In anticipation of Sacha Gervasi’s Alfred Hitchcock film, it seems appropriate to revisit Psycho, which the events of Hitchcock are centred around.
Psycho is a chilling film. Full of suspense, oozing with terror, it epitomizes how influential fear and paranoia can be on the human soul. It is based on a novel of the same, with a largely similar story line. A young woman named Marion Crane steals $40,000 from her boss’ client and leaves town with it. After a rough time on Highway 1 in stormy weather, she stops at the Bates Motel. It is here where she meets the troubled young Norman Bates, a man who is highly influenced by his elderly mother. When Marion doesn’t contact Sam (her lover), or her sister, the story begins to unfold.
Alfred Hitchcock was a fine director. Very talented and articulate, he planned all of his films down to the last detail. All that was needed to be done afterward was to film the movie.
Psycho carries this meticulous attention for detail. There are long stretching tracking shots, many eerie silences, as well as suspenseful scenes with frightening music.
There was a fine cast assembled. Janet Leigh does a commendable job as Marion Crane; she captures her characters fear in different situations, her unease about stealing $40,000, empathy for Norman’s passivity. Anthony Perkins is frighteningly brilliant as Norman Bates. Its evident Bates is a mentally troubled young man, who struggles to fully comprehend everything around him through his own eyes. Perkins carries Bates’ internal worries and anxieties on his face, moving about on egg shells, terrified of letting his mother down. Every single time Norman is on camera, something seems a little off putting; it isn’t until the end when you realise how off putting. Vera Miles, John Gavin and Martin Belsam all give memorable performances as Lila Crane, Sam Loomis and Detective Milton Arbogast.
The decision to film in black and white proved to be one of the great masterstrokes. Hitchcock had two reasons for filming without colour He wanted to make everything feel and look inexpensive. The budget was a rather modest $800,000, roughly $15,000,000 by today’s standards. Also, Hitchcock did not believe filming in colour was appropriate as it would make the film too gory.
It is amazing that two small decisions have left a long lasting impact. Viewers let their imaginations terrorise themselves more than what they actually see. Looking at modern horror films, everything is shown. No imagination is needed. Psycho remains a chilling and disturbing film. Audiences have to imagine what each murder looks like; nothing is given away. Even during the infamous shower scene, nothing but great acting, an unpleasant sound of knife meeting flesh, alongside Bernard Herrman’s brilliant score presides with each camera angle.
Psycho has a strong element of fear from beginning to end. It exposes human vulnerability to attacks in areas many people feel secure. Personal surroundings no longer feel safe, trusted public servants seem to know what you’ve done without knowing you and the seemingly innocent person you know next door could be so much more. Just as Jaws made many people afraid to go into the water, Psycho made people fearful of many things which previously they wouldn’t have given a second thought to.
As Hitchcock said in the film’s trailer, some of the events are “too horrible to describe.” Anybody who enjoys frightening films will love the suspenseful charisma of Psycho.