Psycho (1960) – Review 1

Grade: A

Movie Poster for PsychoWe’ll get the pleasantries out of the way first: Yes, it’s been a while since the last post.  Yes, I loved this movie (and you should see it).  It’s a classic for a reason: Psycho has a gripping story, devious plot turns, murder, intrigue, heck, it has it all.  The film is a stark departure from the horror films of previous decade: you no longer have to worry about the supernatural monster, but the monster within yourself.  Psycho doesn’t use any of the previous horror tropes and clichés: it creates a world in which everything appears normal, but if you dig deep, you’ll realize how wrong it all is. 

Take, for example, the $40,000 that Marion stole.  All the characters approach the disappearance of Marion and the money from a rational approach: Where is the money? Marion stole it so she can live with her boyfriend. Where is Marion? Obviously, she’s paid off Norman so that she could hide at the Bates motel (it is so out of the way, as Norman said). What does Norman have to gain? Well, he’s obviously going to use the money to get a new hotel chain.  Why did the private investigator disappear? Because he was dirty and found the money before anyone else.  The characters know something’s amiss, but they can’t put all the pieces together until it’s far too late.  No one could think like Norman and his mother.  How could you?

To be fair, I think it is hard for modern viewers to watch the film and be truly surprised: the movie has been parodied, spoiled, and thoroughly discussed relentlessly.  However, even knowing how the film ends, I still think it’s a brilliant twist.  There is just enough information and silhouettes throughout the film to put Norman’s complicity in the murders comfortably at at ‘doting son’ rather than ‘cross dressing murderer.’

Now, a lot has been written about Psycho.  Whether people are talking about Alfred Hitchcock and how masterful a filmmaker he was, the burgeoning growth of the slasher genre of horror film, or that shower scene (which I could have written entirely about, but I didn’t feel I had anything terribly interesting to add), the sheer amount attention that the film has received is staggering.  An item that I believe is generally overlooked when discussing Psycho, however, is the opening prologue to the movie.  Psycho spends a good forty minutes plus following our protagonist, Marion Crane before the film takes the drastic turn towards outright horror.  I’ve included this clip from Psycho, and while it’s a longer clip, I think it’s well worth watching.

The element that stands out the most to me is plotting.  Take Marion’s in-car musings.  They start off rather nice and pleasant: she thinks about her boyfriend, wonders how he’ll react, and imagines the happiness they could enjoy.  Then, after seeing her boss and the encounter with the officer, her musings quickly turn into paranoia.  I think this does two things: one, it allows for the viewer to not only see Marion’s state of mind, but it also lets the audience know why (in the later sections of the film) a private investigator was hired.  We can assume that those reactions Marion had were the same ones her employers had as well.  It’s a fantastic time-saver, removing needless sections of exposition in favor of letting inference and what information we have fill in the blanks plotwise.  Secondly, Marion’s increasing paranoia mirrors Norman’s thought process in many ways.  Now, I’m not suggesting that by Marion stealing the money, she’s turned into a Norman-like character, but she’s employing the same characteristics Norman has: staring intently outward, trapped by her own thoughts, and hiding evil underneath. Essentially, Marion is a smaller version of Norman: we’re essentially given an explanation of how and why Norman became victims of his psychosis.  Brilliant stuff.

Something else I wanted to address: Anthony Perkins is just fantastic.  I cannot imagine a better Norman Bates (and we’re going to review the Psycho remake starring Vince Vaughn. I’m still surprised at that casting choice, but we’ll see how it is), but Perkins conveys a whole bevy of emotions here.  Whether from being the meek boy we initially meet, or to that horrific smile at the end of the film, Perkins was mesmerizing in the film.  Just look at these two images here, one of horror and one of hell.  Just fantastic.

Let's Put a Smile on That Face

Final Thoughts: I really cannot recommend this film enough.  It’s a fantastic film, and while it is in black and white, don’t let that turn you off of the film.  It feels every bit as modern as any film you’ve seen today, and while it may not be as scary as it once was, it still is just as disturbing as the day it was released. Watch Psycho. Just do it.

Grade: A

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I'm just a Walkin' Dude... View all posts by The Man in Black

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