Monday, 13 February 2012

Psycho (1960)

Fig. 1
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a suspense, horror film and is quite rightly gained the title as a classic. Psycho doesn't fail to amaze, with one of the ultimate slasher scenes ever produced and the unexpected twist ending works beautifully. Released in 1960 the plot still leaves the audience with a shiver down their spine. The plot follows Marion Crane, who works for the bank. One day she is asked to deposit $40,000 and in one impulsive action steals the money and goes on the run. Whilst travelling she stops off over night at a motel, this  subsequently ends in her death.The camera angles play a large part in the success of the film as it seems to be the camera that leads the actor; e.g. when Marion is deciding about stealing the money, the camera goes from a close up of her face and then of the money laying on the bed - this is done serveral times to convey the internal conflict felt by Marion. This technique proves effective.
Fig. 2
Psycho is often praised by critics for its tension building scenes, where the audience is left covering their faces with their hands. Norman Bate's character is brilliant, so unsuspecting, yet obvious. The camera angles add empathy with his character, for example when being questioned by the detective and by Marion's boyfriend the angle is under his chin. This portrays his fragile state and his panic makes provokes a response from the audience. With both the acting, cinematography and editing the film industry could not be without Hitchcock's enlightening psycho horror. David Jenkins wonders, "Where would we be without ‘Psycho’? Fifty years on and Hitch’s delicious cod-Freudian nightmare about a platinum-blonde embezzler (Janet Leigh) who neglected to consult a guide before selecting her motel still has much to answer for. It blazed a bloody trail for the much-loved slasher cycle, but it also assured us that a B-movie could be A-grade in quality and innovation. It dared to suggest that your star didn’t need to surface from an ordeal smelling of roses (or, indeed, at all)."  (Jenkins 2010) Jenkins states in a slightly less elegant manner the impact the film has had upon its audience and states Hitchcock's braveness in venturing where other directors hadn't.

The relation between mother and son brings out Freud's Oedipus complex - where the son's psycho sexual conscience makes him over protective about his mother and in turn ends up murdering both her and her fiancé. This leads to the psychotic behaviour and this ends up being the most terrifying moment of revelation within the film. David Wood argues, "As effective as it is as a genre piece, the proceedings are of course shot through with Hitchcock¹s sly, mordant and slightly sadistic humour which revels in the consequences of the oedipally induced madness and the sardonic irony of much of the dialogue ("Mother's not herself today"). For all its playfulness however, it's still gripping and irrevocably gruesome fare played to perfection by a top notch cast, chief amongst them a suitably jumpy Perkins in a career defining role. An audacious treasure trove of riches." (Wood 2000) Wood brilliantly picks up upon the the relation between mother and son, as well as Hitchcock's subtle and intelligent hints/play on words. This all adds a richness to the content and evokes a bold response within the audience.

Fig. 3
The shower sequence was cleverly story boarded in terms of the way the audience thinks they see so much when in reality they see hardly anything. The fact a toilet was shown was a shocking in cinema when it was released, so the fact that a naked woman was being shown stabbed in the shower was unimaginable. This sequence has to be one of the most parodied, especially the symphony that accompanies it. The sound and montage of shots work perfectly together. Roger Ebert observes, "Seeing the shower scene today, several things stand out. Unlike modern horror films, "Psycho" never shows the knife striking flesh. There are no wounds. There is blood, but not gallons of it. Hitchcock shot in black and white because he felt the audience could not stand so much blood in color. The slashing chords of Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack substitute for more grisly sound effects. The closing shots are not graphic but symbolic, as blood and water spin down the drain, and the camera cuts to a closeup, the same size, of Marion's unmoving eyeball. This remains the most effective slashing in movie history, suggesting that situation and artistry are more important than graphic details." (Ebert 1998) Ebert observes the techniques Hitchcock uses to provoke the required reaction from the audience and suggests these are more impactful than modern day gore, blood and guts.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Hitchcock, Alfred (1960) Psycho Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:11/2/12)

Figure 2. Hitchcock, Alfred (1960) Classic and most parodied scene - The Shower Sequence. At: (Accessed on:11/2/12)

Figure 3. Hitchcock, Alfred (1960) Norman Bates. At: (Accessed on:11/2/12)


BBC David Wood (2000) Psycho (1960). At: (Accessed on:11/2/12)

Roger Ebert (1998) Psycho (1960). At: (Accessed on:11/2/12)

David Jenkins (2010) Psycho (1960). At: (Acessed on:11/2/12)

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