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Psycho (1960)

October 29, 2009

9/10 Mama’s Boys

Might just be my favorite Hitchcock movie right behind North by Northwest.

Psycho is about a woman that jacks $40,000 from her boss at the bank she works at and gets the hell out of dodge so that she can run away with her lover and get married. One the way to meet her hubby, she books a room at The Bates Motel for the night, has dinner with the hotel’s weirdo owner/resident taxidermist – one Mr. Norman Bates -she smiles politely while he yaks about his mom all night, then she decides to take a shower…

You probably know what happens next, but just in case you’re one of the few who’s never even heard of Psycho, I’m gonna play it safe and let you see it for yourself.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this, but it’s also one of those movies that’s pretty hard to forget. Can’t think of too many horror movies from 1960 that don’t feel dated fifty years later and still manage to scare the wits out of people without the use of special effects or stupid teens having sex in an abandon cabin in the woods. Well, maybe not that second part, but definitely that first part.

The reason the story works so well here is because it plays into the human psyche. It’s not about your worst nightmares coming to life, nor does is it just trying to scare you by grossing you out which seems to be an all-too-common misunderstanding with many a horror director nowadays (listen up, Eli Roth), it’s scary because it’s about how that otherwise normal-looking guy sitting to next to you on the bus may very well have the potential to chop your damn head off. Screw hockey masks and machetes, screw claw gloves and bad dreams, the idea that any one of us, the countless number of people we all walk by every single day, might be a psycho waiting to snap, now that’s some scary shit.

But the story isn’t the only thing thing that makes Psycho scary. I truly appreciate horror movies that don’t just blare loud crashes and bangs over the audio whenever something jumps on screen just to get a cheap scare out of the audience, and even though there aren’t many scenes here that’ll make your heart skip a beat like so, holy hell does this movie have one effective horror score. Even though it only really boils down to some guy scratching away on the highest note of his violin over and over and over, there aren’t a whole lot of sounds that scream “AAAAHHHHHH!” like this simple little ditty. Jaws is the only other movie I can think of that uses the same kind of technique, but even then you’re already pretty much aware that the Orca is soundly effed by the time the music rolls around.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is also another big reason this movie will creep you right out. I don’t know how this guy got any acting gigs after this that weren’t for movies called Psycho 2. Again, doing my best not to spoil anything, but the point is that he’s a damn good.

And come on, it’s Alfred Hitchcock we’re talking about, the legend himself. Film buffs can go to freakin’ town on this movie analyzing all the brilliant little subtleties that speak volumes about things most people watching this movie could give a two shits about and all the groundbreaking directing techniques he used that had never been done before (and he was responsible for a lot of them), but luckily for the casual moviegoer, Hitchcock is also famous for being one of cinema’s best storytellers and he tells one crazy riff here.

Don’t write this off because it’s in black-and-white, doesn’t matter if it was made before you were born or that you don’t know who any of the actors are, Psycho is one of the all-time great thrillers and one of the all-time great horror movies. I was totally shocked at how much this movie freaked me out the first time I saw it and I’m pretty confident in saying that you’ll end up having a similar reaction.

So give it up for Psycho, folks. What better time to revisit this sinister mofo than now.

Oh, and don’t see the ’90s remake. I’ve only caught bits and pieces, but it doesn’t take much to recognize unnecessary movies when you see one.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2009 7:34 am

    Outside of the exposition city ending Psycho is a really great movie. Hard to say where I’d rank it among Hitch’s films though, there’s far too many that I view as great for me to casually break them all down.

    • September 22, 2010 7:50 am

      I’ve been thinking about the exposition part at the end, and here’s my two cents: the movie itself is schizophrenic. No protagonist sticks around for the whole movie. Instead, we have a series of characters who step into the story, take it over for a few scenes, then back off into supporting roles.

      1. Marion leads off with the whole money-stealing thing.
      2. Then Norman takes over and sinks her in a swamp.
      3. Then Arbogast suddenly takes charge before giving way to Sam and Lila.
      4. Sam and Lila take it just about all the way, but pass the baton to
      5. the psychiatrist, who explains everything.

      Cue the visual baton-passing. A cop steps into the room, “She’s cold. Can I bring her a blanket?” The sheriff looks at the psych, who says it’s OK. Then the camera follows the cop down the hall to the room where he gives

      6. Mrs. Bates the blanket. She takes the blanket, and takes the movie home with that final haunting speech and look.

      By my count, that’s 6 or 7 lead characters (or personalities) fighting for control of the movie. Maybe I’m reaching, but maybe that explains how the movie is so successful without a real protagonist. And maybe that’s why Hitchcock let that last exposition last so long.

      • September 22, 2010 10:17 am

        If only you had posted this when I had to write that essay in college…

  2. November 1, 2009 1:23 pm

    This film shows that Hitchcock is one of the greatest director’s of all-time. End of story.

  3. April 13, 2010 2:16 am

    Awesome blog. Psycho is one of the greatests
    check my website/blog out…

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