A Horror masterpiece first released on August 10, 1960
Revisiting Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”
Psycho” is a 1960 psychological horror film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, and written by Joseph Stefano, starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles and Martin Balsam, and was based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. The film would usher in an era of inferior screen ‘slashers’ with bloodletting and graphic, shocking killings. Although it still delivers shocks and scares to audiences today, it is most memorable because of its study of character.
The film centers on Marion Crane (Leigh), who has stolen $40,000 from one of the agency’s clients to pay her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin), huge alimony owed to his ex-wife so they can marry. Needing rest after her long drive she ends up at a secluded motel where she first meets disturbed owner-manager, Norman Bates (Perkins), and its aftermath. Milton Arbogast (Balsam), a private detective sent by the agency to retrieve the stolen money, tracked Marion to the motel. And Marion’s sister Lila (Miles) is also more than eager to find what actually happened to her sibling.
The legendary shower scene lasts 45 seconds, but in reality was shot in a week. For some people, this scene is the embodiment of cinematic perfection. Brilliantly edited, with excellent use of black-and-white photography, Bernard Herrmann’s music and many tricks that cheated censors, this scene puts the audience on the emotional roller coaster. In those 45 seconds, viewers first satisfy their voyeuristic instincts, only to be shockingly reminded of the human mortality when the movie protagonist becomes totally helpless, naked and unshielded. The same scene also paved the way to future use of stereotype of “sex=death”, cliche that made this film the great grandfather of all slasher horror movies.
Like many of Hitchcock’s films, Psycho is so very layered and complex that multiple viewings are necessary to capture all of its subtlety. Symbolic imagery involving stuffed birds and reflecting mirrors are ever-present. Although it’s one of the most frightening films ever made, it has all the elements of very dark, black comedy, this film wasn’t clearly understood by its critics when released. This taut masterpiece was followed by three feature film sequels (none directed by Hitchcock) and other imitations or TV films.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Watch the trailer for 1960 “Psycho”
By Ken Warren, 2018
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