Sunday, 13 February 2011

Psycho Review


[1]Psycho, 1960
Psycho is a 1960's horror thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Antony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin. The film is about a woman named Marion Crane who steals $40.000 from her employers client (who flaunts the money around) and goes on the run across America. After constant rejection from many motels, she finds herself at "The Bates Motel" which is just off the highway. Here she meets a weird motel proprietor named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who is under the domination of his mother (which we don't know yet). Here is where Marion meets her doom, but is that the end of the story..?

[2]Norman & Marion (1960)

After watching the first handful of scenes up to where Marion is buying a new car, the story had already seemed to be established. She has already stolen the money and is on the run, and this anonymous police officer is also following her which also leads the audience to believe that he is onto her and that eventually she will get caught. The fact that the story takes a turn from that scene onwards (after she buys the car) is very mystifying. This confuses the audience, gets them trying to re-anticipate the film and provides more suspense in the long run, this is a good tactic from Hitchcock. What is more confusing is that the main character, Marion, gets killed "prematurely". I say prematurely because we are skillfully manipulated into believing that, since she is the lead character, she will live til the end of the film (or at least the second half of the film). This makes Marion a secondary MacGuffin, after the $40.000, because although it might not be clear to the naked eye, Marion is killed for a reason which we later discover.
The fact that she does die is very baffling to begin with, since everything gathered from the story has now suddenly been turned on its head and we are just left hanging, wondering "so... what now?" Hitchcock's techniques voyeuristically implicate the audience with the universal, dark evil forces and secrets present in the film. This shouldn't surprise you too much if you are an avid Hitchcock fan however, as most of his films run by this layered and complex narrative style. Some may need to see his films more then once to fully grasp the story and all of its subtlety.
The concept of killing Marion early, and the actual shower murder scene itself, is one of the most discussed and memorable scenes in cinema history. The scene took an entire week to shoot and is simultaneously horrific and tantalising without any actual penetration of the knife or any visible lady parts. This on the whole was a big gamble by Hitchcock but it was a great success. The effect it has on the audience is that, quite simply, the protagonist is not supposed to die halfway through the movie! Of course, this aspect of the film is part of what makes the legendary shower scene so tragic. Viewing the scene on its own will only leave the majority of people wondering what all the hype is about, but seeing it in the film really makes your mind boggle. The first part of the film was all about getting to know Marion, understanding her situation and creating a subtle bond with the character. This is all part of the process in building the suspense and making that shower scene so, so shocking.

[3]Norman finds Marion (1960)

[3]"This isn’t a gory film, and what few instances of violence take place with relatively little actual on-screen violence. In fact, it contains just three big shocks, with the rest of the 110-minute running time devoted to setting scenes, building suspense and playing with our minds." (Panton, 2004)

As said before, Hitchcock cleverly plays with our minds to create the tension this film brings without the use of violence an gore. The centre of attention when looking at the horror of the film is the Bates Motel itself, from its dark and dingy look to its setting in the middle of nowhere. The film bears resemblance to films like "The Haunting (1963)", with the house also being set in a baron location, and "Cat People (1942)" with all its suggestiveness. Psycho has only 3 shock moments, which clearly demonstrates that a horror/thriller can be just as thrilling, if not more, without all the sometimes unnecessary dramatics's of other horrors. Even to this day, film directors fail to understand this and write films full of blood and gore with no story definition to back up these acts. This reason alone is why Psycho still stands as one of the best films in history and should be a real eye opener to those people seeking influence.

[4] Sam Loomis Behind Norman Bates (1960)

[4]"Yet although Psycho laid a blueprint that has been emulated in varying degrees ever since, Hitchcock's original formula for slasher films is still hauntingly original." (Justice, 2004)

Psycho is a very unexpected film, you cannot anticipate anything before you see it; the death of the protagonist is not the only unexpected occurrence. Firstly, the film is shot in black and white, which Hitchcock had supposedly stopped doing sereval films ago. *SPOILER ALERT* Norman actually happens to be a transvestite, who pretends to be his mother (who had died some years ago) and the supposedly smart detective who's supposed to save the day gets killed (quite unexpectedly, but also easily) *SPOILER ALERT OVER*. These choices of circumstances are all quite original to Hitchcock when put together in this way, for example you do not expect a serial murderer to be so quiet and harmless in his portrayal of character (when this film was made), and also be a schizophrenic transvestite.

Another thing about this film is, although its probably hard to believe, Marion and Norman are quite similar characters. They both are "drifters" in the sense that neither of them are comfortable with their lives and they both roam the outside world, seeking answers to some kind of unspoken mysteries of their own. Marion is seeking a real relationship with Loomis, or money, or some kind of escape from her pedestrian role as a secretary. She seeks somewhere where she has more self control over what she does and she wants happiness. Norman is seeking a few things, e.g a stable living, maybe away from his house etc, which is far too complex to capture in the film. The movie suggests that the traditional American "home" is empty and somewhat impersonal, like its just a rented space devoid of tradition and homeliness and just filled with materials used to satisfy personal needs (Normans stuffed birds for example). This establishment of the lack of a base for these characters further adds to the films disorientation value and makes viewers feel more uncomfortable.


[5] Norman as Mrs Bates (1960)

Overall, Psycho is just one of those films hailed one of the greatest of all time which will live on for ever. I agree it is a great film with a cleverly written storyline and well executed scenes. If you have yet to see the film, well, what are you waiting for?

Illustration List:

[1] Alfred Hitchcock (1960). Psycho [electronic print] Available at:

[2] Alfred Hitchcock (1960). Norman & Marion [electronic print] Available at:

[3] Alfred Hitchcock (1960). Norman finds Marion [electronic print] Available at:

[4] Alfred Hitchcock (1960). Sam Loomis behind Norman Bates [electronic print] Available at:

[5] Alfred Hitchcock (1960). Norman as Mrs Bates [electronic print] Available at:


[1]Ebert, Roger (December 6, 1998) Psycho (1960) In: [online] Available at:

[2]Justice, Chris (May 26, 2005) Psycho (1960) In: [online] Available at:

[3]Panton, Gary (February 26, 2004) Psycho (1960) In: Movie Gazette [online] Available at:

[4]Justice, Chris (May 26, 2005) Psycho (1960) In: [online] Available at:

1 comment:

  1. Interim Online Review 15/02/2011

    Hey Sean.

    What's up? Where's your Scribd story presentation and essay intro as requested? I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what chaos you'd caused for your ballerinas with all those ball bearings... Obviously, I'm able to look at your very earliest story idea - which is problematic for me, simply because the logic of an audience bring ball bearings to throw at the performers is simply, well illogical. No one throws ball bearings at the theatre - it's rotten tomatoes, if at all! You and I had a great long chat in the first week about all the ways in which your three components might be brought together to create an engaging and comedic story. We came up with a bunch of ideas together - but they're not here.

    You're a bit of a puzzle to me, Sean - if I'm being honest. You're an intelligent lad - you write very well (your films reviews are always articulate, crafted and considered), but you always appear to lack energy and drive - and confidence too. I'm pretty sure you're working hard on your unit 4 stuff (just as you were working hard on your Unit 3 stuff), but I think you've got a big issue with feedback - indeed, with criticism and sharing your workflow - and this is a problem - because it means you don't always get the attention/feedback/tutorial access that would enable you to grow creatively and professionally. The fact that you have failed to get your blog content ready for the IOR - when pretty much everyone in your class has - means you're either a) not listening to my instructions, or b) resisting them. If you're resisting them - because you're afraid of what I might say - I have to ask you, as bluntly as possible, to 'grow up' and get on board. This is how it's done, Sean - this is how creative people develop and mature.

    So - let me be very clear: I am instructing you to get your story idea into the formats requested (logline, premise etc) and get them on your blog compiled as a Scribd presentation today/tonight. I want to be able to read your story idea - enjoy it - and respond constructively if I feel so moved. This isn't a suggestion, Sean - this is me instructing you to engage with your tutor in a professional and discursive manner. Likewise, I want to see your essay intro/structure on here too.

    You're a talented, intelligent individual - BUT - you're wasting time and opportunities; lower your boundaries - let change happen. Sort yourself out.

    I look forward to conversing with you on here very soon; and, of course, it goes without saying that if you want to come and find me for some face-to-face time, just do as everyone else does - be a pest! :-)