Reading Laurence Rickels‘ The Psycho Records (Wallflower Press, 2016) gave me the urge to ask random strangers questions like: Are you haunted by Alfred...

Reading Laurence RickelsThe Psycho Records (Wallflower Press, 2016) gave me the urge to ask random strangers questions like: Are you haunted by Alfred Hitchcock’s famous shower scene? How do you feel about Norman Bates and other cinematic killers pathologically attached to their mothers? Does the thought of Anthony Perkins impersonating his dead mother and stabbing Janet Leigh make you uncomfortable and scared? Induce an uncanny sensation? Or does it seem dated, campy, even comical? Rickels is interested precisely in these vicissitudes of the primal shower scene–what he calls the “Psycho Effect”–as it is taken up and therapeutically transformed by subsequent slasher and splatter films.

It is not an accident that Hitchcock chose the shower stall as the site for his most famous moment of Schauer, the German cognate meaning “horror.” Traumatized American soldiers returning from World War II, dubbed “psychos,” were transposed into filmic psycho murderers straddling psychosis and psychopathy. Norman was perhaps the first such hero of variegated diagnosis. In the 1970s and 1980s we encountered less exalted figures, like the cannibal Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street fame. Still less sophisticated mass murderers followed: the zombies revived post-9/11 and, eventually, motive-less serial killers captured with the aid of “objective” forensics. All these characters address the difficulty of separation and mourning, the pull toward fusion with Mother, the trauma of the cut, survival, and industrial killing–the intimate violence of Nazi doctors and the impersonal push-button battles of the Gulf War.

Many slasher and splatter films also tell the story of a newly emergent social category, subgenre, and audience member–the teen. Rickels devotes parts of the book to the postwar invention of adolescence, reading closely D. W. Winnicott’s papers on antisocial teenagers and juvenile delinquency. We all experience adolescence as a brush with psychopathy, Rickels tells us; for many it is the path not taken. Perhaps this explains the appeal of the psycho, our “near-miss double.” In psychoanalytic terms, “there but for the grace of the good object go I.” [5]

Other topics covered in our interview and in The Psycho Records include vampirism, the couple and the crowd, scream memories, laughter, and substitution. As those familiar with Rickels’ books might expect, we often touch on one of the great themes of his oeuvre: mourning. Listen in!


Laurence A. Rickels, PhD is a psychotherapist and scholar of literature, film, and psychoanalysis. He is Sigmund Freud Professor of Philosophy and Media at the European Graduate School (EGS) and most recently was professor of art and theory at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Anna Fishzon, PhD is Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol, UK. She is a candidate at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR) and author of Fandom, Authenticity, and Opera: Mad Acts and Letter Scenes in Fin-de-Sicle Russia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

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