Horror Lit: The Apple Tree

My best friend recommended to me Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Apple Tree.” I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of this author, although I was familiar with her work, unbeknownst to me. Her works Rebecca and “The Birds” were the stories behind Alfred Hitchcock’s movies of the same names, and which are both on my reading list now.

When I began reading “The Apple Tree,” I was expecting it to be something between Johnny Appleseed and Sleepy Hollow — only based on the title. I was very wrong. Instead, it was an engaging tale of a marriage turned sour. Told from the perspective of an old man who only sees what is wrong with his wife, du Maurier pulls you into a sad story of how life can be made harder when there is no love left between a couple.

The image of the apple tree was used very well in the story to represent the bitterness between the protagonist and his wife, and it reminded me of an earlier ghost story from the 19th century by Elia Peattie called “The Crime of Micah Rood.” Similarly, this story was told from the perspective of an old man, but that and the apple tree image are where the similarities end. This story is about poverty, jealousy and greed … and regret.

When I read “The Crime of Micah Rood,” I was struck by the central image of the apple tree. In both this story and “The Apple Tree,” the tree and its fruit act in supernatural ways that reflect the protagonists’ struggles. Peattie’s story is much shorter, but just as satisfying as du Maurier’s. They are good stories to read as companion pieces.

du Maurier, Daphne. “The Apple Tree,” The Birds and Other Stories, Virago, 2004, originally published as The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Several Long Stories, Gollancz, 1952.

Peattie, Elia. “The Crime of Micah Rood,” Great American Ghost Stories, ed. Bill Bowers, Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

Horror Cinema Trivia: Psycho (1960)

There’s one shot in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that you might have paused and pointed to as proof that Hitchcock showed a knife penetrating skin (or fake skin). You even see blood as the knife goes in. In reality it didn’t go in. “They put a little blood on the tip,” says filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, “and then put it against her belly button, and then shot it in reverse. That’s as close as it gets. But there’s never any actual special effect needed to show an actual wound. The body remains immaculate throughout the entire sequence.”

Incidentally, this was how Hitchcock bypassed the censors’ scissors. “It’s exactly what Hitchcock told them: No, you didn’t see this. You thought you did but you didn’t. I didn’t do the things you told me not to do. I was a good boy.”

Read more interesting facts about the shower scene in Psycho at the BFI’s 10 Things You (Probably) Never Knew About the Shower Scene in Psycho.

Buddy and Tippi

“If you thought Tippi Hedren’s affinity for big cats was somehow rooted in revenge on birds, think again. According to the Dec. 4, 1962, edition of Look magazine — published prior to the 1963 release of her first Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, but after the harrowing scenes were shot in which the crew threw real birds at her — she accepted one of the creatures as a pet.

“The caption from the feature story, ‘Tippi Hedren: Hitchcock’s New Grace Kelly’ (with Tippi on the cover), reads: ‘Buddy, a pet raven, neatly lights Tippi’s cigarette. She grew so fond of him that she put a sign, ‘Buddy and Tippi,’ on her dressing-room door.'”

Read more at SCVTV: Tippi Hedren and Pet Raven, Buddy

Horror Lit: Psycho

When I came across a copy of Robert Bloch’s Psycho at a Books-A-Million, I picked it up without hesitation. I had wanted to read it since I discovered in April 2018 that the movie was based on a book (see Horror Cinema: Psycho).

Reading it, I was surprised by its gore and violence, especially for a book written in the 1950s. I was expecting it to be more of a slow burn like its movie adaptation. Instead, right from the start, there was gore. Early on, Norman Bates was described as reading books about human sacrifices where drums were made out of human skin. The classic murder scene in the motel shower was more intense than I would have ever imagined.

As a horror writer myself, I aspire to write stories that combine a psychological thrill with true-crime violence, and Psycho turned out to be just that. It was written in a clear and concise style with engaging characters.

After reading the book, I re-watched Hitchcock’s movie version. While much tamer than the book—to be expected for the time it was made in—it was an impressive film adaptation. The biggest difference between the book and film was how Norman Bates looked. In the book, he is described as overweight with thinning hair and rimless glasses, nothing like the tall, slim brunette cast in the movie.

I highly recommend this book to any horror fan.

Book
Bloch, Robert. Psycho, The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 1959.

Film
Hitchcock, Alfred. Psycho, Paramount Pictures, 1960.

Horror Cinema: Psycho

I love discovering that a personal horror-film favourite is based on a novel:

Psycho was the first movie adapted from a novel by Robert Bloch (1917-1994), and despite its great success, he only received $9,000 from selling the film rights to his novel. However, the movie helped his career tremendously, and he wrote for a number of films and television shows over the next three decades, most of them in the horror/thriller/suspense genre, such as The Night Walker (1964) starring Barbara Stanwyck, and Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford.” (from Trivia & Fun Facts About PSYCHO by Turner Classic Movies)

Adding Bloch to my reading list!

PSYCHO - American Poster 6

(poster from Discreet Charms & Obscure Objects: Images of rare/well-known movie posters)