#36: Psycho (1960)

When and how did I watch this?

March 22nd, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

When you think of Alfred Hitchcock, the movie that comes to mind is Psycho. Norman Bates is now an archetype character; though I knew nothing about him going into the film, I knew his demeanor and what he looks like. I was also aware of Janet Leigh’s role, and the irrelevant fact that she is Jamie Leigh Curtis’ mother. The shower scene is now legend.

What do I know about it now?

While Rear Window serves as a long gradual incline of suspense and is characterized by strong acting all around and some snappy dialogue, Psycho is a roller coaster ride of suspense, shock, and clever screenplay. You can see some of the previous Hitchcock scenes being redone and perfected in this film: the driving sequences and facial expressions from Vertigo, the punctuated jolts from Rear Window, and the near-misses in North by Northwest. Of course, the shower scene itself is something unique and challenging, a moment in film that perhaps you’ve replayed in your mind prior to knowing of the film, seeing someone entering the bathroom or moving behind the curtain in one of your most vulnerable moments. To kill off the main character early in the film is a bold move, and definitely out of convention at the time. I’m not sure if the string chord strikes are something unique to the film as well, but they certainly have the max effect even “knowing” what was coming. While the beautiful Leigh enraptures your attention, the oddball hotel concierge Bates (Perkins) steals the story and the whole show, demanding investigation with his unsettling and nervous yet strangely warm personality, along with his bizarre fascination with taxidermy. We know he’s up to something all along, but we’re distracted by his sincerity and niceties. While my wife and I kind of figured out what was going on about halfway through, there was a satisfying “a-ha!” moment at the end, and much of the film still managed to get my heart racing.

What are some themes in the film?

Consequence/fate, narcissism, (SPOILER) multiple personality syndrome

Did this affect me personally?

Both murder moments and the conclusion were shocking and memorable. There was something about how, in the shower scene, Hitchcock turns up the vulnerability with the blade being shown a couple of times “against” the flesh rather than being plunged in during the frantic stabbing moments, and then the slow slouch and the aftermath.  Yikes. There’s a nice subtle moment in the end that got my attention as well, when an effect is used to layer Norman’s ghastly stare with his mother’s teeth over his upper lip.

Why is this ranked #36?

It’s Hitchcock’s big movie and arguably his best. The film also features an opportunity for psychoanalysis in the character of Norman Bates, and to limited degree, Marion.  The shower scene bears a legacy unmatched in cinema. Psycho has generated countless sequels, spinoffs, and remakes.

Did my wife watch/like it?

I think she was distracted by a game for the majority of it.

Would I watch it again?

I would consider it, but for reason not unlike rewatching The Shining, solely to admire the cinematography and the deeper layers, and certainly not for entertainment purposes.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Psycho might be the best horror/thriller out there, and it required very few effects to produce, only using a handful of camera tricks in filming.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

This film rounds out Hitchcock’s big four, all of which belong on top films lists.  I found it fascinating that the former two (Vertigo and North by Northwest) and this and Rear Window were ranked back to back on the IMDb Top 250 by users. The only way to determine which of the two films in question, on both occasions, are “better” is entirely subjective, for they’re both genius in their own way.  As a film, I would give Rear Window the edge based on screenplay and dialogue, but Psycho in its own right is legendary, is risque and controversial for its time, and bears one of the most memorable scenes in film history.

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