Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
I think we can all safely say that even if we’ve never seen the film Psycho we’re all aware that Norman Bates is the murderer, dressing up as his dead mother. If you were one of the two people in the known universe that wasn’t aware of that fact then my apologies but everyone knew that. It can be hard for us as modern audiences, to relate to how an audience at the time would have reacted to the twist, even the basic plot of the film is crystal clear in our minds.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals money from her employer and flees to a shady motel owned by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his unseen mother. Then she’s stabbed to death in the shower while an iconic film score plays….
But of course this is only the first forty-five minutes of the film and the remaining shows you why Hitchcock was known as the Master of Suspense. Janet’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and lover Sam play a game of cat and mouse with the murderer.
The mythology of Psycho is so much bigger than the film itself. Hitchcock partially funded the film, shot in black and white rather than Technicolor and used the crew from his television show. In terms of scope Psycho is undeniably a small film. In contrast the film’s legacy is almost immeasurable. It spawned three sequels, a remake and countless rip offs and homages. It typecast its star and set the standard for thrillers and horror films in the decades that would follow. Because of this it’s hard to look at the film alone without taking its success into account and the huge legend around it. But there’s no denying why it is a classic. It was one of the first films of its kind complete with a psychologically complex villain and deliberate subversion of audience’s expectations right up until the final scenes. Hitchcock manages to drag out each moment of suspense to its exact breaking point, after which it would become tedious. A perfect example is the editing in the scene where Lila approaches the Bates’ house. Tracking shots, one from Lila’s POV as she gets closer to the door and the other a reverse shot as she creeps towards the house, are intercut slowly making the walk seem like the longest ever in movie history whilst the movement stops us getting bored. If nothing else, Psycho is an achievement in composition and the art of bring everything together perfectly.