I have not done a review on a classic film in a while. I watched Psycho recently, and I am still blown away by the timelessness of this film. It was so innovative and unexpected at the time it was created, and still influences horror films today.
Several critics say that Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. That means it has to be very good in order to beat his other classics like Rear Window or North by Northwest. Psycho was released in September of 1960 and shocked audiences everywhere. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch, the film explores the psychological effects of death and possession. It follows the story of a woman, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who steals $40,000 and tries to run away. She stops at the Bates Motel, where she meets the aloof Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Trouble ensues when Norman follows the powerful desires of his elderly mother.
Alfred Hitchcock ran into a lot of conflicts when trying to create the film. Paramount Pictures was not impressed with the plot, so they gave Hitchcock a very small budget to work with. The film was more risqué than typical films released during that time, so the studio was sure that Psycho would not be successful. Hitchcock also had to go to great lengths to make sure the ending of the story was not spoiled for the public. According to IMDb, he bought as many copies of the novel as he could so people would not figure out the ending. He also made the cast and crew swear not to reveal any aspects of the plot to anyone outside the set. Lastly, any viewers who were late to the theater were not let in. Hitchcock did not want viewers to walk in during the middle of the film.
The characters and acting in Psycho are part of what make it so compelling. Marion Crane is a criminal, but one cannot help but feel a little bit of sympathy for her. She steals the money so she and her boyfriend can be financially stable and get married. It was an impulsive move that was encouraged by her stagnant and ordinary lifestyle. Janet Leigh does a fantastic job of playing a brave but vulnerable character. Norman Bates is a very complex character. He is frail but clever. He suffers because of traumatic events he experienced as a young boy. Norman’s relationship with his mother is what causes the most disturbances. He is dependent on her but also wants to live his own life. This internal conflict helps create and drive the plot. Anthony Perkins, referred to as “Master Bates” by Alfred Hitchcock, was excellent as Norman Bates. He captures the complex and susceptible nature of his character. Although an adult, Norman has a child-like quality which Perkins portrays well.
The score of the film completes it. The renowned Bernard Herrmann was in charge of the score, and even got a raise from Alfred Hitchcock because he did such a fantastic job. The shower scene is 80% less frightening without the shrilling music. The entire score was composed with string instruments, which makes a huge difference. It is a lot more impactful to be scared by music coming from instruments that are generally associated with peace and tranquility. It reminds me of the music in The Shining, and how much the music in that film adds to the fear factor. The piercing noises throughout the film correlate with a viewer’s heart rate as he or she watches the intense scenes.
From the start of the first scene, I was captivated. Psycho broke all of the boundaries previously set in the film industry. I mean, it was the first American film to show a toilet flushing on screen! I was connected to the characters and even sympathized with them at times, even though some of them committed very evil actions. If you have not seen this film, or it has been a while, I encourage you to watch it. It is no surprise that it was Alfred Hitchcock’s most profitable film. It just shows what greatness can be produced on a low budget.
If you have seen Psycho or have any questions, feel free to comment below!
Image from NewNowNext.com
All facts are from the Psycho trivia page on IMDb.