#1 of the Alfred Hitchcock Series
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally seen Psycho. Often referred to as the “greatest horror film of all time”, I don’t really know what else to say about it that hasn’t been said already. I will say that Psycho did not fail to impress me and was more than I expected. It’s definitely not the cheesy-1960’s-slasher-film you might expect from that era. I mean, it wasn’t really “scary” by modern horror’s standards but it is definitely thrilling right up to the last shot of the movie. And of course, Psycho is said to be Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest contribution to cinema and after viewing it, it’s not hard to see why.
Psycho starts by introducing us to two lovers, Marion (Janet Leigh) and Sam (John Gavin). The two have rendezvoused at a hotel during Marion’s lunch break and they talk about their wishes to get married but the financial hurdles they would have to face in order to do so. The couple part ways as Sam goes to the airport and Marion goes back to work at a real estate office. At work, Marion is told to deposit $40,000 in cash to the bank and gets permission to go home early after she runs the errand. However, Marion does not go to the bank and instead packs her bags and leaves town with the stolen cash. She starts driving to California where Sam lives, but decides to rest for the night at The Bates Motel where she comes into contact with the owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a quiet and reserved young man who lives with his “ill” mother.
I think the problem with a lot of modern day horror movies is that they make the “killer” inhuman. They give the killer absolutely no reason to kill, thoughts and feelings, or anything really. They are practically killing machines who murder just because they can. Sure, that is scary in itself but what’s even scarier is a killer who is human. That is what Hitchcock gives us with Norman Bates. Norman isn’t just human, he is actually likeable. This is where Anthony Perkins truly impressed me. He was absolutely perfect in this character and knew all the right moments to flash that innocent smile of his opposed to all the moments that he had to look sadistic and pure evil. He was definitely the highlight of Psycho and what makes the film truly scary. It’s one thing to totally isolate a killer from the audience and the rest of characters by portraying them as a ruthless monster without motives, but to make the killer into a regular, shy, and seemingly innocent guy who the audience can even sympathize with is something else. He is really what has made Psycho resonate with audiences young and old for all of these years.
One of Hitchcock’s greatest trademarks is his use of editing in order to put himself in complete control of a scene and this trademark is witnessed in the famous shower scene in which Marion gets stabbed to death in the shower by Norman’s “mother”. I think the effect of that scene has become somewhat diluted as it has become so well-known that it kind of lost its “shock value”. A part of me wishes I could have been a member of one of those 1960 audiences because in context of what kind of horror was being shown in cinema at that time and also just being clueless of what was going to happen in the movie, this scene would definitely be more frightening. Imagination will have to do but Hitchcock’s careful constructing of the shower scene does not make that hard to do. The scene in only maybe a minute or two long, but in that short amount of time there are 90 or so different shots flashing at you. None of them are particularly gory or anything, there are only two small shots in which we see the knife actually against skin, but the quick switching of angles and perspectives is what gives the scene that certain thrill that has made it one of the most, if not the number one, most recognized scene in cinema history.
What really makes Psycho a classic and a well-known resident of many “Best Films Ever” lists is the pure simplicity of it. Hitchcock made many decisions regarding the film to keep it as low budget as possible, such as filming it in black and white instead of color. The narrative is simple and easy to understand yet keeps our attention the whole way through. There aren’t extreme amount of gore or blood yet Psycho can be absolutely terrifying. This simplicity was what proved Hitchcock to be the amazing director that we all know that he was. Nothing fancy here except for the great use of characters, and in particular, the great use of Norman Bates.
The chilling score, a great performance by Perkins as one of the most adored killers in horror movie history, simple narration, and of course the brilliant direction of Hitchcock is what’s made Psycho a timeless piece of work that continues to thrill and entertain viewers 54 years after its original release. Often considered Hitchcock’s best film, it’s truly one that highlights the expert skills of one of the world’s most loved directors. Psycho isn’t just a film for film lovers, or even just horror lovers, it’s a film that anyone can enjoy and see the true brilliance of.