Monday, 25 January 2016

"Psycho" (1960) - A review.

Fig 1.
Psycho” (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock concerns the theft of $40,000. But it is so much more than this simple act; being a mere catalyst for an increasingly engrossing series of events that center on the iconic “Bates Motel” and its inhabitants. Featuring a chilling score and a “plot twist” ending that promises to catch even modern audiences out.  Psycho is the rare example of the film that gets almost everything right - condescending ending monologue aside - Psycho might just be perfect.
A sweeping statement indeed, but reduced to salient points it becomes easy to talk about Psycho’s successes. The structure itself is interesting, “For the film's first three-quarters of an hour the audience has followed Janet Leigh's Marion Crane”...”Then in an electrifyingly brutal scene, as Marion readies herself for bed with a shower in the decrepit Bates Motel, she is hacked to death by a barely-glimpsed old woman.” (Robb, 2010) The audience is then left with Marion’s absence and the uncertainty it brings. What is perhaps most intriguing about this set-up is Hitchcock’s care in developing Marion; treating her as a main character, only to be revealed as merely the vehicle necessary in getting us to Bates motel. It certainly seems as though Hitchcock is meticulously engineering our own response, the way in which we end up sympathising with Norman after Marion’s death is a subtle yet deliberate contrivance that is necessary in realising the felling blow, the twist ending. Such an ending would fall flat without the precursory elements smoothly falling into place.  

Fig 2.
To consider more technical aspects of Psycho is to mention the deliberacy of its almost lo-fi aesthetics. Roger Ebert mentions that “Hitchcock deliberately wanted "Psycho" to look like a cheap exploitation film” (Ebert, 1998) and certainly the visceral nature film of that ilk cloak themselves in can be seen to add, rather than detract. In utilising this style, the audience is kept further on the edge of their seat, tense at the unpredictability of proceedings. The editing is punchy and simplistic in places, but Hitchcock finds time to include his guiding shots; those that convey more meaning in a few seconds than a couple of lines of dialogue ever could. Psycho features a terrific use of one such “guiding shot” wherein it is conveyed of Marion, that she is planning to steal the money and leave town, all in the space of a few seconds with the aid of a lingering closeup that focuses on Marion, the money and her travel case.
Fig 3.

To then consider the sound design - scored by Bernard Herrmann - featuring string music that contributes itself as a dark, brooding and ominous score, drawing the audience ever closer into the world of the Bates motel. Perhaps the most recognisable element being the “...violins wailing away during Psycho's shower murder scene” which have achieved the status of cultural shorthand - denoting imminent violent insanity.” (Robb, 2010) There is something that occurs here, this sound that suddenly completes this world, this world that becomes all too real, it’s themes and questions perhaps titillating, or even brokering on something more taboo. A sense of heightened realism is then achieved through the aesthetic DNA that Psycho is comprised of.

Psycho is an effective, thought provoking piece. An exercise in toying with the audience, Hitchcock delivers with all guns blazing.


Ebert, Roger. 'Psycho, Review'. rogerebert.com. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-psycho-1960 [Accessed 25 Jan. 2016]

Robb, Stephen. ‘How Psycho changed cinema’. news.bbc.co.uk. [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8593508.stm [Accessed 25 Jan. 2016]


Fig 1. Psycho poster. [image] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b9/Psycho_(1960).jpg

Fig 2. Hitchcock with clapperboard. [image] Available at: https://image.roku.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/psycho.jpg

Fig 3. Norman stares at us. [image] Available at: https://cindyagoncillo.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/norman-bates-men.png

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