30/10/2013

Psycho (1960)

Film: Psycho
Release: 1960, theatrical
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Next in the series: Psycho II
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A young woman steals a large sum of money in order to meet up with and marry her lover. Along the way she decides to stay in a remote hotel, run by nervous man and his mother.

Hans' thoughts:

Today considered a timeless classic, Psycho takes what initially seems like a "normal" thriller story and then spins it on it's head when the main character turns out to be someone completely different. Now, had I been talking about any other movie I would've considered that a spoiler and withheld the information. However, Psycho is an internationally recognized masterpiece and it is neigh impossible to be unaware of the infamous shower scene in this film. People who've never seen Psycho, know exactly what the Bates hotel is so I am going to write the rest of this article as a review of what I consider the "actual" movie, the first 30 minutes being a giant fake-out. Okay, I apologize deeply but the movie is now 53 years old and I consider it highly unlikely that nobody in this day and age would not know about the giant change of tone the film suddenly takes. Part of what makes Psycho such a good movie anyway, is that it can still be thrilling, horrifying and enjoyable in spite of people knowing what is going to happen.

Though a bit eccentric, Norman seems like he would've been
the hero in any other movie
Psycho is a horror mystery movie and a very good one, by some considered the movie that kickstarted the Slasher sub-genre. Part of what makes the movie is our main character. Norman Bates. He seems like such a rational innocent man, if a bit weak willed, who just has a deep love for his mother whom he takes care of. This is partly because of the performance of Anthony Perkins. Perkins seems like such a sympathetic person in this picture and the fact that he would hide such dark secrets is truly unthinkable. It is no wonder that Perkins' career would later suffer from typecasting in other movies. He really steals every scene he's in, partially because in other movies he would probably be the dashing hero, saving the damsel in distress from some evil plot. Good old Hitch sure pulled a fast one on audiences with this one.

What exactly is going on in the Bates household however, I won't disclose here. Let's just say that the answer to that question is definitely a surprise. Our other characters also do a very good job. While we don't learn much about them, their motivations are always clear and nothing they come off as for the sake of plot convenience. There is no unnecessary exposition here. It can honestly be compared to the story of Citizen Kane, where we become intimately familiar with a character through the conversations of others. As is always the case with Hitchcock movies, the film is shot incredibly well. The biggest testament to this is the formerly mentioned shower scene, parodied and referenced in all sorts of media since - right down to even Looney Tunes Back In Action, that is far cry from the tone of the original (what else is, Looney Tunes Back In Action was made in 2003. The likelihood of the movie's intended audience having actually seen "Psycho" is.. very small). 

Now, if you know anything about history you're probably wondering "Why in the world was a film from 1960 filmed in black and white?" That is indeed an interesting detail - as the story goes Hitchcock himself felt that making "Psycho" a color movie would render it far too bloody and gory for a wide audience. That's a legitimate reason that I would have accepted - had the decision not been made by someone as sneaky as Alfred Hitchcock. What I mean by this is that Hitchcock had received training in German silent cinema in his younger days, studios well known for their impressive work with light and shadow. I refuse to believe that is coincidence then, that this movie sports a lot of absolutely beautiful lighting work. Shadows showing the duality of characters, or making the sets feel more dark and foreboding.

This poster awaited late customers hoping to
watch Psycho, unfortunately time has taken it's toll
and left this movie without it's biggest twist.
Not to forget about this movie is the films score. While many scenes are as silent as reality, the now iconic screeching theme just MAKES some of the scenes. It just works really well and it may have been an early sign of perfecting the technique of "the jump scare". Only difference being that this is used in scenes that would actually be scary even without the music, amplifying the fear and shock effect rather than triggering a common reflex to high noises as most modern pictures unfortunately tend to do. Don't believe me? Try watching modern horror movies and count how many times the supposed "fear" comes from a sudden high noise and change of imagery rather than being the result of a well-constructed atmosphere.

In the case of Psycho, one could argue that a piece of art is only great in it's completely intended form. With the advent of the internet, many films has lost it's twists (some even before they're officially released). People today will throw around spoilers left and right, assuming everyone has seen the film because of it's age and thus ruining some of the fun for later generations or merely potential viewers. While this is certainly a sad scenario (you try finding someone who doesn't know the truth about Luke Skywalkers parents) I have to admit that most of the enjoyment of Psycho actually comes from the film alone. Plot twist or not, this movie certainly stands on it's own even to this day, and what more can you wish for as proof of a films quality? I say make some popcorn, huddle up in your couch and watch a masterpiece that helped define a genre.
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