Monday, 7 February 2011
Psycho is an infamous film directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It follows the story of Marion Crane who steals $40,000 from her employer and leaves town. En route to her escape she pulls over at an old motel for shelter after the weather turns dangerous and meets the strange owner of the motel who is bullied by his mother.
Psycho is unmistakably one of the greatest horror films ever made, with acting, cinematography and storyline hitting the incredible mark. One of the most infamous scenes of cinema history is the shower scene, visited so many times by parodies and is typical Hitchcock. A contemporary technique of fasts cuts were used and considering that there is no shots of the knife actually stabbing Marion because of its fast cuts it creates the sense of franticness and violence. Following shortly after is the horrifying shot of a close-up of Marion’s eye as she hangs out of the bath motionless. Harris writes ‘ The scene is quintessential Hitchcock, with the rapid-fire cutting of the scene hiding the fact that, unlike in modern day horror films, we almost never see the blade strike Marion’s skin - and, even then, the shot is done so quickly (it lasts precisely three frames, or 1/8 of a second of film time) as to be almost subliminal. Hitchcock’s brilliance in shifting from the blood swirling down the drain to a close-up of Marion’s sightless eye is one of the most chilling sights in motion picture history.’ ( Harris 2007)
The acting in the film is brilliant especially the portrayal of Norman Bates the nervous man bullied by his dominant mother played by Anthony Perkins. Psycho is extremely well structured in the way that the beginning 40 minutes concentrate on Marion’s character which through the shower scene the film shifts into exploring Norman’s characters. Anthony Perkins plays Bates well and in the end became a defining role for him which he couldn’t escape from as 2 sequels and a prequel were made based on the character. The character is a nervous man and during a heart to heart with Marion the audience shifts their sympathy towards Bates. When the audience sees Norman disposing the bodies of the victims he comes across as a character loyal to his mother in sight of her cruel murders. The revelation of Bates’ actual involvement in the plot is a great shock, something unsuspecting because of the brilliant acting of Perkins as nervous Norman. A review from the website Film and Felt comments ‘Hitchcock, however, begins the film with 40+ minutes of Marion. We learn about her love life, her place of employment, her general unhappiness. We grow to care deeply for her tormented personality. Then suddenly, the infamous shower scene takes place and boom! The entire character arc swings to Norman. To do this with an hour to go in the picture was an extraordinarily daring move by Hitchcock, but he slyly sets the unknowing audience up for it. During the parlour scene in the motel, about 10 minutes before Marion’s death, we get our first POV shot from Norman’s perspective. Additionally, the camera gradually begins to focus more and more on Norman, deftly shifting our attention away from Marion. This might go right over the uneducated viewer’s head, but Hitchcock is subtly readying us to change gears. So, smoothly, we glide to the story of Norman Bates. Up until now, we have experienced, more than anything else, extreme shock and surprise.’ (Leibowitz 2003)
The only problem with watching Psycho today is that the horror of the shower sequence is no where near as powerful as it would have been on release in the 1960’s. The Hay’s code of the 1950’s had a devastating effect on what directors could and couldn’t make by setting certain rules such as showing a couple in the same bed. Towards the end of the 50’s the code was breaking down and directors were pushing to show whatever they wished. Psycho went one further having Marion, an extremely sexual character parading in her bra in the opening scenes with her lover. It is interesting to look upon a review of Psycho and how certain people were unable to deal with the horror that it produced. From an article in Time magazine it states ‘The trail leads to a sagging, swamp-view motel and to one of the messiest, most nau seating murders ever filmed. At close range, the camera watches every twitch, gurgle, convulsion and hemorrhage in the process by which a living human becomes a corpse.’ (Unknown 1960) This is how Psycho was meant to be watched, it is contemporary in it’s camera shots which all induce the unbearable horror but unfortunately due to desensitisation of audiences because of slasher flicks such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th we will not understand the true impact and terror that was meant to be felt.
Will Harris, Psycho Review, 10th February 2007, http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/reviews_1960/psycho.htm accessed on 7/2/2011
Gabe Leibowitz, Psycho Review, 22nd July 2003, http://filmandfelt.com/musings/?p=125 accessed on 7/2/2011
Unknown, Cinema: The New Pictures, 27th June 1960, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,827681-1,00.html accessed on 7/2/2011
Movie Poster - http://cdn.giantmag.com/files//2009/10/psycho.jpg accessed on 7/2/2011
Shower scene silhouette - http://terrortube.com/images/articles/Psycho_Knife.jpg accessed on 7/2/2011
Norman Bates - http://mysteryshrink.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/psycho8.jpg accessed on 7/2/2011
Close-up of Marion - http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/protectedimage.php?image=MikeSutton/psycho2.jpg accessed on 7/2/2011