In an era where films are consistently conventional and rarely deviate from formulaic stories and structures, one can always go back a couple of decades and watch Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. It’s one of many films that confirms him being the rightful owner of the “Master of suspense” title, and it might even be his best picture.
While I’m not of the opinion that it’s one of the most morally unsettling stories to have ever been told (as many have said it to be), I do believe that it’s one of the greatest and ballsiest of the suspense genre to have ever seen the screen. And it is of said genre, not horror as some might have you believe, although it does comes very close. Certainly, the iconic (and brilliantly shot) shower scene is horrific, but it remains a psychological suspense/thriller. At the same time, it brought about the entire slasher genre, yet there’s a crystal clear difference between films such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Black Christmas and Psycho.
Not only is Hitchcock a master of suspense, he is also a master at storytelling. After a terrific opening credit sequence, we are told everything we need to know about our main character Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in a mere few minutes, which is just one example of how eminently structured it is. She takes long lunch breaks from her work at the Phoenix office to meet with her lover Sam in hotel rooms. They must sneak around as they can’t get married, for Sam has to too much alimony to pay (keep in mind, this is 1960). When her employer assigns her to bank $40 000, she grabs the opportunity to steal the money, only to later meet up with her lover in California. On the road she stops to spend the night at a deserted motel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who spends most his time practicing taxidermy and taking care of his mentally ill and eccentric mother.
Bates, impeccably portrayed by Perkins, is such a mesmerizing persona and while the film depends entirely on him, it’s pulled of greatly. Some might even call him the main character. The depth to him is only explained at the ending of the movie, which makes him utterly impredictable throughout the entire story. The genius of it is that the audience doesn’t even realize this fact until the conclusion due to some wholly brilliant and visual narration on Hitchcock’s part.
We are continually set up to build certain expectations, only to witness the shattering of them in the most merciless way imaginable, which makes it so effective as a thriller. Hitchcock plays with his audience in way that had never been done before and has rarely ever been repeated with such perfect execution. And not only is the cinemaphotography enthralling, the score by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver) is hauntingly genius and makes the scenes all the more suspensful. In fact, the soundtrack is not only supporting, it makes a tremendous difference to the entire climate.
it’s an undeniable masterpiece that even today, where rarely anything hasn’t been done, it manages to consistently wrong your expectations by putting you on an astray trail, and the fact that it all feels so startingly real renders us genuinely scared. Hitchcock is aware of every camera angle’s meaning, of what every line tells us and truly knows his audience. Needless to say, Psycho deserves its immortality.
“Everyone goes a little mad sometimes.”
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