Starring: Anthony Perkins, Marion Crane, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Synopsis: Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) seems like a normal Motel owner who just wants to please his mother. But when a young woman (Marion Crane) goes missing a dark side hidden in this man’s life suddenly gains a life of its own.
Review: I’ll admit right away that I am not a big fan of the “slasher” horror genre, simply because many of them feature very terrible stories and even worse acting that fail to create characters to root and care for. Call me a film snob if you must, but very few movies get this right. I am more than glad to say, however, that Psycho, regardless of its age, may be one of the best films ever made under the “slasher” genre, thanks to the fact that avoids many of the issues that plague these films in a manner most simple.
Psycho’s story, based on the 1959 novel of the same name, is a very basic murder story, one that had been done way before this film came to be. But what makes the movie so successful in this area, however, is how it is told. From beginning to end the movie is very haunting and filled to the brim with tension. You realize that not everything is what is seems and it quickly grabs your attention, never letting go until the ending credits roll. This is something that director Alfred Hitchcock would perfect throughout his career, delivering stories that proved that it isn’t the story that matters; it is how you tell it that does.
The characters are also very interesting. One common problem in most horror films (especially in many modern horror films) is that the characters often tend to be very unlikable and with highly exaggerated emotional/social issues. Psycho’s characters may not be groundbreaking in their archetypes, but they are appealing enough that we care for them and want to know about their fates at the end of the story. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates shines above all thanks to an earnest but awkward performance that makes us wonder who he really is in the end. He is believable as both the victim and the prime suspect in these series of unfortunate events. Characters like these are often hard to pull off because they tend to have very deep emotional scars that are hard to portray on film. With Norman Bates, however, we see that he is a decent guy, but one that has likely suffered many scars due to how he was raised.
Marion Crane as Janet Leigh also does a good job in playing a character that is guilty of a crime, and is trying her best to hide her true intentions. Best of all, she knows that what she did was wrong, creating a conflict deep within her character, giving us some great moments of tension, and when two emotionally traumatized characters get together the quickly becomes a test of patience for the movie audience. This does lead to some rather awkward scenes that some film fans may not like due to the pacing and how uncomfortable these characters are around each other. To me, though, it added to the haunting atmosphere of the film. You have to realize that these aren’t normal people with regular problems; these are characters that are going through a near mental breakdown due to the sins they have committed throughout their lives. If they were forced to experience a moment in which they must hide their mental scars of course it’s going to be an awkward situation, and Alfred Hitchcock did this very, very well, almost to a near fault really.
The rest of the characters do well in their respect roles, but to me Anthony Perkins and Marion Crane give the film its brilliant story. Their internal struggles give the story a reason for existing, and what the other characters mainly do is follow it in order to come upon a conclusion. Again, that doesn’t mean that their performances are bad, but when you spend time with these very chilling leads everything else will appear rather tame and somewhat forgettable.
On the technical side of things, Psycho is a film that dazzles thanks to its simplicity. Like the story it is telling the camerawork is very simple most of the time, only being dramatic when it needs to be. This lends an element of surrealism to the film, especially when the crimes are being committed. Basic tricks such as ceiling shots, close-ups, spinning shots and quick shots lend the film a lot of cinematic flair that have made it one of the most beloved classics in the horror film genre.
But the one element that easily triumphs and gives the film presence is the musical score by Bernard Herrmann. It’s very likely that even if you haven’t seen Psycho you have heard the famous “Shower Scene” cue, either in movies presenting similar scenes of carnage or movies that are either paying homage or mocking the famous shower scene. This scene is heard throughout the film, never letting go of our subconscious even after the film is over. Like the rest of the movie, the musical score is rather simplistic but used to great emotional effect. The film composer used strings to reflect on the film’s smaller scale, but instead comes up as something that is amazing and continually jarring for the movie audience.
As you may have noticed, the word “simple” comes up a lot in this review. Alfred Hitchcock had done far bigger dramas and stories before he tackled Psycho. So much so that back when the film premiered some critics weren’t pleased with the overall content of the film. And yet despite its humble creation Psycho has went on to become one of the most chilling thrillers Hollywood has ever offered. In many ways, it’s the simplicity of the film that made it far more accessible for some and more terrifying for others. It goes to show that sometimes you don’t need the most elaborate productions to tell an exciting story, it may even help it become one of the greatest ever told.
In conclusion, Psycho the film is a lot like its lead characters Norman Bates: seemingly tame at first glance, but you quickly realize that there’s more to it than meets the eye, and when you realize the truth behind the madness it’s too late for you turn back and return to a safer reality. The road is a scary one, but boy is it a fun ride!
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5