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Psycho (1960) - Alfred Hitchcock

Related: Alfred Hitchcock - Bernard Herrmann - psycho - horror film - serial killer - 1960

Psycho (1960) - Alfred Hitchcock [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The famous shower scene with its now trademark score by Bernard Herrmann, featuring the screeching violins.

Psycho: The Complete Original Motion Picture Score (1960) - Bernard Herrmann [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Robert Bloch's pulp novel Psycho was made into a black-and-white feature film in 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock. The affecting, subtly humorous screenplay was written by Joseph Stefano.

The book had Mary Crane from Dallas, Texas as the leading lady. Since a real Mary Crane exists, Alfred Hitchcock changed her into Marion Crane from Phoenix, Arizona. The first movie starred Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Martin Balsam, John Gavin, Vera Miles, and Simon Oakland.

Psycho is a good example of what scholars refer to as "Post-Classical" film. It plays on audience expectations of Classical storylines, which are unresolved or turned on end. The "shower scene" represented breaking new ground in film-editing and direction.

[I]t turns out that Bates' mother is not ill physically, but mentally. She stabs Marion to death in the famous shower scene (with its now trademark score by Bernard Herrmann, featuring the screeching violins). Unlike Mary from the novel, Marion is not decapitated in the scene. Bates is horrified when he finds the corpse, but cleans up as if he has done this several times before.

The rest of the film deals with the search for Marion. Marion's sister Lila (Miles) and boyfriend hire a private detective, Milton Arbogast (Balsam), to find her. Arbogast traces her to the Bates Motel and eventually meets the same fate as Marion. Lila and Sam next go to the motel to follow up when the private detective disappears. Lila goes up to the basement of the Bates' adjacent home only to find the corpse of Bates' mother. Only at that moment is the killer revealed to be Norman Bates himself (cross-dressed in his mother's clothing, complete with wig).

At the end of the film a forensic psychiatrist (Oakland) explains to Lila, Sam and the police that Bates' mother is really dead and that Bates periodically assumes her personality; the dominant half of his personality is his re-imagining of his mother. The Bates personality has no idea that his mother is dead, so has no knowledge of "her" crimes. The last scene shows Bates totally taken over by his "mother." [Feb 2005]

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho [Feb 2005]

Review by Noel O'Shea

From the opening shots of Alfred Hitchcock's seminal masterpiece Psycho, it is clear that the director sought to suck the viewer into the world of Marion Crane and Norman Bates; the aerial tracking shot seems to pause momentarily, and pick a window at random, suggesting that the room's occupants could be just about anybody - even you or I - and their identities are not really that important in the film. These are ordinary people getting on with their lives, but Psycho holds a reflective mirror up to the dark side of their/our souls (there are many scenes with mirrors in the film).

It is a film about universal guilt - everybody harbours guilt of one kind or another in the film - and how two seemingly very different personalities can be drawn together because of this guilt (Marion and Norman, because of their 'secrets' based on sex - Marion's affair with a married man, Norman's murder of his mother and her lover after finding them in bed - are two sides of the one coin). The graphic shower murder itself led to a plethora of inferior 'splatter' horror films, from which the genre has yet to recover (I'm not sure how many Fridays fall on the thirteenth over the next hundred years, but rest assured, Jason Voorhees will be on hand to celebrate every last one of them!).

Hitchcock's film also introduced the serial killer to modern cinema, and who can measure the extent of that influence?! No filmmaker has ever matched the power of Hitchcock's masterpiece, they've just piled on the gore in the service of scare tactics; there is nothing in modern cinema to match the untimely demise - and in such a shocking fashion! - of Psycho's lead character one third of the way through the film (this is what scared audiences the most: after spending 30 minutes identifying with Marion, egging her on when she steals the money from the boorish fat cat, agreeing with her when she resolves to give it back, and then to be slaughtered right after her decision! The most telling shot is the close-up of the money left on the drawer - the $40,000 means absolutely nothing now, it has no value, and will be thrown away). The true brilliance of Psycho lies in its distillation of extremely complex ideas within a wholly commercial framework. --Noel O'Shea

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