Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, The Birds), Psycho is a masterpiece. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch, it is a superb suspense film that could only have been made by Hitchcock. From the striking and strange camera angles to the false innocence of its central character of Norman Bates, this is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who is a film fan or just a horror film buff.
When Marion steals $40,000 from her boss, she flees town. On the run and paranoid that she will be caught, she ends up at the Bates Motel. There she meets Norman, a somewhat shy recluse who owns the rundown motel. Due to the highway being moved, the Bates Motel has seen better days. He is clearly at odds with his mother who never leaves their house overlooking the hotel.
Psycho is almost like three different films in one, a trick that couldn’t be done by anyone but Hitchcock, especially at the time. It is a slasher film, it is a detective film, and it is a suspense thriller all rolled into one. You can almost spot when the different styles of film take over. There is a clear cut sense when it is a suspense thriller (the beginning of the film when Marion is fleeing with the cash), a slasher film (the middle of the film and Marion’s demise), and a detective film (the third act when Marion’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles), and detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) attempt to find her). This doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, in fact it has the opposite effect. If you haven’t seen the film, it keeps you on your toes; you never know what you are going to get next. It keeps the film from becoming predictable and stale.
There are few films over the course of cinema history that have left such an indelible mark on the public psyche. As I watched this film with someone who swears they had never seen it before, they knew what was going to happen and when. I believe that they had never seen it before as it isn’t their type of movie and they do not watch a lot of films. The film has entered the public consciousness in a way that few other films have or can. If you have never seen it, odds are that you know the twist to the film and the general story of Norman Bates and his mother. While this doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the film, it does detract from the ability to be surprised by the events unfolding on the screen. I had seen the film before; the original version and the 1998 shot-for-shot remake. The film held little surprise for me.
What I was surprised at though was Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. The last I saw this film, I was a young lad. I paid no attention to the acting or directing. This time I did, and Anthony Perkins was just spectacular in the role of Norman. He comes across as nothing more than a shy innkeeper who has little contact with the outside world. It makes him a little strange, but not threatening. That is until his conversation with Marion in the parlor behind the office. It is there that his madness begins to show through his shy exterior. His discussion with her on taxidermy that eventually leads to his anger at his mother being mentioned appear to be the first cracks of his sanity that the audience is allowed to see.. At this point, he is a bit disturbed, but still never threatening. His boyish good looks and shyness charms you into believing he couldn’t harm a fly. It is that false sense of security that Norman exudes that puts you in danger, and Perkins was just a master with this character.
Everyone in the world, minus young children, know about the infamous shower scene. It is still terrifying to this day. It is also a lot faster than I remember it as a child. While it is not as vicious as I remember it, it is still shocking at the point it occurs. It is not telegraphed and I could understand how audiences in 1960 would be shocked by it. As a matter of fact, if you are the one person who hasn’t seen the film nor heard of it, I can see how that scene would be a shock. It is brilliantly filmed, using techniques that wouldn’t be used regularly until Michael Bay and the MTV style of quick cuts became the norm in action and horror films. Hitchcock did it first and best. (And this is the only time in your life where Michael Bay and Alfred Hitchcock will be mentioned side by side.)
If you haven’t seen the original Psycho, now is the time to do so. We are closing in on the Halloween holiday and this is a masterful suspense film that deserves a viewing to get you in the spirit of things. This is a brilliant film that is impossible not to appreciate as you watch it unfold before your eyes. I cannot recommend this film more highly. Perkins is phenomenal and the story is multifaceted. You never know what’s going to happen next and that is a strong compliment. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. Do yourself a favor and check it out, if not for the first time, revisit it and enjoy it.
*NOTE* The Blu-Ray version of the film is excellent. The picture appears to have been cleaned up quite a bit at some point and the film almost looks new. It also has a re-mixed 5.1 surround sound mix that doesn’t sound tinny and effectively uses the rear speakers. This is an amazing transfer and the best the film has ever looked or sounded. If you own a Blu-Ray player, I would highly recommend picking up the Blu-Ray.
*NOTE 2* This film is rated R. This surprised me. It was retro-rated before the advent of the PG-13 rating. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but comment that the film could be shown on network TV with no cuts (pun intended). It should be re-rated again. It does not deserve an R rating and should be rated accordingly so that everyone can enjoy the film.
**** out of ****