Logline: On the run after stealing a large sum of money, a secretary checks into a motel operated by a young man dominated by his mother.
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Review: What more can be said of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that has not already been stated? It is one of the Master’s greatest achievements and remains one of the most celebrated films of all time.
I have seen Psycho five times now; twice on DVD, once on the big screen in wonderful 35mm., once in a college course I took on Hitchcock, and now, on Blu-ray. Each time I revisit the film, it is as if I am seeing it for the first time. During my last viewing, I paid close attention to the shot compositions and Anthony Perkins’ performance as Norman Bates. Every frame in Psycho is a brilliant shot composition. From a technical standpoint, Psycho is flawless as are many of Hitchcock’s films. As for Perkins, he gives the best performance in the film. It is a brilliant, subtle portrayal of a troubled young man.
There are so many fantastic sequences in Psycho, such as the parlor scene, the shower murder and its meticulous cleanup, the exchange between Norman and Arbogast, the discovery of Mother in the fruit cellar, and the final moments in which the viewer hears Norman thinking, “I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly.” Even the small, less famous sequences, such as Marion driving, are riveting. I love the shot showing the neon lit Bates Motel sign that Marion views through her car window during a violent rainstorm.
Many believe that the film is hampered by the psychiatrist’s explanation at the end of the film. The scene does not bother me in the least. Was it absolutely necessary? No. Would the film have been better off without it? Perhaps. It does not change the fact that this film is a masterpiece.
There is a lot of fascinating subtext in Psycho such as the birds motif. Marion’s last name is Crane. During the sequence in which Marion and Norman converse in the parlor, the stuffed birds in the room are looming over the characters and are a point of conversation for them. Later in the film, Norman converses with the private investigator, Arbogast. The way in which Norman moves his body to peer over Arbogast’s shoulder to look at the guest book is very bird-like. Psycho explores themes of voyeurism, duality, morality, and the relationship between a mother and her son.
For young viewers today, it is difficult to fathom the impact that Psycho had on people upon its release in 1960. The film defied censorship barriers, a trend that would continue throughout the 1960s until the Production Code was completely eradicated by the end of the decade. Psycho does not begin as a horror film at all until the film’s protagonist is brutally murdered in the infamous shower scene. Psycho is arguably the first slasher film and a landmark for the genre much in the same way that John Carpenter’s Halloween would be in 1978.
Psycho and Halloween share other similarities as well. Bernard Hermann’s incredible music in Psycho has become as iconic as the film itself much like John Carpenter’s music would be for Halloween. Psycho stars Janet Leigh, the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis who would star in Halloween. Halloween features the character Dr. Sam Loomis, a nod to Psycho’s character of the same name. Both films were made on a low budget but became huge successes. In fact, Psycho was the most successful film of Hitchcock’s career.
As if you did not already ascertain how deeply I love this film, let me clarify. Psycho is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. In the unlikely event that you have not seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible.
Rating (out of ****): ****
For my analytical essay on the shower scene, please follow the link below.