By Ariel Messman-Rucker
As one of Hitch’s infamous blondes, Janet Leigh earned a place in the horror movie hall of fame playing thieving Marion Crane opposite the crazed Anthony Perkins in Psycho. And while this was her only major contribution to the genre, this performance earns her a place next to the rest of our Diabolical Dames—the rest are just icing on the cake.
When I first saw Leigh in Psycho at age 6, I was terrified for her and was horrified when she met her grisly fate. Since then I have watched the movie countless times and this past Thursday I had the opportunity to see the film on the big screen for the first time. I was amazed by how much more I was affected by the film in that setting. I knew that Leigh would be killed in the shower and that it was really Norman Bates dressed as his mother doing the deed, but still, I was on the edge of my seat—along with the rest of the audience.
Obviously Alfred Hitchcock has a lot to do with this, but it is Leigh’s acting that gives the scene credibility. One of the most Impressive things about Leigh’s role in the film is that she is killed off a third of the way through and yet she is remembered as though she were a last girl.
As Marion Crane, Leigh was an independent and self-assured woman with a sexuality that was more real than the usual scream queen fare. In an ahead of its time sex scene, where she was scantily clad in a pointy bra and slip (because nothing says sexy more than cone shaped boobs!), Leigh showed 1960s audiences a confident and alluring women, more than just big hair, screams and bouncing breasts. (The fact that Anne Heche played this role in the remake is a true travesty. And why the director decided to update it by having Heche butt naked (gag) I will never understand.)
Leigh has made a few more recent contributions to the genre along side her scream queen daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and in John Carpenter’s The Fog. And although neither of these movies is anywhere near the caliber of Psycho (especially Halloween H2O – not the series best moment), Leigh still acted her heart out.