Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire and Janet Leigh
Psycho is one of those films that everyone seems to know about. It’s impossible to start this one without knowing the twist or the ending and that is such a shame because when this first came out 61 years ago, it must have been one of the biggest shocks in cinema history. In the time since then, Psycho has been parodied countless times, received sequels, a prequel TV series and a remake. It’s one of the most well-known films by one of the most well-known director’s of all time, Alfred Hitchcock. Does it stand up to the test of time?
The answer is a most astounding yes. It’s a perfectly paced film, that gives time for the set up and lets you get to know the main characters before the plot starts to really unfold. The horror is still spine-tingling and chilling. The twist and its reveal towards the end are just perfect and it’s still a haunting scene even in the context of the hordes of horror films that have come since then. Apart from one moment, where someone falls down the stairs, the whole thing looks great.
The set design is beyond iconic at this point. The Bates Motel and the house on top of the hill is an image etched into every horror fan’s mind and it doesn’t disappoint when you watch the film. There is something unsettling about the house standing above on the hill, which is heightened by the film being shot in black and white. The framing of certain scenes is also excellent, especially in the scene in Norman’s office, when he has given Marion a sandwich, with all the taxidermized birds hanging in the background. Giving you just enough to know that bad things are about to happen.
The most famous part of Psycho is the shower scene. When it happens, it’s completely out of the blue and if it wasn’t such an iconic scene of cinema, it would be truly shocking and disturbing. It’s so frantic and brutal. The score by Bernard Herrmann is arguably the most recognisable part of the scene – screeching and shrieking throughout. Originally the scene was supposed to be silent to allow for pure shock, but Herrmann made the piece, known as ‘The Murder’ and Hitchcock liked it enough to change his mind. In silence the scene would still be shocking, but the loud and abrasive music make it so much more effective.
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is one of the best performances in any horror film, ever. There is something so innocent about the majority of his performance and then so insidious at the same time. The way he skips up the steps to the main house, is filled with child-like joy but once someone asks him something he doesn’t like, the mood switches.
As a side note, there are a couple of links to another classic horror film, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Janet Leigh’s (who play’s Marion in Psycho) daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode, the main character in Halloween. Donald Pleasance’s character from Halloween, Sam Loomis is also named after Marion’s boyfriend from Psycho.
Hitchcock’s Psycho is as close to a perfect film as you can get. It’s suspenseful and full of tension. Right from the opening scene the characters are great and believable. The only downside to it is purely down to the film being so well known that you know the major plot points and twists, without ever having to see it. There has been a lot of criticism about the final scene that explains everything that happened. It is heavy-handed but doesn’t detract from anything that came before. With or without the final scene, it’s still a masterpiece of terror.