31 Favorites #26: Psycho


Can you believe that Psycho is 55 years old? Let that sink in for a moment! Because honestly, the film feels as modern and subversive as I'm sure it did when it was released in 1960. It's a testament to Hitchcock that the film still manages to spook and shock nearly everyone seeing it for the first time (but let's face it, those folks are few and far between).

In Psycho, Janet Leigh plays Marion, a secretary who runs off with $40k of her boss' sweet, sweet cash. On the run, Marion stops at a hotel run by a seemingly shy and mild-mannered guy named Norman Bates. Marion hears Bates, at times, arguing with his mother and thinks nothing of it. But Bates harbors a terrible secret that I'm sure we're all familiar with.

What always amazes me about Psycho is that Hitchcock had the balls to kill off his leading lady only roughly 45 minutes into the film! What the hell, Hitch, have you no patience!?! Of course, part of the shock and power of the film, even now, is Marion's swift and hasty departure from this terra firma. Hitchcock manages to keep the momentum of the narrative going forward by making Norman behave in shadier and shadier ways when people come to the hotel looking for Marion. You really are curious as to how it's all going to end up. And when it does...man. It's truly one of the most effed up endings in film history.

Three Things I Love About It:

  1. The shower scene. If you really watch it, you realize that there's no contact between the knife and Marion actually shown - it's all implied through quick cuts of the knife making slashing movements and close ups of Marion screaming. It's actually amazing to witness, and still completely terrifying. If you think about it, we have Hitchcock to thank for the modern slasher film. 
  2. Bernard Hermann's score is pure artistry and completely innovative. It's scored entirely for strings. No woodwinds, no brass, no percussion...just strings. And yet, he manages to create depth and texture to the film that just wouldn't have existed if he had scored the soundtrack for full orchestra. When there need to be bleak isolation, Hermann gives us an unsettling, reedy thinness. And of course during the shower scene, he gives us a harsh, stabbing sound in the upper strings. Psycho wouldn't be Psycho without Hermann's score. Period. 
  3. Anthony Perkins is OUT OF CONTROL. In fact, his depiction of Norman Bates scared the shit out of me and soured me on any other films he was in because I couldn't get past associating him with this character. Pass the brain bleach, please!