Splatter Time Fun Fest 2010: Psycho (1960)

Splatter Time Fun Fest 2010 welcomes the king of suspense into the fold, and I doubt Mr. Hitchcock will disappoint!

Screenplay By: Joseph Stefano
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Truer words have never been spoken, and it’s not surprising that the man who I, and many others, refer to as the king, or master depending on your choice of verbiage, of suspense spoke them. The draw of Psycho isn’t in the deaths, or the act of the murders, the draw of Psycho is in the moments before and after the deaths/murders. Without the build of suspense the death scenes are just death scenes with no meaning behind them. Suspense is what drives a great horror film, suspense is what drives a lot of great non-horror films, and perhaps no other director ever understood this as well as Hitchcock. Psycho falls just short of the master work mark for reasons I will discuss in a moment, but it’s easy to watch Psycho and see why Hitchcock is the unrivaled king of suspense to this very day.

Before I start gushing, or gushing even more as the case may be, about Psycho I suppose I should get the one aspect of the film that has always niggled me out of the way, huh? The ending, specifically the psychiatrist playing Dr. Exposition and telling the audience exactly what has transpired in Psycho. I detest that scene, always have, and I always hope that each new viewing of Psycho will allow me to view that scene in a new light, but that has yet to happen. With this viewing I tried to apply the multiple narrator theory that I have read in a few different places. While I do think the multiple narrator theory is a sound one (it states that each section of the movie is narrated from a different perspective and the psychiatrist is one of those perspectives) I still don’t think it justifies the exposition from the psychiatrist. That is one of the few instances in his brilliant career where Hitchcock refuses to trust the intelligence of his audience. He doesn’t think the audience can figure out exactly what was up with Norman Bates, his mother and why everything we have seen did in fact transpire. But, we can, and despite containing the uber creepy moment of Norman staring straight into the camera I am still of the belief that had Psycho ended in Norman’s house it would be yet another master work from Hitchcock, instead it is still a great movie, but only a great movie.

With that out of the way, there’s still plenty left for me to gush about when it comes to Psycho. I’m going to start with the score provided by Bernard Herrmann. He is viewed as one of the all-time greats and his score for Psycho is considered an all-time classic, and both accolades are well deserved. In Psycho Herrmann moves away from anything he had done previously, constructing a creepy and persistent theme that set the template for all horror films to come. Countless horror films that followed Psycho borrowed either Herrmann’s score wholesale or mimicked it so closely that it’s hard to make any distinction. No matter how you look at it, the score that Herrmann produced for Psycho is effective, thrilling and even chilling (yeah, that shit rhymed, yo), but most of all, it’s perfect.

Something that often gets lost in the shuffle when discussing Psycho are the performances of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, specifically Perkins. Not to slight Leigh in any way, but she would go on to have a prosperous career after Psycho, the same can not be said for Perkins. He so easily slips into the role of Norman Bates that he became known as Norman Bates and only Norman Bates. Outside of a small, but well played, role in the under seen World War II film Catch-22, Perkins fell into a career of forgettable roles and ultimately playing Bates a few more times. It’s sad, because his performance in Psycho is enthralling. He’s a likable young man, he’s affable, friendly and unassuming. He’s also creepy, and decidedly scary because he presents two sides of the human spectrum that really don’t mix. That final look he gives the camera is startling and the curtain call of a wonderful performance.

All in all, Psycho remains a film that is worth seeking out, but even as I typed that I know that is a redundant statement to make. Of course Psycho is a film worth seeking out, it’s viewed as a classic, is an Alfred Hitchcock film and is well regarded among critics and fans alike. Sometimes I need to think before I type, or at the very least think of better ways to begin an ending paragraph. Anyways, moving on from my ramblings, it’s still not a master work, but Psycho is an exercise in excellent suspense film making. There is a reason that directors to this day still look to Hitchcock’s work (in the case of directors like Eli Roth they need to look at his work period, then maybe they’d make a decent film at some point) for examples on how to build suspense within a film. Psycho is full of said suspense, it is well acted, it features the usual tight direction from Hitchcock, and more. I’m sure most of my readers have seen Psycho already, but give it another go sometime, because no matter how many times I see Psycho I always walk away from the experience happy that I watch movies.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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12 responses to “Splatter Time Fun Fest 2010: Psycho (1960)

  1. I think a lot of people are quick to condemn the ending, but I think that given the time the audience would need an explanation. Sure, Psycho has become so popular that we’re all able to understand the psycho killer.

    Agree on all other points. The music is astounding, the performances great and Hitchcock knew how to build up suspense instead of just creating a bunch of jumpscares like modern horror films. Blerg.

  2. I haven’t watched this in a few years, but I remember loving it the couple of times that I did see it. The Blu-ray came out this week, and given that I never owned it on DVD, I’ll definitely pick it up and relish in Hitchock’s awesomnous.

  3. Well Bill, I understand your concern as regards to the finale, but I see that as nothing more than a minor aberration in an otherwise astounding film. The best part of the movie, in fact, is the way it opens. Later, realization during the iconic shower scene, the opening sub-plot (if it can be called one) was used just as a red herring to keep the viewers distracted. And this certainly helped in creating the shock effect when hardly one-third into the film we see Janet Leigh’s character, who we had thought the protagonist till then, being killed off. And yes, the score was quite masterly. Not to mention, the incredible cinematography too.

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  5. James – I don’t know man, audiences in 1960 weren’t exactly stupid or that different from today’s audiences. I can see them understanding the film without the explanation laden ending.

    Edgar – Relish away. ūüôā

    Shub – I agree with everything you say, except for the part about the ending. No matter how many times I watch Psycho the ending always bothers me.

  6. Carl Plantinga

    You are right that Hitchcock is excellent at suspense, but at the heart of Psycho is also surprise, which is quite a bit different than suspense. The shower murder is not suspenseful because Hitchcock springs it on the audience as a surprise. As Ebert says, he treats Marion’s stealing the money, and her relationship with Norman Bates, as though they will be long-term, then pulls the rug out from under the unsuspecting audience when Marion is murdered, and this after she has decided to return the money and is taking a cleansing, refreshing shower. Sure, Hitchcock is the master of suspense, but surprises are also at the heart of his films.

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  10. I can see that, but at the same time I felt Hitchcock building to something in that shower. I didn’t know it would be Janet Leigh’s death, but Hitchcock had created such a suspenseful build that I thought something was going to happen to her or around her. Kind of a combination of suspense and surprise.

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  12. Well written analysis, Bill. I agree with you about the ending. I haven’t seen the sequels yet, but I think the content of that final scene (a psychological analysis of Norman) would have worked better at the beginning of a sequel to the movie. However, I do love the final shot of “psycho” Norman staring at the camera.

    I wrote a short post on Psycho (1960) called “The Consequences of Acting on Impulse.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/psycho-1960/

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