Psycho Review (1960)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Psycho Review (1960)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on September 29th, 2018 | Movie Review | Cult Classic, Drama, Psychological, Madness, Motel, Split Personality, Psycho Series

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It’s about an encounter between an embezzling clerk and a motel owner, and the aftermath.

Psycho was directed by Alfred Hitchcock (who also directed The Birds and Frenzy) and stars Anthony Perkins (from I'm Dangerous Tonight), Vera Miles (from The Initiation) and John Gavin (from Jennifer).

The master of suspense moves his cameras into the icy blackness of the unexplored!

Psycho Review

“Good afternoon! Here we have a quiet little motel...”

Obviously, we cannot review a movie of this stature the way we’d do any other movie. That would be like sentient extraterrestrial life contacting us from another galaxy and the best we could do is give it a spot on Stephen Colbert. We can’t bother ourselves about spoilers, because Psycho is pushing 60 years old as of this writing and anybody who cares has no excuse not to have seen it by now.

Furthermore, Alfred Hitchcock himself spoiled part of the movie in the original 6-minute theatrical trailer when he makes clear reference to “the second murder,” even showing us where it happens. Brilliant as always, for this trailer he choses to show naught but one clip from the actual movie, and instead wanders around the set narrating bits and pieces of it. In fact, if you Sherlock all the hints he drops, you know the whole gist of it. So don’t come crying to us about spoilers. One does not spoil a Hitchcock movie any more than one spoils caviar by revealing it’s fish eggs.

So skip the plot recap, and there’s no need to echo the countless legions who have crowned this movie the first “slasher” film, one of Hitchcock’s most distinguished masterpieces, and one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history. We can point to the extensive volumes of analysis done on this film; books and lectures out there nailing down all the Freudian psychological subtexts and symbolism. There’s too much out there already.

“We’re all in our private traps...”

Nope, instead, the Present Author will point out my top ten features of Psycho. Even if you’ve seen it a dozen times, you have a reason to watch it again if you didn’t fully soak in all these flavors:

#1: Marion is the victim of her own bad karma for heisting $40K.

In this way, it plays out like a twist on a Brothers Grimm fable: Once upon a time Little Red Riding Hood ran away with the picnic basket she was supposed to deliver to grandma. Then she met the Big Bad Wolf who gobbled her all up, after appearing at first in drag pretending to be an old woman... In fact, there’s very few heroes to root for in this movie. It’s Hitchcock’s neo-noir roots shining through, showing us that everybody is a villain in somebody’s story.

#2: Psycho subverted everything for its time.

Casting Anthony Perkins, who up until that time had never played a remotely dark character, so his wholesome all-American boy image shams us. Switching leads in mid-movie; in fact leaving us with a villain as the protagonist. Making the cop pulling Marion over into less of a suspicious law enforcer and more of a stalking creep. Blatantly showing a toilet for the first time ever in a feature film.

#3: Hitchcock was intentionally making a “midnight movie.”

Fans shame the wrap-up ending for having a condescending psychiatrist explain that duh, Norman’s a schitzo. But this was 1960, when every genre film had the authoritarian expert, typically seated at a desk, explaining the obvious points to us. Usually it was a professor or a doctor, sometimes just a random doofus at a desk a la Ed Wood ( Plan 9 From Outer Space came out only one year prior to Psycho). Hitchcock at the time even expressed admiration for William Castle. It that context, the car dredging out of the swamp, the lurid bathroom clean-up, and the chair shot in the basement all makes more sense as a B-movie American Giallo. There’s a small cast and few sets, like many indie films with a small budget.

#4: Voyeurism is in the eye of the beholder.

By the time Norman Bates is peeking through that hole in the wall, we’re already complicit in his crime. At the beginning of the movie, we zoomed all the way from a cityscape to a motel room window, where the camera enters a bedroom and even “sits down” in a chair to watch a couple getting dressed after having sex. So we might as well get a P.O.V. shot through the peephole to watch Marion. Naughty Norman, naughty us.

#5: The bird is the word!

The birds here work as a prologue to Hitchock’s next movie The Birds. Ornithologists enjoy Psycho on a whole other level. We begin the movie in the city of Phoenix, Arizona; the phoenix is a mythical bird who subverts death. Marion’s last name is “Crane” and she's on the run; cranes are known for lengthly migration journeys. Norman sits under a stuffed owl; owls are predators who kill at night. When Marion stands up at the end of her dinner with Norman, there’s a stuffed crow in the shot as if it perched on her shoulder; crows are harbingers of doom in horror fiction. When Norman peeks into the shower, he knocks a picture of a bird off the wall; a “bird” has fallen, so to speak.

#6: Gaze into the mirrors.

Every time we have a character on the crux of a decision, there’s a mirror in the background splitting them into two characters. Mirrors upon mirrors give us multiple tunnel-visions of reality. The more reflections the characters encounter, the more they look ever inward, never outward.

#7: Marion gets her wish, sorta.

Marion in the first scene expresses to her boyfriend Sam that she’d like to have respectable dinner with him under the approving gaze of a picture of her mother. Later she dines with Norman, under the gaze of dozens of dead, stuffed birds which Norman compares to his mother.

#8: The money isn’t actually a MacGuffin.

The “MacGuffin” is the famous reference for a prop Hitchcock would use as any old excuse to give the characters a goal; it was always interchangeable and unimportant. However, Lila and Sam discover that Marion had the $40K, which leads them to think Norman’s motive to be robbery, rather than simply being a whack job. This proves important to how things play out.

#9: Look at Norman Bates’ house.

Now look at the painting “House by the Railroad” by Edward Hopper. When Universal Studios, California, first started offering tram tours of their backlots beginning in 1964, the Bates House was a prime attraction. It gets its own page like everything else in this movie.

#10: The shower scene!

It just got its own post here.

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

We’re mad for this movie. And don’t nobody tell me about the supposed flaws, this movie gets a perfect ten or nothing is worthy of a ten at all.

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