Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Cutting Edges: Psycho (1960) - A review

Fig 1: Film poster

Yet another film that displays Alfred Hitchcock's mastery at suspense, “Psycho” (1960) shocked audiences from its initial release, and is one of the most talked about films of all time. Dustin Putman explains that “Psycho” was: “Based on the novel by Robert Bloch and loosely inspired by cannibalistic Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein” (Putman, 1998). Including the inspiration of cannibalism, it is almost guaranteed that psycho is indeed, a psychotic film. After the release, a change in cinema was underway as “Psycho” paved the way for intense thrillers to come.

Fig 2: Marion

Boasting one of the most famous scenes in cinema-the shower scene (Fig 3), utter these words and most will recall the brutal stabbing and death of Marion Crane (see Fig 2), as well as the most famous violin and string suspense music that is included in many other suspense films and spoofs, and is recognised almost by all. Notably, such a successful film was created on a low budget : “His budget, $800,000, was cheap even by 1960 standards”(Roger Ebert, 1998)showing that immortal movies don’t require an obscene amount of money to become iconic in a way that “Psycho” is.  

Fig 3: The shower scene

Returning to the year of 1960, the year of release, it’s true it stunned, horrified and even captivated most of its viewers. Putman explains that: "Psycho" terrified audiences in 1960 and, surprisingly, still holds up today”(Putman, 1998). The feature also includes the first ever time seeing a toilet flushing on screen as well as many other elements: “At the time of its release, "Psycho" was viewed in certain circles as a rule-breaking, wildly explicit film, dealing in brutal murder, risqué (for 1960) sexual situations, and themes involving Norman's Oedipal complex and transvestitism” (Putman, 1998).

The film begins by showing Marion Crane making a rash decision to steal $40,000 from her boss, where she had trustfully worked for 10 years. She does the deed, but is overcome with guilt and makes a desperate attempt to escape the area by trading in her car (that was followed by a police officer, increasing her anxiety; in addition, the first time the audience are presented to the officer, Hitchcock uses a clever technique of cutting to his face, extremely close up and still, to create a sense of intimidation)

Fig 4: Sam and Lily

Becoming drowsy from driving all day, Marion decides to check in at the Bates Motel, meeting seemingly polite Norman Bates (Fig 5) who runs over in surprise of a guest from the house across the road. In a fateful end, Marion is stabbed to death while taking a shower by a female figure, who the audience at this point assume is Normans mother. Norman returns to see the body and is shocked that his mother could’ve done this, but becomes the “good son” and meticulously cleans up all the blood and evidence, dumps Marion's body into her car and pushes it into a swamp. By this point, the audience find themselves almost wishing Norman got away with it: “Analyzing our feelings, we realize we wanted that car to sink, as much as Norman did” (Ebert, 1998).

Fig 5: Unique shot showing Normans throat and thus showing his nervousness

During the third part of the film, it is clear that Marion was not the main focus of it all – the viewers assume that after the murder the film would near it’s end, but it interestingly continues on. A private detective is sent to investigate her disappearance, but little to Lily (Fig 4) (Marion's older sister) and Sam's (Fig 4) knowledge, the investigator is murdered within Bates Motel too. Lila and Sam make the decision to pose as a couple and settle in a room at the Motel, secretly looking for clues for Marion's disappearance. Whilst Norman is distracted, Lily enters the house to look for Mother, and she finds her in the basement, however Mother is nothing but a corpse. Lily turns around and screams as she sees Normal dressed as his mother attempting to stab her (Fig 6), but is stopped by Sam. Norman is sent to prison, and the audience hear his thoughts in his mothers voice, and another investigator explains that Norman is not a transvestite, but he channels two personalities, with no memory of what the dominant personality does.

Fig 6: Norman as his mother

A truly twisted but incredible ending to Psycho; illustrating to the viewers that the Mother was alive, but it was Norman speaking in her voice and indeed, talking to himself. Hitchcock displayed the dangers of mental illness and the existence of multiple personalities (even when first introduced to Norman, he explains to Marion that his mother is mentally ill, so Hitchcock touches on the subject from the beginning).

Putman explains: “As a groundbreaking horror film that paved the way for what was to follow, "Psycho" is a richly modulated study in the darkest regions of a person's psyche and a paragon of style, mood, and undeniable terror” (Putman, 1998)

By the end, the viewers understand why the film has the name it has. 


Crowther, B. (1960) nytimes.com, (Accessed on 19/01/16) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173DE273BC4F52DFB066838B679EDE
Ebert, R. (1998) rogerbert.com (Accessed on 19/01/16) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-psycho-1960
Putman, D. (1998) thefilmfile.com (Accessed on 19/01/16) http://www.thefilmfile.com/reviews/p/60_psycho.htm
S.D, mrqe.com (Accessed on 19/01/16) http://www.mrqe.com/movie_reviews/psycho-m100035732

Illustration List

Fig 5:  "Unique shot showing Normans throat and thus showing his nervousness" (Accessed on 19/01/16) https://moviesalainasneverseen.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bird-neck-psycho.gif

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review Manisha :)
    Just have a quick proofread before you publish... your first quote has slipped through the 'italics' net.