Overview: A Phoenix secretary checks into a hotel run by an odd loner. Paramount/Universal. 1960. Rated R. 109 Minutes.
From Rejected to Revered: Many people, including this writer, hold Alfred Hitchcock in high esteem as one of the greatest directors of all time. His style, creativity, and technique has proven influential to… well, pretty much every modern movie. Perhaps none of his films has offered more influence than one of his best and most famous works: Psycho. In an attempt at veering away from his usual noir style of storytelling, Hitchcock presented his idea for a movie adaptation of the novel by Robert Bloch and was faced with a heavy amount of studio pushback. Hitchcock moved forward by financing the movie himself and using his own television crew to shoot the film. This production limitation necessitated that he get creative with camera lenses and angles. This improvisation established genius results– shots like the view of the Bates house from the motel, a technique that personalizes the experience even more for the audience by framing at a distance natural and comfortable to the human eye. Sometimes keeping it simple is the most effective way to draw viewers into a story, which is exactly what Hitchcock always succeeded at: drawing us in. Drawing us in and not letting go until he was good and ready.
The Shower Scene: Even if you’ve never seen Psycho, you’ve heard about the shower scene. The murder of Marion Crane is one of the most famous death scenes of all time, for two reasons. Number 1: The violent death of a blonde bombshell billed as the headlining character of the story. Hitchcock made notorious the now widely-used surprise death of the leading lady (Scream, anyone?), killing Crane off within the first 30 minutes of runtime after billing her as a star. Although it’s less than graphic and shows very little actual bloodshed, the scene itself still packs quite the punch. The stabbing in the shower remains exemplary generations later because of the unique and precise nature of its filming technique. The inferior modern horror standard would dictate a scene like this one would be shot straight on, with head-to-toe exposure and full view of penetration of the knife, blood, stomach entrails and all. Hitchcock, in his inventiveness, provided instead a sequence of rapidly changing shots. Seventy-seven shots to be exact. Shower head. Stomach. Screams. Knife. Water. Tub. Shower head. Stomach. Repeat until Marion Crane is lying lifeless on the bathroom floor, after gripping the shower curtain in a desperate attempt to conserve some of her dignity and purity. The calculated preciseness of this scene paired with the ragged progression of snapshots leaves us with a shocking, strung out death that will keep viewers glued to their television, eyes wide, for years to come.
Norman: Norman Bates remains one of the most disturbed yet sympathetic villains in move history. Hitchcock took a thoughtful and delicate approach to this character, altering his appearance and traits significantly to create sympathy with the viewers through the movie. The idea of a young heartthrob as a killer was unheard of in the 60’s, and the schizophrenia and other psychological disorders still hadn’t fallen into the controlled grip of medical understanding. Norman Bates is presented to the audience as a slightly damaged young man who is desperate to escape his disturbed mother, yet devoted to her care. His skittish demeanor and nervous expressions and ticks (excessive candy corn consumption?) create a persona that triggers within us the desire to help. When they eat sandwiches together in the office (or rather he shifts uncomfortable while watching her pick at her food), Norman appeals to the maternal instincts in Marion (and in all of us) as he describes his traumatic childhood and adulthood. When we witness “the Mother” stab Marion in a fit of jealousy, Anthony Perkins really pulls the trigger and reels us in as champions for Norman Bates. We pity him as he scrambles to mop up the blood soaked tub, another example of Hitchcock’s instinct to slow things down and savor every movement and expression. The clean-up is as intricately shot as the death scene itself, but without the choppiness and severity of the shower scene. The camera patiently follows Bates back and forth as he tidies up his mother’s mess, leading up to the most compelling sequence of the entire film: when Norman Bates sinks Marion’s car. The camera takes switch back and forth between Norman’s emotional expressions and the process of the sinking car. Hesitation. Panic. Determination. Anxiety. Excitement. Triumph. Every emotion crosses his face in a matter of seconds. Looking back, the signs of warring personalities are in plain sight during these moments. The best qualities of this film are evident in one series of facial expressions by one man. Simplicity.