"How to Steal from Hitchcock" - by Thomas M. Leitch
- book chapter: How to Steal from Hitchcock
- author(s): Thomas M. Leitch
- appears in: After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality (2006) edited by David Boyd & R. Barton Palmer (pages 251-270)
- keywords: Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock
Discussion about the films of Brian De Palma and their relationship to Hitchcock's work.
No filmmaker has ever produced a more extended meditation on the work of another filmmaker than Brian De Palma. Nor has any filmmaker taken more critical drubbings than De Palma has for his borrowings from Hitchcock. On the strength especially of a small but provocative minority of his films — Sisters (1973), Obsession (1975), Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), and Raising Cain (1992) — De Palma has been variously characterized as a Hitchcock imitator, a creator of Hitchcock homages, an acolyte, an heir apparent, a parasite, a scavenger, and a thief. In reviewing Blow Out, Richard Corliss went so far as to argue that “there are three Brian De Palmas” — the horror-smitten child of Psycho, the black humorist who echoes The Trouble with Harry in Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Home Movies (1979), and the passionate dramatist of Vertigo’s obsessive love — and they are “all the grinning, scheming sons of Alfred Hitchcock.”
De Palma has reacted to these charges with predictable ambivalence. In essays, interviews, and the obligatory featurettes that stud the DVD releases of his older films, he has repeatedly acknowledged his profound debt to the “master of suspense,” which he has taken pains to deepen in film after film. Yet he has long been impatient at being typecast as a Hitchcock wannabe. Asked on the release of Body Double why he kept reprising the shower scene from Psycho, he replied blandly: “If I’m attracted to something I shouldn’t refuse to use it just because Hitchcock was attracted to it too.” Six years later, on the release of The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) when questioned why he was so often accused of being derivative of Hitchcock, his response was snappier: “When you’re writing a story about Brian De Palma, that’s the spin. I could make Disney pictures from now on, and they’d still be talking about the shower scene I’d stolen from Psycho.”