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I would like to thank my BA thesis supervisor Mgr. Zenó Vernyik, Ph.D. for the time he has dedicated to the improvement of the present thesis and for helping me, giving me priceless advice without which the final thesis would be hard to achieve.
Hlavním cílem práce je ukázat, že film Vacancy (v českém znění Motel smrti) od režiséra Nimróda Antala je koláž výpůjček z klasických filmů hororového žánru, především filmu Alfreda Hitchcocka - Psycho. Cíl je dosažen strukturální analýzou filmů, tzn. identifikace aluze, citace a výpujčky ve vyprávění a symbolismu. Film bude také analyzován jako příklad hororového žánru. Práce se dále zaměřuje na vizuální stránku a strukturu příběhu.
Aluze, analýza filmu, citace, film, horror, vyprávění, žánr.
The main aim of the investigation is to prove in Vacancy the presence of elements inspired by classic horror films. In Vacancy we can see some signs for example from classical horror Psycho. This work is dealing with identification allusions, quotations and loans in the narrative and symbolism. Also, the film will be analyzed as an example of the horror genre. Furthermore, there will be defined the visual style and plot structure.
Analysis, cinematography, films, gaze, genre, horror, shots, scene, suture, viewer,
“A boy’s best friend is his mother”
Table of Contents
Table of Contents ... 7
1. Introduction ... 9
2. Introduction of the Discussed Motion Pictures ... 10
2.1. Introduction of Vacancy ... 10
2.2. Introduction of Psycho ... 10
3. Genre Variability in the Movies ... 11
3.1. Beginnings of Genre ... 11
3.2. Melodrama as the First Genre ... 12
3.3 The Wellek and Warren’s Conception of Inner and Outer Forms Applied on the Examined Films... 13
3.4. Function of Genre ... 14
3.5. The Issue of Genre Variability ... 15
3.6. Psycho and Vacancy as Horror Films ... 16
3.6.1. Horror Monster in Psycho ... 16
3.6.2. Horror Monster in Vacancy ... 19
3.6.3. Monstrosity in General... 20
3.6.4. Classification of Horror Monsters ... 20
3.7. Psycho and Vacancy as Multi-Genre Films ... 21
3.7.1. Psycho as Multi-Genre Film ... 21
3.7.2. Vacancy as Multi-Genre Film ... 22
4. Finding Relations of Sources ... 23
4.1. More Evident Features in the Films ... 23
4.2. Less Visible Traits in the Movies ... 26
5. Identical Shots ... 30
5.1. Introduction of Important Terminology ... 30
5.2. Comparing the Identical Shots in Chronological Order ... 31
6. The System of Suture in Psycho and Vacancy ... 35
6.1. The Term Suture by Different Authors ... 35
6.2. Shot-Reverse Shot ... 36
6.2.1. Gaze or the Absent One ... 37
6.2.2. The Difference between Look and Gaze ... 37
6.3. Suture Applied on Psycho and Vacancy ... 38
6.3.1. Suture in Psycho... 39
184.108.40.206. The Introductory Scene ... 39
220.127.116.11. Marion after the Theft ... 39
18.104.22.168. How the Suture Works ... 40
22.214.171.124. Marion and the Scene with the Police Man ... 41
126.96.36.199. Famous Shower Scene in the Motel ... 42
6.3.2. Suture in Vacancy ... 44
Conclusion ... 46
References ... 47
I chose the current topic, because I am a viewer of horror films, and thus the scientific analysis of such films seemed like a fascinating and obvious choice. In other words, this provided the opportunity to combine work and hobby into one.
Beyond the personal, however, there are also other reasons to compare Nimród Antal’s Vacancy and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Through their severely limited and closed environment and common location, the films almost call for a comparison.
Through my analysis, I aim to see how the two directors tackled a deeply similar film topic, and to what extent they were able to handle it in their own way. Although Nimród Antal filmed Vacancy almost 40 years after Psycho was created, their similarity is remarkable and puzzling.
The analysis itself builds on a close observation of the two films in question.
While comparing them, I first tried to establish common events, topics and motifs.
As a logical second step, I focused on similarities in the two films’ visual aspects.
That is to say, I collected similar and/or identical shots.
All this would not have been possible, however, without using some professional terms and film theory. These are duly introduced at the points where they are
necessary, and are also explained for the reader. This paper aims to collect similar scenes and shots, and thus it also tries to explain what roles they play in the
individual films, and how they influence the viewer, it uses the theory of suture and that of genres. In the beginning of the thesis one can find the whole story of the two films, which is followed by a chapter of genres where one learns a brief history of the term genre, which genres the two films contain and some other important
commonalities and signs of the horror genre. However; the films Vacancy and
Psycho are not on the first sight similar, I observe what the two films have in common and these commonalities I demonstrate with particular evidence.
2. Introduction of the Discussed Motion Pictures
2.1. Introduction of Vacancy
As objects of my focus it is highly essential to introduce the story of these two films briefly before I start analyzing them. The first film is Vacancy by the Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal. It comes from the year 2007. Its name inconspicuously suggests that the story is going to be about a hostel, motel or another kind of accommodation. A couple, Amy and David, are coming home from a short visit of Amy´s mother. They seem to be lost and their car’s engine stops working.
They are forced to sleep over at a motel along the way. The motel is simple and not very nice looking. After they enter the room, unusual things start happening: A ringing phone, knocking on doors, yet nobody responds. After a short while they realize that someone is recording them on a camera. They even see brutal murders on videotapes. They reach the conclusion that those on the tape were previous guests. At this point, someone tries to kill them and they defend themselves and try to escape.
Finally, they seem to be able to escape, although this is only hinted at: David is wounded and bleeds, Amy calls for some help (Antal 2007).
2.2. Introduction of Psycho
The second film is called Psycho by the British-American director Alfred Hitchcock and it is from the year 1960. A young woman, Marion, steals money from her workplace, which she should have deposited in a bank. After this, she tries to escape by car. A policeman stops her and is suspicious about her. Then she buys a new car while the policeman still watches her. Later, she sees a motel and stops to sleep over. Before Marion goes to sleep she takes a shower. A strange old woman comes to her and stabs her, so Marion dies. Later, the receptionist Norman discovers
her body and hides all proofs. Marion is now missing. All evidence in the case of the missing Marion leads to the motel. A detective suspects Norman, because he contradicts himself repeatedly. The detective explores a big old house behind the motel. The detective, too, is killed by the old woman. The mystery is finally resolved by Marion’s partner, Sam and her sister Lila. They come to the motel and while Sam is interrogating Norman, Lila goes to explore the old house. There she finds the corpse of Norman’s mother. At the same time Norman arrives, dressed like his mother and attempts to stab her. Sam saves her. Norman ends up in custody. The answer to all these murders is that the killer is Norman, convinced that he is actually his mother. Norman Bates is mentally sick, probably with schizophrenia (Hitchcock 1960).
3. Genre Variability in the Movies
3.1. Beginnings of Genre
As it was pointed out earlier, this paper analyzes horror films. At the same time, however, one cannot simply make such a straightforward statement without some further qualifications. On the one hand, what exactly a “horror film”, is a problem in itself. Many different films are categorized as “horror”, and there is a surprising proliferation of definitions, as well. On the other hand, the situation with “genre”
itself, is not much better. Its meaning, use and understanding has changed significantly over time, and the field is far from finding a ”final” definition. And on top of all this, although both Vacancy and Psycho are routinely and easily categorized as horror films, in reality, they should much rather be considered as examples of multi-genre films, as I am to point out below.
To start with, the word ”genre” itself has a long history. It is originally a French word which means ”type” or ”category”. The first mention about genres was made by Aristotle and then Horace. Aristotle differentiated among types of poetry in his work Poetics. Aristotle’s thought was that art is more than a mere imitation of nature.
The artist perceives nature and subsequently recreates it into another medium and gives art a particular form, symbolism or meaning. Aristotle also classified the biological world as we know it (i.e. class, order, family, etc…). In dealing with art, he used an analogous approach: he treated poetry, and all art forms, like the biological sphere. He identified characteristics of various forms of poetry and then developed systematic categories through which to classify these forms (Klages 2006, 15-16). Horace also wrote about the types of poetry, but in contrast to Aristotle whose text is rather descriptive, Horace’s work is prescriptive, talking about
“appropriate modes of writing poetry” (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 50). Although they both talked about literature, these two conceptions can nevertheless be considered as forerunners of film genres.
3.2. Melodrama as the First Genre
In the second half of the 18th century, a new genre appeared: the melodrama. It was called the “serious genre” and later it was shortened simply to “drama”, not to be confused with the other meaning of the term, meaning a play. Melodrama became the most popular in the 19th and the beginning of the 20thCentury, exactly at the time the film industry got established, and thus it had a lasting influence on film production as such. The melodrama dealt with the question of morality (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 49-50) and in the case of films it was also meant as “women’s films”, or “family melodrama”. Melodrama seems generally to have denoted blood-and-thunder dramas
of passion, crime, injustice and retribution – in fact the term was widely used to describe films across a wide variety of classical genres, from Westerns to crime, thrillers and adventure films (Langford 2005, 30). Melodrama could be found even in pre-Hollywood silent cinema (Langford 2005, 30). Therefore, we can consider this genre as the first genre of the moving pictures.
Melodrama is the fundamental mode of popular American moving pictures.
It is not a specific genre like the western or horror film; it is not a
“deviation” of the classical realist narrative; it cannot be located primarily in woman’s films, “weepies”, or family melodramas – though it includes them. Rather, melodrama is a peculiarly democratic and American form that seeks dramatic revelation or moral and emotional truths through a dialectic of pathos and action. It is the foundation of the classical Hollywood movie (Williams 1998, 42 in Langford 2005, 31).
3.3 The Wellek and Warren’s Conception of Inner and Outer Forms Applied on the Examined Films
One of the most influential views on genre in the 20th century was expressed by René Wellek and Austin Warren in the Theory of Literature (1956). They distinguished between “inner” and “outer” forms, by saying that the inner form features the “attitude, tone and purpose” of a literary work (Wellek and Warren 1956, 231 in Cristian and Dragon 2008, 50). These features can be demonstrated on the examined films Psycho and Vacancy. The fact itself that the Psycho is a horror film says that the purpose is to entertain and frighten the audience. This claim is further supported by the autobiographical drama film Hitchcock (Gervasi 2012), which has recently been presented in cinema and on television. The film also reveals the
history of the shooting of Psycho and that the director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to prove the film studio that he can make a commercially successful horror film even with a low budget and with a black and white camera. In fact, nobody believed in the film at the beginning and many people condemned it (Gervasi 2012, 30:33). In Psycho, there are a few killings and frightening scenes so the tone of the film is of
course frightening, dark and disturbing as well as in Vacancy. There the purpose is also to frighten the audience in the old motel with some mysterious killers and in the small space of the few rooms.
The outer form functions as “specific metre or structure” (Wellek and Warren 1956, 231 in Cristian and Dragon 2008, 50). This form can again be shown upon the two discussed films. I suggest that both films consist of several alike shots which work to create the tension and the right atmosphere what is supposed to be expressed.
For instance, there is a number of close-ups which are meant to show the expressions and feelings of characters. From the beginning, in both films there are long shots that show the viewer the environment from a distance. Likewise, the shot/counter shot technique is used to emphasize the tension in the conversation between the characters. A more specific discussion of shots and editing is provided in the paragraph about identical shots below.
3.4. Function of Genre
Genres are also important, because they tell a viewer what a film roughly might be about. Work of a given genre share the same signs, motifs, story types, visual style, atmosphere, and thus one can decide, based on his/her mood or taste, whether he/she wishes to see a horror, a thriller, a comedy, a drama or a science fiction film.
The spectator, who is about to watch a horror, can say without knowing anything
about the plot in the film that he is going to be afraid, because something terrifying is going to happen in that film and the atmosphere will be dark or dreadful. This is the power of genre. Genres even implicitly show us which film we should not watch. For instance, if the viewer does not like science fiction, hardly would he go to the cinema for Matrix (Wachowski and Wachowski 1999). Instead of describing what one likes about a film, one rather says he likes romances or comedies. This is a direct result of genres: they already contain common signs of a particular film. The function of genres is essential even for the film industry, especially production. Obviously, if a certain type of film achieves financial success, this would enable the production flow of similar films. If the audience liked a particular type of film, they would like to watch a new film from the same kind (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 50-52).
3.5. The Issue of Genre Variability
Nowadays, however, there is an increase in films which mix features of more genres. It makes it sometimes difficult to tell if one watches a one-genre film or one with a mix of genres. Genre analysis responds to this problem with the issue of
“extension”. While using a general term, such as comedy is often not sufficient, a combined term like psycho-thriller or romantic-comedy is much more useful, since it at least limits the number of generic components (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 60).
According to Stam, “normativism” in genre analysis should be avoided. This means that the interpreter should forget about pre-conceived ideas of what genres should do and instead look at genre for its creativity and innovation (Stam 2000, 128 in Cristian and Dragon 2008, 60). Two films of the same genre do not look and do the same. Another related issue is that genres should not be thought to be
“monolithic”: films do not have to belong to only one genre. Thus, a war movie may
contain elements of melodrama, or a spy movie may easily appropriate elements of thriller films (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 60).
This is exactly the case in the discussed films, as well. The issue of genre variability and complexity concerns them, as neither of them contains elements of only one clear genre, as it will be shown below.
3.6. Psycho and Vacancy as Horror Films
As it has already been mentioned, Psycho and Vacancy share a common genre:
they both are horrors. Thus, I am going to describe the main elements of horror below, provide a brief overview of its history and also the features of the monster, which play a significant role in horror. As the name, horror, itself suggests, on the one hand, it represents a vessel of bodily and representational propriety and on the other hand, it registers disturbing and often violent imagery (violence, however, is not always shown, and can be completely absent from ghost stories). Death, undeath and death-in-life are omnipresent in horror, often personified as frightening forces to be avoided or even destroyed (Langford 2005, 159). Horror films escalate the violence, often supernatural and always irrational, into normative social or domestic contexts, often with a tendency of phobic sexual panic.
3.6.1. Horror Monster in Psycho
The doer of horrific violence – the “monster” – is often seen as embodying and expressing suppressed desires (Langford 2005, 159). This statement can be applied also on the discussed films. In Psycho, the agent of the monster is Norman Bates (or his “mother”) who suffers from schizophrenia, and when he murders he thinks that he is his mother. This illness may have started in his young age when he was a child.
He had a close relationship to his mother and when she found a new lover, Norman
killed him and her too. He felt that he was pushed away by his mother so he killed them both, because he was jealous and angry. Thus, ever since Norman started killing in his motel, he actually transformed himself into his mother, thinking that the mother does not like any woman around him. Norman might have two types of desire. First, he is so bound to his mother that he suffers from a pathological form of the Oedipus complex. Yet, on the other hand, he also has a desire to have a sexual relationship with a woman, just like any other, normal heterosexual man. When he feels he is attracted to a woman he also starts thinking of his mother, and what she would think about his relation and it is then that his trouble with his own identification comes into play. This whole case is explained by a police investigator named Simon at the end of the film: “I got the whole story, but not from Norman. I got it from … his mother. Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half – existed to begin with. Now, the other half has taken over. Probably for all time.” “Did he kill my sister?” asks Marion’s sister Lila. The investigator answers:
“Yes and no. To understand it, as I understood it hearing it from the mother
… That is, from the mother-half of Norman’s mind, you have to go back ten years … to the time when Norman murdered his mother and her lover. He was already dangerously disturbed, had been ever since his father died. His mother was a clinging, demanding woman … and for years the two of them lived as if there was no one else in the world. Then she met a man and it seemed to Norman she threw him over for this man. That pushed him over the thin line … and he killed them both. Matricide is probably the most unbearable crime of all … and most unbearable to the son who commit it. So he had to erase the crime, at least in his own mind. He stole her corpse … and a weighted coffin was buried. He hid the body in the fruit cellar, even
treated it to keep it as well as it would keep. And that still wasn’t enough.
She was there, but she was a corpse. So he began to think and speak for her, gave her half his life, so to speak. At times he could be both personalities, carry on conversations … at other times, the mother-half took over completely. He was never all Norman, but he was often only mother. And because he was so pathologically jealous of her, he assumed she was as jealous of him. Therefore, if he felt a strong attraction to any other woman, the mother side of him would go wild. (To Lila) When he met your sister, he was touched by her … and aroused by her. He wanted her. And this set off his ‘jealous mother’ and … mother killed the girl. After the murder, Norman returned as if from a deep sleep … and like a dutiful son, covered up all traces of the crime he was convinced his mother had committed.”
Sam: “Why was he … dressed like that?” District Attorney: “He’s a transvestite!” Simon: “Not exactly. A man who dressed in woman’s clothing in order to achieve a sexual change … or satisfaction … is a transvestite. But in Norman’s case, he was simply doing everything possible to keep alive the illusion of his mother being alive. And whenever reality came too close, when danger or desire threatened that illusion, he’d dress up, even to a cheap wig he brought, and he’d walk about the house, sit in her chair, speak in her voice … He tried to be his mother. And now he is. That’s what I meant when I said I got the story from the mother. She thinks Norman has been taken away… because of his crimes. She insists she did nothing, that Norman committed all the murders just to keep her from being discovered. She even smiled a bit coquettishly as she said that. Of course, she feels badly about it… but also somewhat relieved to be, as she put it, free of Norman, at last.
When the mind houses two personalities, there is always a battle. In Norman’s case, the battle is over… and the dominant personality has won.”
(Hitchcock 1969, 1:47:07)
3.6.2. Horror Monster in Vacancy
In the other film, Vacancy, there is a couple of murderers who records people in the motel on tape and subsequently also kill them. They do it in order to sell the tape later and get a huge amount of money for it. Their desires are to be rich and also to see people suffer (Antal 2007). This fact is only hinted at in Vacancy, but is more fully explained in Vacancy 2: The First Cut (Bross 2008), where more details are provided about it and how it all started. The receptionist and his companions have a camera in one room only for their fun. They actually record when the guests have sex in the room. Thereafter they sell it. A new guest came to the motel with a girl. She might be a prostitute. Suddenly, the man stabbed the girl until she was dead. The receptionist with his friends were shocked when they saw the whole scene while recording it. They came to the room and tied up the killer to a chair so that he cannot leave anywhere. After a while the man says to them: “This is a good business.
Nobody buys porn anymore. But murders, that’s something else. To observe how someone is dying. This is genuine. This is priceless. We can cooperate together. Ten thousand pieces will be sold out surely.” The people agreed with this offer. This follow-up of the story is rather a prequel than a proper sequel, as it is about the first victims and the very beginnings. Here, it is explicitly shown that the motivation is indeed money, as these types of tapes are very popular amongst clients (Bross 2008, 19:55).
20 3.6.3. Monstrosity in General
What makes a cinematic horror a horror is the idea of the ‘monstrous’. Adding to the monstrosity, monsters are created, not born. The word monster has its roots in the Latin word monstrare and it means ‘to show’. Therefore it could be said that
monsters are created to de-monstrate and “to teach an object social lesson of some kind” (Langford 2005, 166). Although horror monsters might be perceived as scary, frightening or disturbing creatures, according to Robin Wood the monsters are rarely wholly unsympathetic. They rather act out our own unacknowledged desires, so one can say that horror films fulfill our nightmare wish to break the norms that oppress us (Wood 1986, 80 in Langford 2005, 167).
3.6.4. Classification of Horror Monsters
Andrew Tudor classified horror’s monsters in his study of the genre. He actually divided monsters according to particular periods in (film) history. Firstly, there was prewar horror which mostly featured monsters with supernatural origin. In the decade after the war the threats or monstrosity are less visible. These types of films are more focused on individual psychology and the paranormal rather than the supernatural – for instance, our object of focus, Psycho (Hitchcock 1960) and also Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero 1968) (Tudor 1989 in Langford 2005,
168). Saunders (2000, 75 in Langford 2005, 169) claims that Psycho might well be a permission for film-makers in this genre to further expose the illusory securities and limited rationales to reveal the chaos. This “change” in the genre of horror, however, did not happen overnight, but gradually. Be it as it may, however, modern horror is in any case rather based on the individual psyche, and monstrosity is created with psychopathic killers. This fact could be applied also on films of my focus. In Psycho
the psychopathic killer creates Norman Bates who committed several murders. Once again, at the end of the film the spectator learns that Norman is the killer mainly due to his mental illness. He already killed Marion, the detective and he was about to kill even Lila, Marion’s sister. The police investigator explains the whole case at the end and adds that Norman also killed his mother and the mother’s lover back then (Hitchcock 1969, 1:47:07). Another example of psychopathic killers is seen in Vacancy as well. There is the receptionist with his companions and they have already killed several people in the motel. This fact spectator learns from the tapes that are being watched by the new guests. Thereafter they suspect they are next in line and the killers try to kill them (Antal 2008, 34:17).
3.7. Psycho and Vacancy as Multi-Genre Films
Psycho is already considered a classic among horror films. The film has
been the subject of numerous books, hundreds of essays and played an important part in the development of film studies (Phillips 2005, 61). This fact seems to suggest that it might belong only to the horror genre. It undoubtedly features the elements of horror predominantly. Yet, elements of other possible genres (or subgenres) can also be seen in this film and then it will be shown upon the second film Vacancy.
3.7.1. Psycho as Multi-Genre Film
The whole film Psycho is about a psychologically ill Norman Bates who seems normal, but later it becomes apparent that he is not completely in order, so one could say that it is possible to find there elements of the psyche. Thus, the features of a psychological film are obvious. Even the title itself is called Psycho.
Another rather obvious subgenre could be the criminal film, because murders are being investigated by the police and a detective (Hitchcock 1960, 1:02:47). Yet, the
most visible subgenre may undoubtedly be the slasher film, since there are several murders in the film that are committed by a psychopathic killer and one already knows that Norman killed several people in the film. A slasher film is considered a subgenre in modern American horror cinema, usually low-budget and independently- produced. This subgenre is characterized by a shadowy, resurrected killer who is usually near some ritualistic teenage celebration located in a small town where the killer was once intimately linked (Gelder 2000, 273).
3.7.2. Vacancy as Multi-Genre Film
Although it is as yet less known, and even less analyzed, Vacancy nevertheless definitely shares this very same metagenre – the slasher film. The curious receptionist tries to kill the couple accommodated in the motel with his companions. From the murders recorded on tape, one knows that there have happened several killings in the motel (Antal 2008, 34:17). The film bets on a stifling atmosphere, numerous frightening scenes and a thrilling chase among the killers and the couple. These might be characteristics which rather relate to the genre of the thriller, so one can safely say that genres like horror and thriller overlap here to a certain extent (Cobley 2000, 38). Moreover, the film points to a contemporary subgenre which is called snuff film. Snuff film is a film where murder and torturing, mostly with a sexual undertone, is recorded without any use of special effects and the film is distributed to entertain and for financial purposes (Hagin 2010, 44). The same happens in Vacancy. In the motel, there is a group of murderers that records the killing of the guests so that they can sell the tape afterwards. There are some interesting facts about the “legend” of snuff films which would be essential to mention briefly. The main trigger of the myth “snuff” was a film in mid 1970’s
called simply Snuff (Findlay, Fredriksson, Nuchtern 1976). What might have been shocking for the spectators is that they were not warned or prepared for that tough kind of film – murder for pleasure recorded on tape. It looks authentic and it might have developed from the slasher film. Another movie, for instance, dealing with the issue of snuff is 8MM (Schumacher 1999). I say the myth, because there is actually no evidence that these kinds of films really exist. Although, there are some people who claim that they have already seen the real snuff films, they will not share the source (Hagin 2010, 44-50).
These examples written above prove that the both films have a commonality that they are not of only one genre, but several ones.
4. Finding Relations of Sources
Although at first sight these films do not look the same, or even similar, if one takes a closer look, it is possible to see many common signs and scenes that the spectator would not even expect. These signs are surprising and imaginative and can potentially motivate the spectator to think deeper about them.
I prefer to divide these scenes into more evident and then less visible ones which one must contemplate more carefully and may not discover them at once. Here come the evident signs of both films.
4.1. More Evident Features in the Films
From the very beginning, if one notices the main-title and music of the both films, one can see and hear that the music sounds very disturbing, dark and quick.
The introductory subtitles appear almost in the same way in Psycho and Vacancy.
Both appear on the side and slowly lose (Antal 2007, 0:30; Hitchcock 1960, 0:30).
After the introduction of the films, the main characters in both Vacancy and Psycho are arriving to a motel and in both films one can see the welcoming signs of
those motels so the spectator now knows where the events are going to take place in particular. Not only Amy and David, but also Marion arrives in the motel in a bad or depressing mood. It might foreshadow the mood of forthcoming events. Even the fact that in both films the main characters are arriving in the motel in the evening or at night, predicts something terrifying is going to happen later (Hitchcock 1960, 25:27; Antal 2007, 07:10).
The second interesting fact is that the main characters are driving a car. This fact is actually the very cause of the characters’ troubles. Due to the car they are forced to spend a night in a motel so the car is an initiator of irritating and unexpected events.
More specifically, driving a car in the night makes Marion sleepy and when she has the chance, she stops and spends a night in a motel in Psycho (Hitchcock 1960, 26:48). In the second case, the couple in Vacancy is also forced to stop because of the broken engine in the car. This unpleasant situation brings them to a motel as well (Antal 2007, 16:37).
On the road before, as Amy, David and Marion get to the motel; the main characters are stopped by somebody. Marion is stopped by a police man on a highway (dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1960, 14:40); the couple is stopped at the petrol station by a stranger who ’repairs’ their car engine, which then suddenly stops working as they continue their way (Antal 2007, 07:59).
Another undoubtedly similar sign is the appearance of the motels both outside and inside. They both are older, simple and look uncomfortable. One can see how the characters feel from their disgusted gestures. Marion observes the motel distrustfully (Hitchcock 1960, 27:44). The couple does not like the motel from their arrival. Amy
says she will rather sleep dressed up and David says he will rather sleep with his shoes on (Antal 2007, 22:08).
Another common trait is that after the arrival, both the couple and Marion are going to the receptionist and mysterious things happen a short time after their visits to the reception. All main characters have an odd conversation with each receptionist. Marion meets Norman Bates, the owner of the motel and receptionist in one. On the one hand, he looks likeable, but also distracted. He is trying too much to be nice by helping her with the baggage and showing her room. He is even quietly forcing Marion to have dinner together. He says that the closest restaurant is ten miles away. In their later conversation by dinner he talks sometimes nicely and sometimes nervously (Hitchcock 1960, 43:39).
In Vacancy, Amy and David meet a strange receptionist who seems to try to be nice but acts unnaturally. Even the characters are quite confused by his acting.
Immediately when they enter the place, they hear noises that sound like intensive female screaming; as if somebody was getting killed. It discourages mainly Amy, but David is patient, fearless and decides to stay. The receptionist himself appears only after this episode and explains the noise. He is watching a video. They ask him about the man who repaired the car engine, but the receptionist tries to abstain them in the motel and says the “mechanic” went home and perhaps will come in the morning again. They ask about another mechanic service and the man answers the closest shop by Clark’s is about 20 miles away. Then they want to call somebody for help and the receptionist shows them a telephone outside. After a little witless play of changing money on change for the call, the receptionist announces that even this service by Clark’s is closed until the morning. Now the receptionist suggests that they do not have any other solution than to stay in the motel for the night. He
suggests that they should take the “honeymoon suit”. One may ponder upon it and wonder how it looks, because the motel from outside was already seen and did not seem luxurious nor comfortable. This causes that the term “honeymoon suit” sounds oddly in this context. Before they leave for their room they have to show their identification cards and the receptionist utters about the room: “She is as sticky as an old whore,” which is quite inappropriate, but immediately apologizes himself and wishes them good night (Antal 2007, 20:07). Simply, Norman is exaggeratedly helpful and distracted, when serving Marion. The receptionist in Vacancy is peculiar and acts unnaturally but these two receptionists have definitely one in common: to keep the guests in their motels.
One should also not forget the famous murder scene from Psycho in the bathroom. Marion is being killed by a blurred shape, seemingly an old lady with a knife in her hand. But before the killing there is a short shot on the bathroom curtains and soon the terror-stricken face of Marion where she cannot do anything and she is about to die (Hitchcock 1960, 48:27). A quite similar shot also appears in Vacancy when David suspects someone being behind the bathroom curtains. There is nobody, yet it creates a tense atmosphere (Antal 2007, 36:05).
4.2. Less Visible Traits in the Movies
Now comes the time to introduce the less visible common scenes. Both films want to quietly persuade the spectator that the killers are not the receptionists.
In Psycho the spectator thinks from the beginning that the killer is Norman’s mother.
In Norman’s house, which is placed nearby the motel, one can see the silhouette of an old woman in the window several times (Hitchcock 1960, 01:10:30). On the other hand, in Vacancy, although the spectator cannot see anybody at first, there are
numerous knocks and bangs and the ringing of the phone that nobody answers. And the receptionist is meanwhile tucked away in his office and acts as if he did not know anything (Antal 2007, 29:42).
The purpose of the killers is similarly unknown in both films. Clearly, the killers do not have any reason to murder as nobody has got into any conflict with them.
When Marion gets killed in Psycho, the killer just comes into the bathroom and without any warning or having anything said before, he/she starts coldly stabbing her. The spectator does not know who the slayer is and why Marion gets murdered in the first place (Hitchcock 1960, 48:27). Similarly the same situation occurs even in Vacancy. The couple comes in their room and after a short while some bangs and
knocks disturb them. After seeing a murder on a tape they realize they are victims as well and they are in danger. The killers try to invade in their room and attack them also without any warning and conflict before (Antal 2007, 29:42).
Likewise, in both films a ray of hope appears for the victims. In both cases, it seems that they could be saved, yet it proves to be a false hope, and the saving does not happen in the end. In Vacancy, there is a police man (Antal 2007, 01:05:33) and in Psycho a detective (Hitchcock 1960, 01:17:36) who could help the protagonists, but neither of them succeeds. In fact, they both get killed. Moreover, in Vacancy there is a scene where David hopes to get saved by calling for some help in the telephone booth outside. This attempt, however, also proves fruitless since, perhaps surprisingly, the receptionist is on the end of the line. (Antal 2007, 43:23).
In addition, the two movies also share the same method of killing, namely stabbing with a knife. Norman, in the role of his mother, uses it in Psycho (Hitchcock 1960, 01:41:29) and this is the masked murderers’ only weapon in Vacancy (Antal 2007, 01:09:12), as well. What makes the similarity even more striking, however, is
that these stabbings are also represented in the same style: both films refrain from showing much blood or visible cuts, as it will be discussed below.
Another notable common sign in Vacancy and Psycho is that the murderers wear masks in both cases. In Vacancy the killers wear scary dark blue masks (Antal 2007, 35:59). Norman in Psycho wears an exceptional mask: he dresses to look like his mother, and he even thinks that he is his mother (Hitchcock 1960, 01:17:26).
One of the most remarkable commonalities, however, is the presence of surveillance. In both films there is a strong emphasis on this feature. In fact, one could even call it voyeurism. In Vacancy there is an allied group of murderers who record accommodated guests. The group sits in another room and they watch them on television, and they sell the tapes later (Antal 2007, 34:29). Differently, but still in its own sense Norman Bates in Psycho also does his own voyeuristic act: He watches Marion through a peephole made in the wall. This peephole is otherwise hidden behind a painting. It is clear that Norman is attracted to Marion all along and he may have got excited by watching her this way, secretly. He sees her almost naked, only dressed in underwear. This mechanics of watching is very exceptional; namely it is a three dimensional structure of surveillance. As already mentioned, Marion is being watched by Norman through the peephole in the wall. Norman is the one, who watches. Yet, this does not end. As one knows, Norman is ill and controlled by his
’mother’ in his mind. So in this case, not only Marion is being watched, but also Norman by his mother. After his return to his house, one can hear how they are arguing because of Marion. There are indeed heard voices of Norman and Norman’s mother (Hitchcock 1960, 44:52). A similar feature can be found even in Vacancy; as the couple finds out they are watching real murders on a videotape that already
happened, while at the same time they are being recorded on a camera as well. So the structure looks like this: people already filmed on the tape are being watched by a couple that is also being watched by a camera and behind this camera the killers are sitting and watching them in another room (Antal 2007, 33:22, 45:19).
In terms of relationships, both movies start with couples – Amy and David in Vacancy, Marion and Sam in Psycho. Both couples have problems. Amy and David
are planning to get a divorce (Antal 2007, 06:13) and Marion wants to marry Sam, but he does not look like he would like to get married. This fact might have caused Marion’s theft. She was desperate and thought that the money would solve all her problems (Hitchcock 1960, 04:32).
Some humor is also used. David occasionally utters something ironic, because he tries to ease the tension between him and Amy. The eccentric receptionist makes some jokes too, although it is quite odd and ridiculous (Antal 2007, 20:07). Also, Sam, Marion’s partner makes some jokes to lighten up his lover, but it does not make her feel comfortable, because she is being serious in their conversation. Norman Bates is amusing in a different way. A spectator might laugh at him being dressed as a woman and not only that. At the end of the film the spectator can see how Norman is ’transformed’ into his mother, talks like her and demonically smiles (Hitchcock 1960, 01:48:37). A humorous moment is paradoxically when Norman is going to stab Marion’s sister Lila. One can see him dressed as a woman, wearing an old- fashioned wig, a long dress and having that strange excited smile on his face. He looks frightening and comic together. In this moment the spectator unveils the truth that Norman is the one who has been killing the whole time and that the spectator has been actually tricked. Moreover, when the viewer sees this truth and Norman in the
wig attempting to look like a woman, he must laugh at him (Hitchcock 1960, 01:41:29).
In the end, one should also mention that the main male characters Sam and David survive. Although, Marion dies, her partner and sister are still alive in Psycho.
The two main characters in Vacancy probably stay alive too, but one does not know this surely due to its incomplete end. This might seem also a common feature. The spectator does not feel himself so disappointed or disgusted. Each film has its own way of the end. As mentioned earlier, Marion is dead, but the rest of the main characters at least find out the mystery of the several murders and moreover stay alive (Alfred Hitchcock 1960, 01:41:41). In the other movie, the couple survives;
however, it is not known what is going to happen later when the film ends and its music adds more mystery to it (Antal 2007, 01:20:49). It depends on spectators how they deal with the ends of both films, but no one might say their ends are literally tragic.
5. Identical Shots
5.1. Introduction of Important Terminology
Beyond the thematical similarity of the two films, however, it is also possible to find further levels of commonality. Most importantly, one might even discover parallel shots. Film shots are basic units of a motion picture and can be compared to a statement, which refers to reality. Shots are created by film-makers. A shot is a part of particular frames which lasts continuously for a period of time. It displays us emotions, movements, gestures, scenes and thoughts (Metz 1974, 115-116 In Cristian and Dragon 2008, 26).
As I am to mention various types of shot during my thesis, I am obliged to explain what each type of shot and another film terms mean and how it look.
There has been mentioned the word “angle” several times. Now, one should take a look what the camera angle means. The camera angle is the position of the camera in relation to the subject it shows: above it, looking down; on the same level and looking up. The next important term is close-up. It is a framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large. A somebody´s head is seen from the neck up, or an object fills most of the screen to emphasize its importance. Long shot is a framing in which the scale of the object shown is not distant but quite small. For instance, a standing human figure generally appears nearly the height of the screen. Medium shot is a shot which shows human figures from the waist up. Point of View (POV) shot: A shot that shows what the character would actually see with his or her eyes.
Another important shot is called close shot. It shows a subject from the top of the head to mid-waist. Extreme close-up is a shot of a small detail like a subject’s eye.
Medium shot shows the subject from the knees up and in a two-shot there is a space enough for two people, often when conversing. It can be a medium or close shot (Giannetti 2008, 11).
5.2. Comparing the Identical Shots in Chronological Order
I observe and compare the alike shots in a chronological order. Already at the beginning of the films there is the same shot as David and Marion are driving their cars, both with faces that look dissatisfied, shown in the shadow of the car and they make similar expressions. It is a close-up. (Antal 2007, 04:06; Hitchcock 1960, 13:37).
Soon, the couple is stopped at the petrol station by a stranger who is talking to them (Antal 2007, 07:59). Marion is stopped by a police man on a highway (Hitchcock 1960, 14:40). The stranger is as close to David as the police man to Marion in Psycho. Marion and David are filmed from the same angle in the car.
In Psycho, there is the same shot two times at a car license plate. Firstly, when the policeman stops Marion and sees it (Hitchcock 1960, 16:23). Then Marion takes a look at it in the shop (Hitchcock 1960, 18:21). In Vacancy, there is the same close shot of the car sign in the very first second. It is close and it is getting farther from the spectators’ view (Antal 2007, 02:40). There exists the same shot in both films on the front part of the car and the road. As mentioned earlier, the car is a starter of unexpected events.
Figure 1: Marion and a Police Man Figure 2: Amy, David and a Man
Figure 3: The Car in Psycho Figure 4: The Car in Vacancy
The arrival to the motel in Psycho (Hitchcock 1960, 26:47) in the Figure 5 also looks the same as the arrival to the petrol station in Vacancy (Antal 2007, 07:03) in the Figure 6. Both main characters can see the lit sign from a distance. They are surprised, curious and get closer to it.
At the reception, the two films also use the same shots and editing to establish an emotionally similar situation. First, there is a medium shot on one character, and there is a cut and another medium shot of the other one. It is the same both in Psycho and Vacancy. In Psycho, first Norman talks, and at this time the camera is pointed towards him and when Marion starts talking, the medium shot is on her (Hitchcock 1960, 28:41). The very same operation happens in Vacancy. David talks to the receptionist and the shot points towards him. When the receptionist speaks, the camera is aimed at him, and this routine continues until the end of the conversation among all the people present (Antal 2007, 17:13). Although this is a well-know, and often used pattern of editing, known as the shot/counter-shot technique, it is by no means the only possible way to show dialogs. What is more, it is well-known that the use of this pattern of editing suggests or emphasizes the tension or peculiarity in the conversation among the characters (Giannetti 2008, 155). What is more, when the camera films the individuals, one can notice their behavior and gestures better than if the characters were filmed together. In the light of all these, one can even theorize
Figure 5:The Arrival in Psycho Figure 6: The Arrival in Vacancy
34 Figure 7: Marion’s Look
that these shots might play the role of a border between the good and the bad events which will happen later. Although it is possible to see this type of editing several times in both films, it is nowhere as expressive as during these scenes at the reception.
As the couple enters their allocated room, they start to look around it and Amy looks at herself in a mirror oddly and disturbingly (Antal 2007, 21:37), which one can see in the Figure 8. This shot
looks exactly the same as in the Figure 7 in which Marion looks at herself in the mirror before her departure from the city (Hitchcock 1960, 11:55).
In both films, there is also a strong emphasis on shots that display eyes. In Vacancy, there is a scene where Amy is hidden in a loft, as she hides herself before
the killers. The loft is wooden and there are many gaps so she can see who moves under her. In many moments we can only see her one wide open eye observing the situation. One moment is memorable; namely when her husband is being stabbed and her eye extends even more and for a second changes its color into greater brightness by seeing this terror (Antal 2007, 01:06:29). It is shown in the Figure 9 bellow. A similar shot is also in Psycho. A camera films the dead Marion’s eye and it is a close shot, which one can see in the Figure 10. Although she is dead, her eyes are still open
Figure 8: Marion’s look
(Hitchcock 1960, 49:11). Another detail of the eye is again in Psycho; Norman watches Marion through the peephole in the wall and there is also a close shot of his eye from the side (Hitchcock 1960 44:53). It also reminds one of the same shot in Vacancy, as Amy watches the killers through the wooden loft (Antal 2007, 01:08:08).
6. The System of Suture in Psycho and Vacancy
Before applying the theory of suture on the discussed films I want to demonstrate how and why the process of identification from time to time changes from the perspective of the viewer. I focus on this process because it is attractive to observe films and their deeper purpose and not only the plot and what one sees on the surface.
6.1. The Term Suture by Different Authors
As it is now known, a shot is a basic unit in a movie. A shot can play a substantial role in filmmaking. A camera, us as spectators, is not capable of showing everything at once. It might not want to show us everything. Presence on the screen is limited to 180 degrees of visibility. A spectator must see only what he sees knowing that there is something more, and this ”more” must be hidden. It works on
Figure 9: Amy’s Eye Figure 10: Marion’s Eye
our imagination and the scene’s point of view is offscreen. Film presents something that is absent. When one watches a film, there is something present on the screen but also something what one cannot see, what is out of the frame. This absence steals, and at the same time, brings a spectator some kind of pleasure without even knowing it. Thus, cinema is about absence and presence (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 38).
Jean-Pierre Oudart introduced the issue of suture into the film theory and it became a key in the 1970’s, but this word had been already used or rather uttered by Lacan in his seminar in 1965 (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 44).
6.2. Shot-Reverse Shot
System of the suture, according to Oudart, is established in a two-shot formula, in other words shot-reverse shot. This formula actually indicates a viewer what a single shot means, where one looks and what one sees. In the first shot the viewer discovers the frame and that means, he now knows that there is a camera and shows or hides things. It is compared to how a child looking into the mirror discovers itself as it is described in Lacan’s mirror stage (Hayward 2000, 382 In Cristian and Dragon 2008, 43). The viewer is now frustrated of what he is prevented from seeing. He can see only what is in the line of the glance of another spectator, who is absent or unseen. Due to this “ghost” is spectator gotten rid of his pleasure and Oudart calls this look the “absent-one” (Rothman 1975, 45-50). Soon comes the second shot which overturns the first one. Presence of somebody sets aside the missing field. The shot two represents the fictional glance and pictures the meaning of the shot one.
Simply, we as viewers do not know whose gaze or look displays to us the first shot.
The second shot let us know who, especially, which character is the source of the
gaze. The term suture is supposed to stitch or sew the spectator into the filmic text (Rothman 1975, 45-50).
6.2.1. Gaze or the Absent One
There, as for the general public, is definitely a need to define the term gaze or as already mentioned “the absent-one”. It would be more understandable to actually explain the difference between the look and the gaze. Lacan defined these terms several times in his works. Lacan made a good example of the gaze and this sample was used to Hans Holbein´s painting The Ambassadors (1533). On the painting, there are two figures portrayed surrounded by numbers of objects. After some time of watching it, we realize that there is something disquieting. Something what we cannot see but we have the feeling of being monitored. When we look at the painting again we behold a strange skull bellow the figures which is staring straight towards the spectator. Previously we only saw a strangely deformed figure. This technique is called anamorphosis: and it consists of an image that appears distorted until viewed from a specific point of view (Lacan 1998, 88 In Cristian and Dragon 2008, 43). In
other words, the anamorphed part had been there before without even looking at it and it works mainly when the spectator realizes it and knows that this look is imaginary (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 43).
6.2.2. The Difference between Look and Gaze
The difference between look and gaze can be also applied on an everyday example. Someone is sitting in library and is reading a book. Another person is staring at him and the monitored one feels it. He raises his head and looks for the look, but the person who has been staring all along suddenly stops staring at anybody so the gaze disappears. The reader’s look now realizes that his feeling of being gazed
does not exist; therefore it was an imaginary look, which we call the gaze (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 43-44).
The look differs from the gaze. That means, the look is somehow connected between spectator’s eyes and the gaze is a non-existent, imaginary look from the side of the object we think it comes from (Cristian and Dragon 2008, 43-44).
William Rothman boldly claims that system of the suture is not based on a two- shot figure (as claims Oudart), but in fact, the point-of-view shot is a three shot sequence. This means that the second shot shows somebody continuing to look and prepares a viewer for another shot by an implication. Rothman even denies meaning of the point-of-view shot and rather says it has significance within the film (Rothman 1975, 45-50).
Thus, there are two theories about the point-of-view shot and each of them shall be applicable on certain types of films.
6.3. Suture Applied on Psycho and Vacancy
Psycho is a good example of a film where a spectator is tied with each character due to a performance of shots. Simply, a camera makes a viewer identify with individual characters. But not only is the viewer tied with characters, this movie puts the viewer implicitly to the position of a voyeur (Silverman 1983, 203).
Firstly, the spectator sympathizes with Marion as she is beautiful young woman willing to get married her lovable boyfriend. This lasts until she steals a huge amount of money and the spectator now doubts her and to be bound again to her, he/she must find reasons why to justify her reasons to steal the money. This will be shown in the following couple of shots which will be described below. The spectator is now confused but later he can see how she feels about this theft and she even regrets it
how one can see when she gets in the motel. The spectator identifies with Marion and when she gets killed the sympathy turns towards Norman and the viewer is now bound with him. Yet, on the scene come Lila and Marion’s partner Sam and the spectator wants to know who killed Marion so he identifies with these characters at the moment. The same matter takes place even in Vacancy. Briefly, the arguing couple gets lost and needs to sleep over in a motel. The spectator cannot share his sympathy with the couple as they are quite annoying. Only the husband David seems to be sympathetic occasionally. This feeling changes with a time when they enter the motel and the viewer can feel the strange atmosphere and now is able to identify with Amy and later definitely with both and does not want them to die.
6.3.1. Suture in Psycho
188.8.131.52. The Introductory Scene
Psycho starts with few shots which show us a great view upon a metropolitan city horizontally. We do not know the character of this gaze and another shot gets us slowly into a random window, then room. It is a hotel room. This shot confuses us because we feel slightly voyeuristic. As if we interrupt someone’s privacy.
In the room there is Sam with Marion. Marion is lying on bed, monitored by a camera or us or the ghostly gaze? That is the question and the answer depends on every spectator. They discuss a possible marriage which Marion wills it to happen.
Sam prevaricates himself and does not look like he wants to get married.
184.108.40.206. Marion after the Theft
That day after stealing the money, Marion plays an important role in a sequence of shots which is indeed interesting and important in terms of suture. As she stands in
front of her bedroom closet, wearing black underwear, a camera is filming her.
Suddenly the camera goes slowly but surely straight to her bed and zooms the envelope of stolen money. Then it turns the left and gives a close-up of an open suitcase with clothes. These shots show spectators what Marion cannot see as she is facing the closet. The camera now films Marion as she turns and looks at the bed and the camera again looks toward the money. She puts the clothes on and adds some clothes into the suit-case. There follows a shot where she looks at herself discontentedly in a mirror and turns back again at the money on bed. There is another single shot which focuses only on money. In another shot she looks nervously around the room while adding some more clothes into the suit-case. Then Marion takes her hand bag, puts an envelope into it, looks again towards the bed on the money and slowly goes to sit on bed. At the last minute before she leaves she sits and thinks as if she wanted to do everything otherwise and maybe return the money back where it belongs to. She knows she is wrong for doing this. Finally she adds even the money into her hand bag, for a second she thinks about it and immediately leaves her flat.
220.127.116.11. How the Suture Works
This exhibition of shots says a number of things. As the camera emphasizes the money (the only thing) on bed, a spectator must always watch it without even wanting it. Even the shots/reverse shots, where Marion is nervous and thinking, show us that she knows she does not do a good thing and now she becomes a thief. This gaze of the camera makes the spectators a part of the film. Spectators enjoy and experience the feel of the guilt together with Marion. In my opinion, the viewer sympathizes with Marion due to her pleasant look, fragility and her desperation. One already knows what made Marion steal the money and therefore get into problems.
She did not do it on purpose, she only wanted to be happy and get married (Silverman 1983, 204-205).
18.104.22.168. Marion and the Scene with the Police Man
Other two scenes in Psycho demonstrate the same point. After Marion’s escape from the city she decides to take a rest on a side of road. It is an opening long-shot.
One can see her car from a distance and also a coming a police car and parks it straight behind the Marion’s car. In the next shot the police man gets out of his car, goes towards Marion’s car and looks through the window. In a third shot is shown what he sees - sleeping Marion. The police man now knocks on the window and she wakes up. A shot/reverse shot is now exchanged between the two characters.
Although, Marion looks back at the person who has disturbed her, the police man´s eyes are hidden by a pair of dark glasses. There starts an unpleasant conversation between them, mainly for Marion. The police man asks her about the sleep in the car, she explains and one can see how this conversation makes her nervous. He is suspicious of her and tries her to hold up. Then follows a series of quick shot/reverse shots and he keeps interrogating her. He asks her to see the license. After she gives him the license, the police man goes to the front of the car to check the license plate number. The reverse shot discloses the license plate. She is now allowed to continue her journey, but he follows her for several miles. The entire conversation the police man wears the glasses so nobody can recognize his real look and this fact seems to be disquieting. He acts very impersonal not only to the viewer but also to Marion. He might be right in his suspects, but one cannot identify with him, although, it is known what Marion has done (Silverman 1983, 205).