Friday, September 23, 2011
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: Is it a thriller? A mystery film? A drama? Or a horror film? Depending on when and how you see it, it could be either one or all four. Psycho tells the classic story of a woman, a man, his mother, and $40,000 in cash. It manages to keep a suspenseful atmosphere, right from the opening credits to the final shot.
Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, a woman who was supposed to leave a sum of $40,000 in cash at the bank, but instead decides to take the money and run. On her way out of town, she acts more and more suspicious the more she interacts with strangers, which include a police officer and a car salesman. Due to heavy rain, she decides to stay at the nearest rest area: the Bates Motel. It is here were she meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who runs the motel and also takes care of his ill mother (the Bates live in a mansion that resides above the motel). From this point on, revealing anymore of the story would be a crime. Even though the film has been around for years and plenty of people know what happens after Norman and Marion meet, the most disrespectful thing I could do in a review is reveal everything that happens. I will say this: the infamous shower scene is only the beginning of the twists and turns this movie has in store.
Hitchcock does some things in Psycho that I still haven't seen done in any other movie. His decision to not show all the details to certain events frees him from the dreadful issue of continuity errors; it's something that is better shown than explained. Hitchcock also uses very good camera techniques to show use interesting perspectives of scenes (this comes in handy for most of the film). The black and white is also an interesting artistic choice, but I don't know what kind of effect it it supposed to have. That being said, were the film in color, it wouldn't have the same effect. I can't put my finger on it, but something about the black and white cinematography really works for this film.
There isn't much I can say about Psycho technically, but there is much that can be said about its story and characters. All the actors do a fantastic job; Janet Leigh (as Marion Crane) is subtle in her paranoia and charm, John Gavin (as Crane's married boyfriend) is calm but determined, Vera Miles (as Crane's sister Lila) is caring and genuinely worried, and Martin Balsam (as Detective Milton Arbogast) is really sleuthing. However, it is Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates who steals the show and stays with you once the film has ended. His performance is so nervy and believable, that he's just too convincing. It's no surprise he's one of cinema's most famous characters. It's also very hard to talk about Norman Bates without revealing everything that happens in the movie, and as far as this review is concerned, I'm not going to do that.
One of the highlights of the film (as is the highlight of many Hitchcock pictures) is Bernard Herrmann's score. It truly defines the mood and atmosphere of the film: the paranoia, the suspense, the insanity. While some musical themes may be repeated throughout, the music never gets tiring and always keeps you on the edge. It's a score that can be enjoyed out side of the film and can still bring chills to the spine.
Psycho's influence has been immense. It has been classified as the first slasher film, and arguably, it is. It's also been called one of the most shocking films of all time, and unarguably, it is. It's been called one of the Hitchcock's defining films and one of the greatest films of all time. Even if it becomes less shocking with later viewings, it is nevertheless always entertaining and a fascinating study into the mind and motives of a psychopath. Psycho is a film that must be seen by anyone with an appreciation for film. It should also be seen by anyone with a right mind. It's an unforgettable masterpiece by the Master of Suspense.