Thursday, 10 February 2011

Psycho (1960)

If Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) is considered the father of the modern slasher movie genre, then Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) could easily be considered the granddaddy of the genre. Interestingly Halloween stared Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Psycho's Janet Leigh. The plot of Psycho revolves around Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who runs away after stealing a great deal of money. She ends up stopping at a motel where she is nexpectedly and brutally murdered by a creepy but fascinating shut in named Norman Bates. Then the movie becomes like a crime thriller as a privet detective named Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) along with one of the Marion’s friends and her boyfriend try to piece together what exactly happened to her, and the money she stole.
Something that is notable about Hitchcock’s masterpiece is that it does not conform to the conventions of any particular genre. Although it is primarily a horror movie, it seems to move from one genre to another as the movie progresses. The first act is, in a way, like a soap opera, nothing scary is happening and there are not really any hints that it will (except for the ominous opening credit sequence), the same is true of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). In the second act once Marion has stolen the money and goes on the run it seems to become a chase movie. The main horror element is introduced in the third act after the character is unexpectedly murdered. Then it is like a procedural as the characters try to piece together the mystery of the Bates Motel.
The editing style used in this movie is, in a way, opposite to that of Hitchcock’s earlier movie Rope (1948). The cuts in certain scenes this movie are fast and frantic as opposed to the seemingly edit-less Rope (1948). This builds suspense in a different way, it makes the audience feel uneasy and apprehensive. It also matches the frantic twisty nature of the plot itself. A great example of the frantic editing in action is the famous shower scene. It cuts from the knife to the women’s flesh, back to the knife and to the bottom of the bath were the blood is seen disappearing down the plug hole. The injuries are never shown; it is all left to the power of the imagination. The audience fills in the blanks with their minds. Bernard Herman’s Iconic music score is also fast and frantic adding to the suspense and apprehension. It works in unison with the editing as the cuts slow down so does the music.
Fig 1, Shower Scene

Perhaps the thing that scares viewers the most about psycho is its realism. Unlike many of its more modern counterparts it never strays into the elaborate, unlike the supercharged zombies Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, Norman Bates feels very human and believable. Indeed Norman Bates is no more unbelievable than the real person on whom he is based, Ed Gein.  As James Rolf of has said “Psycho deals with the beast that lives within the mind” [Rolfe, 2007] as opposed to real monsters
Psycho is a timeless movie that is perhaps as contemporary today as it was in 1960. Its influence is vast and undeniable and it still has the power to frighten people.
Image List
Fig 1, Shower Scene, Movie Still, Available At:
Cinemassacre, 2007, Cinemassarcre’s Monster Madness Psycho 2007, Available at:

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