In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock changed the face of horror and the way movies were viewed entirely with birth of Psycho. While he was known as the Master of Suspense beforehand, Psycho was the film that sealed his nickname for decades to come. There are directors that have of course come close to producing features that take audiences on a thrill ride, but still none like Hitchcock. In fact, after watching a documentary through my cable provider, Dial H for Hitchcock (1999), I learned even more about Psycho.
Psycho is actually the reason that all viewers find themselves rushing to theaters before the film starts. When Psycho came out, Hitchcock insisted that no one was allowed into the feature after the film started. Tickets were not sold until the next showtime because he truly believed that one had to view the film from the beginning to the very end. After all, if one walked in mid-way through they would have been shocked. There are events that taken place in the first forty-five minutes of the film that one would not expect. The same can be said for films such as Halloween (1978) and even more recent films such as Scream (1996). These are two films in particular where the openings shape the rest of the film.
The notice of arriving to theaters late for Psycho was even written on the posters during the promotional campaign. The posters also stated that no one should give away the ending so others could continue being surprised. The first official no spoilers alert and Id o not blame Hitchcock. There is nothing worse than having a movie you have anticipated for some time being spoiled. Hitchcock obviously agreed or such rules would not have been implemented into the viewing process for slightly over fifty years now.
The basic synopsis of Psycho is about a young woman by the name of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). She is fed up with her office job and the way she her life has turned out. After meeting her lover, Sam (John Gavin) her annoyance toward life grows. She learns that the two of them cannot be married because most of his money has been given away as a part of an alimony settlement. As the increasing frustration grows inside Marion, one day she decides that instead of depositing the $40,000 that her employer has asked of her in the bank she is going to take the money and start a new life. After all, $40,000 will be enough to ensure her a good life.
On her way to Sam’s store in California she grows weary. She knows there is no way for her to be able to continue on this trip without getting at least a little bit of rest. So after the long drive, she finds herself pulling off the main highway and into The Bates Motel. This seems like the perfect destination for her to sleep for the evening. As she walks into the main lobby of the motel, she encounters and meets the young hotel manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who seems to have issues with his mother. Bates makes sure to get her checked into the hotel safely and then goes about his business per usual.
In terms of acting, there are two main people I must speak of within the film. The first is Anthony Perkins. This is one of the most iconic roles within horror history, and I would even go as far as to say in cinematic history. Perkins does an amazing job portraying the complexity of the character that is Norman Bates. The ending scene of the film proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Perkins manages to give subtle hints that there is something slightly off with Norman throughout the film. Most audiences members gather what every other person who encounters Norman assumes as well. They know the majority of Norman’s issues are stemmed from the relationship has with his mother.
While audiences knows this man has some serious issues lying deep within, Perkins also introduces viewers to an extremely likable young man. He is constantly nervous around everyone, especially women. This can be seen in the way he is always shoving his hands in and out of his pants pockets. The truth is audiences are meant to adore Norman. He has a stammer. He has a boyish charm about him. Who wouldn’t love Norman? Norman is just extremely misunderstood within society due to his past.
Secondly, there is the brilliance of Janet Leigh. From the moment Marion steals the money there is regret written all over her face. In fact, in many ways I feel that she spends the rest of her time on screen trying to make up for the fact that she has committed such a crime in the first place. After all, her employer trusted her to make the deposit in the bank and she knew that he saw her at the red light that afternoon. So not only does guilt feed into the character’s mind and soul, but the fear of getting caught. The subtle changes that taken place between her black and white lingerie within the film before and after she steals the money also denotes the change within Marion. Leigh manages to portray her in such a way that somehow we not only just feel for Norman, but in the cycle that Leigh has managed to get herself caught up in somehow.
Psycho is a horror classic. This is always going to be a go-to film for Halloween. This makes the fact that I knows people who will not watch black and white films painful for me. The reason this pains me is not the mere knowledge of such, but because I know that person will never take the time to sit down and actually watch Psycho. Not only is this one of the best horror film made of all time, but Psycho is one of the best films of all time. Hitchcock dared to do something different within the genre. In fact, he dared to change the entire genre with various nuances that had never been done within film before and on a lower budget than most directors of his status took on during that time period.
Alfred Hitchcock changed the way audiences viewed cinema with Psycho. The glory of what viewers see on the screen, no matter if they have had the pleasure of viewing the film on a larger screen or not is the fact that Psycho will always scare audiences. Fear is a part of human nature. We are constantly fearful of disappointing someone else, especially our parents. We are afraid of becoming someone that we are not because sometimes that is far easier than to be the person we currently are for some reason.
This is part of what makes Psycho so genius. To be able to play on one’s fears is key in any horror film. To make one think about those fears afterward is in accomplishment within itself. After all, a lot of films are gone the moment we see them in theaters. Sure, we remember a few certain choice lines and choice phrases, but for the most part one cannot remember the entire film like the back of their hand. Psycho is not one of those films. Psycho forces one to remember each and every vivid detail of the film in such a way one will never forget the fear they felt when first viewing the feature.