Psycho (1960)

Synopsis: Alfred Hitchock’s landmark masterpiece of the macabre stars Anthony Perkins as the troubled Norman Bates, whose old dark house and adjoining motel are not the place to spend a quiet evening. No one knows that better than Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), the ill-fated traveler whose journey ends in the notorious “shower scene.” First a private detective, then Marion’s sister (Vera Miles) searches for her, the horror and the suspense mount to a terrifying climax where the mysterious killer is finally revealed.

Psycho (1960) 8.0

To start, I must make an admission: I saw ‘Psycho II’ first. I know some of you are suddenly saying to your monitor, quizzically, “There’s a Psycho II?”. But it does exist and I rather like it – enough so that I read the two books by Robert Block and then decided to see the original Hitchcock interpretation of the story, in fact.

At the time, ‘Psycho’ was a huge deal: it scared up box office receipts and helped merge Hitchcock’s name with the suspense/horror genre – which is completely inadequate since he hardly made horror films in his long career. It is, to this day, still one of the Master of Suspense’s most renowned and beloved films (in fact, it’s listed as #22 of all time on the IMDB!)

Frankly, it is rather tame by today’s standards. Why it received a ‘Restricted’ rating on the DVD is beyond me: there is no nudity, no gore, and the scares are limited and controlled; it’s more an exercise in anticipation and tone (quite the opposite of, let’s say, ‘Saw’). But it still delivers on many counts, as it builds characters, a story and an overall ambience that is wholly memorable.

I’ve seen this film quite a few times too many at this point, but I still like it. Now that the novelty’s gone, though, I’d have to say that the key strengths, for me are the following (*spoiler alert*):

-Anthony Perkins’ performance is both charming, congenial, and slightly awkward, off-putting. It’s such a perfectly-suited performance that I sought out his other films – only to be disappointed. He would return to form only in the afore-mentioned ‘Psycho II’.

-the shadows: Hitchcock made the film in black and white and made great use of lights and shadows to convey the tone of the film. Seeing the blackness resting on Norman Bates eyes and around his gangly frame speaks volumes.

-the music: Herrman decided to make “black and white” score to accompany the film, rooted strictly in strings. It’s still one of the most recognizable scores in the world, and rightfully so: it’ll subtly unsettle the viewer and then tear them apart at key moments in the film.

-the fate of the main character doesn’t follow Hollywood conventions. In fact, it is such a potent twist that I don’t recall many other films trying their hand at it – it would be like trying to recreate the infamous shower scene without immediately being accused of plagiarism. Wes Craven touched on ithis break from convention in ‘Scream’, but it was a rare example.

Anyway, at this point I don’t know if I have a dulled impression of the film, but I get a sense that it should possibly be rated an 8.5 instead of an 8.0. For me, this late in the game, however, it’s hard to be objective about a movie that I’ve enjoyed too much and too frequently. It’s still a classic, and I still love it every time I watch it, but its impact is no longer the same as it once was.

But if it’s your first time, turn off the lights and let the shadows dance around your living room for a little while. Immerse yourself in this safe flirtation with the dark sides of humanity.

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