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60 Years Later: Psycho

14 September 20 words: Joanna Hoyes

It may have been six decades since Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous thriller was first released but god, does it still have the power to scare the life out of you...

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh
Running time: 109 minutes

Based on the 1959 novel of the same name and directed by one of the world’s leading directors, Psycho has garnered critical acclaim across the globe, not to mention a cult following of film critics and scholars alike and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 1961. It has spawned two sequels, a prequel, a remake and a television series and in 1992 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for its cultural and historical significance. It is also widely considered to be the first movie of the ‘slasher’ genre.

Putting all of its successes from its initial release to the present day aside, it remains to say that this is just a very. Good. Film. It is testament to the director’s talent and genius that a black and white film which, by today’s standards and technological advances is very simply shot, still has such an impact. Hitchcock’s ability to portray so much tension, with only a few very specific camera angles and a globally recognised score used during that shower scene, is astounding.

The film begins with a young woman, Marion Crane, fleeing her hometown after stealing a large sum of money from her workplace to be with her cash-strapped boyfriend. Her biggest mistake, however, is stopping for the night in the secluded Bates Motel where she meets a brutal and untimely demise at the hands of the motel’s proprietor, Norman Bates. Seemingly sweet and shy, Norman (Anthony Perkins) is not all he seems as the movie continues and we find out just how psychotic his mind really is and the lengths he will go to protect his ‘mother’.

I think one of the most interesting and narratively challenging aspects of Psycho is Hitchcock’s decision to kill off his female lead (Janet Leigh) within the first half of the film. Up until this point, we are told the story through Marion’s eyes and then all of a sudden, following her ill-fated shower, we watch the drama unfold from the perspectives of Bates, Private Investigator Arbogast and Marion’s boyfriend and sister. This was quite an unusual way to depict a plot’s unfurling in the early sixties and this, among many other things, was what made the film so unpredictable and so watchable.

With Halloween just around the corner, this is the perfect film to indulge in on a Saturday night with the curtains firmly closed

The way Psycho is shot in black and white only adds to the creepy nature of the movie. Hitchcock could not get the financial backing that he needed for his project from the distribution company so he had to fund everything himself using a small budget. Filming in technicolour would have been too expensive however he could not have known just how the bleak tones would assist in the atmosphere of the film. 

Bernard Herrmann’s score throughout is another defining aspect of the movie’s success with Hitchcock citing that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” Hitchcock did not originally want any music during his ‘shower scene’ however Herrmann persuaded the director it would improve the sequence tremendously. It’s a good job he listened as it is now regarded as one of the most recognised scenes in the history of cinema.

Sixty years later and Psycho is still regularly referenced in popular culture. With Halloween just around the corner, this is the perfect film to indulge in on a Saturday night with the curtains firmly closed. 

Maybe skip taking a shower for a couple of days afterwards. And hide the bread knives. 

Did you know? Psycho was the first American movie to show a toilet on screen – and the first in which we hear a toilet being flushed.

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