#26: Psycho (1960)

I think it’s a mark of a good horror film when both your mother and brother run to your room from separate parts of the house because they can hear your distress. My brother thought it was a spider and came running to my aid. Mum didn’t stop to think what it might be, but upon hearing my continued ‘tortured whimpers’ went full maternal-protective mode and sped to my bedroom. All to find I was simply overwhelmed by an old black and white horror film. But, when they heard it was Psycho, they poured forth their compassion. What this challenge has made me face…
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her boss and flees her home city of Phoenix, Arizona to her lover’s house in Fairvale, California, not that he knows, or that she gets there. She stops off on the way at the Bates Motel, manned by the significantly odd Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), but doesn’t make it through the night. Although this is almost halfway through the movie, we all already know that iconic shower stabbing scene is on the way, and we never for a second think she’s going to pull through. This doesn’t hold back the suspense though, especially in the second half of the film when sister, boyfriend and private investigator are all desperate to uncover the truth about Old Mrs Bates, who lives in infirm retirement, unable to leave the house, or so they think.
If you haven’t seen this film before, you’ll be just as desperate as the characters for the truth to come to light - for the heroes to discover the murderer. The tension will kill you. And if you have seen this film before, I’m sure you’ll understand just how much this film completely freaks me out. There’s nothing like an irrational, irredeemable psychopath to make you creeped out beyond your wits’ end. It’s the facial expressions, the screams, the knowing that something bad is going to happen, that made me squeal like a lamb, pretty much throughout the film.
I can’t believe I’ve made it this far through a review without mentioning that the director is none other than Alfred Hitchcock, frequent focus of this blog. Overall, I’m not a massive fan. He’s often referred to as “the great story teller”, but I always find him long winded. There are parts of Psycho which I do find typically, Hitchcockianly, unnecessary, but on the whole I spent the film shivering despite my best efforts to be a big girl. Here’s a cool example of some seriously classic Hollywood lighting (apols for terrible photo!):

Hitchcock might use some traditional devices to excite our terror, but he also pushed the boundaries. I was a little shocked at how often we see Leigh in her bra, not to mention the openness with which affairs are mentioned, and shown. It was only 1960 after all. The violence (though we laugh at that now) was also a bit riské, so Psycho was really a whole new horror experience, as the posters at the time claimed.

As I might have told you before (I forget) I generally stop finding a “scary character” scary once we know who they are, when we know their background. But when someone is so totally insane, so completely beyond reason, that is the most terrifying thing that can possibly be.