It is time to both revisit and move forward with my series on horror films. Psycho (1960) is a Paramount Film that was both produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and was based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch. This movie stands as one of the best, not only horror but American, films as a whole. Hitchcock is, without a doubt, an auteur, one of the great Masters of American cinema, and this film had huge influence on the creation of slasher films and psychopathic villains in films.
The film revolutionized the way the public viewed evil; it did not have to be supernaturally based nor a radiation caused event; rather, Hitchcock established that the human mind and life experience could create more frightening monsters than vampires and werewolves. These are people who suffered horror, and their creators were other people, at least in most cases of psychopathology.
Psycho had an exemplary cast. Among the actors were Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam, and Vera Miles. All gave extraordinary performances in this movie. From the deeply disturbing opening sequence of the murder in the shower to the end revelation of Norman Bates’ level of insanity, the film is a masterpiece of cinema.
Hitchcock’s cinematic formalism is evident in his complete control of every detail of each shot. This is a film that is created with the planned brushstrokes of a master artist. The power of the murder scene in the Bates Motel bathroom is so strong that many people watch it and believe they have seen much more than they actually have. Hitchcock never shows the killer’s knife entering the body of Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh. Hitchcock’s use of careful angles and reaction shots as the young women is being murdered makes the viewers perceive more than is being shown on the screen. The effect is far more powerful than later films which would rely primarily on gore to have an impact and not on story and cinematic technique.
It is also interesting to note that the first victim, Marion Crane, was a woman who had committed a crime, in the theft of a substantial amount of money from her boss. Hitchcock would establish this pattern that was too often used to the point of becoming cliched that the so-called “bad” girl was the one to be killed. Additionally, if Norman Bates is also viewed as a victim of the circumstances of his own life, then the film focuses primarily on the impact of these crimes on the young. This is certainly not exclusive; others who are older are also attacked, but Hitchcock seemed to be exploring the effect of this horror on the younger generation. Perhaps he also understood that group was the primary audience for his film.
Psycho made an extraordinary profit at the box office, and it was nominated for several Academy Awards. Its legacy is well established. Norman Bates is a character who has grown past this film and entered into the public’s awareness through other remakes and adaptations, and many of the motifs of horror/slasher/gothic films are derived from this movie.
Psycho must be seen as one of the best films in American cinema, and Hitchcock is one of the American film masters. If you have not seen this movie and are prepared for powerful images and shocks, then I recommend it highly. It is one of the best films of all time.