(1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
“We all go a little mad sometimes”
It’s taken a while, but now I’m reviewing the first inevitable Hitchcock movie of my blog. Alfred Hitchcock is, of course, considered one of the greatest directors of all time, the undisputed master of the thriller genre, setting most of the standards that have rarely been beaten by those he’s influenced.
So now it’s time for me to attempt to dispute that status with Psycho, the movie that basically started the slasher flick genre.
For those who don’t know, Psycho starts out with a secretary, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), being entrusted with a large sum of money for her employer over the weekend and told to take it to the bank on Monday morning; however, she impulsively decides to take the money and run, driving off with the intention of disappearing and starting a new life for herself. Along the way, she stops at the Bates Motel, a slightly sinister place with a very awkward yet seemingly friendly manager named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). During the stay, she gets uneasy about her plans to steal the money and decides to return home the next day.
However, she famously then gets murdered in the shower and it’s up to her sister (Vera Miles) and boyfriend to figure out what happened to her when she fails to turn up on Monday.
So, I said I was going to attempt to dispute Hitchcock’s status as the master of suspense and the nature of Psycho as a classic movie, right? Well, there’s a reason it gets all those accolades. This is a fantastic movie, and I have very little bad to say about it.
There are some minor flaws. The summary speech at the end of the movie felt a little forced and at times a little too theatrically delivered to be believable, and there are some minor issues with things like Marion being entrusted with the money (to the point where she can take it home) and Norman not using gloves when cleaning up the scene of the murder, but these could possibly be a result of the age of the movie more than anything else.
And that’s it. Genuinely, there is little bad to say about Psycho. Sure, it does commit what would normally be mortal sins in writing, but it’s all negated so well by Hitchock’s direction that it becomes irrelevant. For example, the idea of completely changing the direction of the plot mid-way would normally be bad, as would summarising the movie at the end to clear up loose ends, but the bait-and-switch plot actually works spectacularly well, with tension being shifted rather than killed off along with Marion, and I honestly cannot come up with a way to make that summary work otherwise.
Hitchcock always keeps the tension going, no matter where it’s directed. At first, the tension comes from wondering if Marion will get away with her crime (assuming you don’t already know about the iconic shower scene – in which case, hello and welcome to Earth, intergalactic visitor), then shifts to whether Marion’s sister will find the answers she’s after, or to wondering what is really going on with Bates’ mother.
What’s more, the tension sticks, even if you know what’s coming. I honestly don’t know how Hitchcock pulled that off, but even though it was my second viewing of the movie when I watched it for the blog, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I rarely ever see that, and for that I’m not surprised the movie is still deemed a classic. Never have I seen a movie so perfectly paced from start to finish.
It helps that the cast are just so fantastic. One thing I’ve mentioned previous times on the blog is that some movies of the sixties feature acting that can feel a little stiff and forced, but not in this case. Leigh and Perkins in particular are brilliant. Marion is a relatable character from the start, acted out in a completely natural manner, and her performance makes her death just that more shocking when it happens. And Norman Bates is consistently creepy, even when trying to act “normal”. The support cast are excellent too, but Leigh and Perkins deserve even more praise.
And you know what? There are seventeen more Hitchcock movies on my list. Psycho has gotten me excited for every single one of them already. It’s is a true classic in every sense of the word, and manages to show up every single slasher flick made since. I can’t say anything more on the matter. Just watch the damn movie already!
Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire & Janet Leigh
Written by Robert Bloch (novel) and Joseph Stefano
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography by John L. Russell
Edited by George Tomasini
Favourite Scene: The introduction of Norman Bates. Already we can tell there’s something not quite right with him.
Scene That Bugged Me: The speech of the psychologist at the end got on my nerves at times. Just explain yourself in simple terms without trying to be dramatic!
Watch it if: You like movies. Come on, it’s Psycho!
Avoid it if: Movies aren’t your thing (in which, why are you reading this blog?)