symbolise the grimness of the story and also as an attempt to copy the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Another important aspect of film is the lighting of the scenes. One of the ways that Hitchcock chose to light some of Psycho’s scene was to light the characters from beneath.

This makes the actor look rather creepy, mainly because you cannot see their eyes. Hitchcock used this to light Norman in the parlour scene, and he comes across as a creepy and slightly suspicious character. Zemeckis uses this technique to light Claire when she has been ‘possessed’ by Madison. She is lit from beneath with a candle, much in the same way that children do when telly spooky stories. Zemeckis could have taken this from Hitchcock, but he could also have copied the way that children make them selves look spooky.

A similarity between the films that is just too obvious to be ignored is the significance of the Bathroom scenes. Just the fact that the main scene in both films is contained in the bathroom – more specifically the bath – is enough evidence to say that Zemeckis copied Hitchcock. However, there are also many, more subtle similarities between the scenes. One of the bizarre things that Hitchcock does is light his bathroom scene extremely brightly; this is so weird because Marion is murdered, and murder scenes are usually dimly lit.

Zemeckis also uses this idea, but the difference is that Claire doesn’t die – this is the most noticeable difference between the two scenes. Although there are quite a few other differences; in What Lies Beneath Norman tries to drown Claire, whereas in Psycho Norman stabs Marion. Hitchcock uses a lot of point of view shots in his bathroom scene. Zemeckis also uses this, but takes it one step further by using point of view hearing as Claire is drowning. The last and most recognisable similarity between the scenes is the way in which Marion and Claire both fall out of the bath and rip the shower curtain towards the end of the scene.

The way these scenes are directed is far too similar to be a coincidence of any sort. There many other, more subtle differences between the films which I believe Zemeckis copied from Hitchcock. The more obvious of these is the names of the characters. Madison and Marion are very similar names; also these two characters are two that die in the films. The use of mirrors throughout the films is extremely similar. Hitchcock used a lot mirrors to show that everyone has two different sides to them: one that everyone else sees and another, more secret one.

In my opinion Zemeckis uses this in much the same way as Hitchcock did. The final comparison I will make is that of the endings. Both films end with a dead man and woman in their cars at the bottom of a lake. This is another connection that is too strong to be ignored. In conclusion, I would say that Zemeckis has, quite obviously, copied Hitchcock’s ideas in his new film. However, I don’t believe that it was done in a bad way; Zemeckis has not made a bad Psycho rip-off. Zemeckis has used Hitchcock’s ideas to create another excellent film, a tribute to the great Alfred Hitchcock.


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