Psycho

poster

Psycho is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film. I hope my review lives up to the challenge, but I doubt it will. So much has been said about Psycho that I doubt I will be saying anything new, accept that I finally watched it! I had put it off for a long time because I generally avoid horror movies, but after awhile I was too ashamed to stall any longer.

The film starts ย out with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stealing money from her employer so she can run away with her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). She attracts some attention while making her getaway, so she has to pull of the main highway and take back roads. This leads her to the Bates Motel.

This is when we first meet one of the most iconic figures in all of cinema, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). He seems to be a sweet guy, but kind of strange. First of all, he’s all alone. No body ever comes to the motel and he doesn’t get out much. This is due to the only other presence in the motel, his mother. His mother completely dominates him, and though he doesn’t like it, he goes along with it because he remembers the good times they used to have. He feels it is his duty to stay there and take care of her, even though he doesn’t enjoy it very much. Furthermore, his hobby is taxidermy, which is just plain creepy. While Norman is definitely not normal, he seems like a nice person and completely harmless.

shower scene

After Marion and Norman finish dinner and their conversation, Marion goes back to her room to take a shower. After being introduced to such an iconic character, we are now given one of the most iconic scenes in all of film: the shower scene from Psycho. This scene has been analyzed inside and out, and it’s easy to see why. At the time this was very shocking, and even when I was watching it and already knew what was coming, I was still freaking out. I was surprised by it though, I was thinking there was going to be a lot more blood. It doesn’t really matter how much blood (or chocolate syrup) there is, but I guess I was just comparing it to what I would have seen in a more modern movie. Another aspect I really appreciated was that I could hear the water from the shower still running until Norman came to clean up the body. It sort of extended the scene longer into Norman disposing of the body.

Now Marion is dead, and her sister (Vera Miles), boyfriend, and employer all want to figure out what happened to her. Her employer hires a PI, Arbogast (Martin Balsam) to try to find her. Once he gets to the Bates Motel, he is no more. His murder scene, while not as famous at Marion’s, was also very suspenseful. He is walking up the stairs very slowly and carefully to try to talk to Norman’s mother without his interference, ย and let’s just say you do not want him to reach the top.

Then I got kind of disappointed in Sam. He and Lila (Marion’s sister) are waiting hear back from Arbogast, obviously don’t, and then Lila’s all raring to go check on him and talk to the mother. Sam’s all like, “I’m going to be manly and make you stay here while I go.” Which is just dumb because he doesn’t even look around at all, and they only contact the sheriff when he returns. Sam’s going out there was so pointless; they should have just gone straight to the sheriff. Sam, especially in this part, was one of my two complaints (don’t worry, only two!) with Psycho. I will get to the other later, but the only good thing about the part when Sam goes to the Bates Motel to check on Arbogast is that we got some creepy shots of Norman which added to the film. I just wish Hitch could have gave them to us in a different way. I don’t mean to harp on about this, but when the film is so good and a couple things stick out at you, they really stick out.

norman

After this episode, Norman confronts his mother and tells her that she should hide (for reasons explained by the sheriff earlier) in the fruit cellar, which she objects to. Norman has to forcibly carry the old woman down the stairs, and I love the way Hitchcock showed us this. First we hear them arguing in the room at the top of the stairs, and the camera doesn’t let us in the room. After going so long with only hearing and never seeing Norman’s mother, Hitch keeps us waiting even longer. He focuses around the door, and then takes us to the viewpoint of the ceiling. We finally see Norman carrying his mother out, but we can’t see her very well at all (mainly we can’t see her talking, even though we hear her voice). Hitchcock piles on the suspense until we finally get to see her at the end.

Ok, I don’t know how many people actually need this but SPOILER ALERT Norman Bates actually has Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder) and is not only himself, but also his mother. This is completely, and very dramatically, explained at the end by a psychologist that interviews him, or rather his mother. His “Mother” persona is the one who was killing everyone, and by the end of the film it is clear that whoever Norman Bates was, he doesn’t exist anymore. He has been helping his mother get away with multiple murders, and now his identity has been completely submerged.

mother

By the end of Psycho, I didn’t feel how I expected to feel. I thought I was either going to be terrified out of my mind or raving about how great a film it was. Even though I already knew the story, and kept hearing a lot of people talk about how Norman Bates/Mother was their favorite villain, I did not expect to feel any sympathy for him. That was my biggest emotion from the film. Even greater than the suspense (which was pretty great), was the weird sympathy I had for Norman. Even though he was a murderer, I feel profoundly sorry for him. He seemed like such a nice guy at the beginning, and I thought I wouldn’t think that anymore by the end of the film given what happens, but I still did. I sympathized with Norman, but hated his mother. That’s really hard to pull off.

This brings me to my only other complaint, which has to do with the ending. Even though I am still very impressed by Perkins’ acting, I was disappointed that the Mother speech at the end was only a voice-over and not actually him speaking. I understand someone else was doing the voice, and if it had been dubbed it might have seemed ridiculous, I don’t know. That’s what I was expecting though, and it didn’t happen. I would have been way creepier if Norman had not only had the creepy look on his face, but had also actually been speaking like his mother…. But alas, no. Maybe they also thought it would be weird to have him talking to an empty room and where just trying to amplify his thoughts, which is what voice-overs are actually used for. The ending was still great and creepy, but having him actually vocally transform into Mother would have been a lot more terrifying in my opinion, and it was also what I was mentally prepared for.

Psycho was a very good film. If, like me, you have reservations about seeing it because you think it might freak you out, I advise you to just see it anyway. I knew the story beforehand and it didn’t make the film unsuspenseful, so if you want to do that to be prepared, it may hurt you (I don’t know how it is going in blind) but it won’t kill it for you. It really is a great film, if you like Hitchcock you really have no excuse (which is why I had to see it finally!). Perkins’ acting, the iconic shower scene, Bernard Herman’s classic score, and most of all Hitchcock’s trademark suspense will not leave you disappointed.

hitchcameo

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Long story short: 4/4 stars

10 responses to “Psycho

  1. Good review Hunter. It’s a bit dated in some spots, as expected, but it’s still a whole bunch of fun to watch, as well as study and see how much Hitchcock changed-up the conventions of the horror movie back in those days. Classic flick!

    • Yeah, I have to agree with the effects, but I also agree that you can’t really fault it. Those were the times and even if they had had advanced capabilities to make the violence more realistic, they probably wouldn’t have been able to use them anyway because of censorship and everything. Hitchcock builds the suspense in such a way that it was still an intense movie, even if the effects weren’t up to today’s standards. And I don’t think Perkins’ acting is ever going to get old:)

  2. First off, love that Rear Window banner. Nice!

    I think it’s a GREAT film, but then again, I had the opportunity to see it when I was very young, and thus, I hadnt heard my whole life how great it was and built it up. I think Bates IS one of the greatest villains of all time, precisely as you say because you can feel a degree of sympathy for him.

    This is one of Hitchcock’s best… wish it had connected with you a little more strongly! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    • I apologize if my review seemed overly critical… I did really love the film. Definitely one of Hitchcock’s best. Those two issues I pointed out where literally THE ONLY things I didn’t like about the film, and they were just so obvious to me because everything else was so awesome.
      Yeah, if I hadn’t know as much about it going in, it definitely would have been different. Like the first time I watched Vertigo I didn’t know what to think about it for like six months…. Vertigo’s still my favorite, but Psycho is really up there, either two or three at this point. Without the mental preparation I may have been scarred for life though ๐Ÿ™‚
      To me Norman Bates is not even really a villain, though. I sympathized with so much that I considered Mother to be the villain, you know?
      Glad you noticed the banner! I was hoping people would pick up on that!

      • Oh, Vertigo’s my favorite, too, dont get me wrong. But Psycho’s much more popular somehow… probably because its simpler and more accessible. One of the very first movies I wrote up when I started my MTESS series and was still thinking it would only be the greatest of the greats. LOL. ๐Ÿ˜€

        It has a lot more impact if you dont know about Norman, but in this day and age, thats nearly impossible…

        • Yeah I’ve kind of been wondering why Psycho is so much more popular than all of Hitchcock’s other films… It is one of the best, but especially in the light of the Sight and Sound thing it seems like more people should know about Vertigo than actually do…. hmm….
          I think Psycho was more well-received when it first came out though, when Vertigo came out most people didn’t like it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Maybe that has something to do with it? You may be on to something there with the simpler idea. I mean, once you know about Mother than everything’s pretty wrapped up, but there’s a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t get resolved in Vertigo so maybe that has something to do with it…. It’s interesting to think about why this is Hitchcock’s definitive movie, I guess I still don’t really know… Hmmmmm….
          Glad we’re on the same page with Vertigo though!

  3. ok well first off, thank you for so many anthony perkins pictures…hes so adorable! i really feel like that fact helped the sympathy toward him…just so darn cute. also awesome movie.

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