Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Run Time: 109 mins. M15+
As always, Hitchcock has to be regarded as the consummate film-maker. Psycho builds upon his lavish traditions of suspense building, sly camera work, and jarring shocks delivering everything one wants from the great Auteur dabbling his toes in the waters of horror.
The plot revolves around The Bates Motel in which the Freudian wet-dream of a proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) murders unsuspecting women out of some hazy, deep-seated love-hate relationship with his mother. Little more is really needed to form the set-up for an early example of what has come to be known as ‘slasher flick’. Also, one doesn’t want to give too much of the plot away while writing here as some (such as me until a few nights ago) have managed to avoid seeing this film so far.
What I will talk about, however, is the fantastic camera-work that has gone into this film. Hitchcock makes expert use of his decision to produce this film in black and white (some claim he did it to reduce to the gore, others that he did it as a cost cutting measure) casting his demented antagonist in half shadows, highlighting his ambiguity of self and drawing the viewer into his dark, half-formed world of shadows and madness. The conversation scene between Bates and the beautiful Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), for example, is one of the most wonderfully awkward and subtly terrifying dialogue driven moments in the history of cinema, and, of course, no-one can forget the deftly handled and instantly recognisable shower scene.
My issues with this film lie precisely and paradoxically in the things that make it so wonderful, however. I mean, Hitchcock’s self-conscious and self-aware self-referentiality and toying with Truffaut’s Auteur theories are wonderful as an exercise in film theory, but Psycho, at times, runs the risk of piling signature atop signature until it becomes somewhat a pastiche of Hitchcock’s own style. The death of Marion so early in the piece, the bird motif, and the unbelieving policeman are all nice flourishes from a film-school perspective, but at the same time they come across as snide and self-important.
Now, I won’t criticise the man and his style too much, but I will say that Psycho is perhaps not the best example of Hitchcock’s ability to weave high-art film-theory in with his genre fiction fantasies of murder and mayhem.
Still though, Psycho is up there as one of the finest and earliest in the grand tradition of slasher horror, and as a genre film it really can’t get enough kudos. Sharply directed, shot, and edited it keeps viewers on the edge of their seats thrilled to the max even a full fifty years after its initial release, and I imagine it will continue to be a favourite of many switched on film buffs for many, many years to come. An undeniable masterpiece of horror cinema, and a film that must be watched to truly become a part of cinema culture.
SIDENOTE: Psycho is listed at #363 on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
- Psycho (1960) (amwpotter4.wordpress.com)
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- ‘Psycho II’ (1983) – Movie Review (mysteriousuniverse.org)
- Psycho – Alfred Hitchcock (mrmovietimes.com)
- Catching the Classics: Psycho (fogsmoviereviews.com)
- Annotative Bibliography (psycho2point0.wordpress.com)
- Film Review: Hitchcock (2012) (charlieelgar.wordpress.com)
- Blu-ray Review: Psycho – 50th Anniversary Edition (hitchcockmaster.wordpress.com)
- Psycho Analysis: Exploration of Two Scenes (filmcriticismblog.wordpress.com)