Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Martin Balsam.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Robert Bloch and Joseph Stefano
Often described as the greatest horror of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film ‘Psycho’ demonstrated to the world the directors power over suspense, and brought an entirely different sort of thrill to the big screen – human psychology. When office assistant Marion Craine steals a large sum of money from her boss, it seems that the Bates Motel – a run-down establishment hidden from the nearest highway – appears as the best hiding place for her to stay the night at. However, after encountering the enigmatic and mysterious owner, Norman Bates, the night may not run so smoothly.
It’s true that this film is a landmark in Western cinema, and as a result some may say that everything that could be said about it has already been discussed, but I believe that the film provides an entirely new perspective for a contemporary audience – and one that shows Hitchcock’s work as surprisingly forward-thinking. An antagonist born from normality is exactly what scared audiences the most at the time of the film’s release, and such an idea has carried through into many of today’s modern horrors – from the self-reflective nature of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ to the human insanity that brings about terror in Robert Egger’s ‘The Lighthouse.’ Anthony Perkins’ success as a deceitful character like Norman Bates comes from not only the strength of the acting, but also the normality brought to his actions by his regular appearance and mannerisms.
Of course, even if you haven’t seen ‘Psycho,’ most of you will be familiar with the ‘shower scene,’ a revolutionary sequence of events for cinema that featured not only a scandalous (for the time) level of explicit violence, as well as a rapid succession of cuts that delivers the threat in an unrelenting and gripping way. Despite being a big Hollywood name, Hitchcock utilises a radical approach to editing and violence within this scene to shock the audience to a greater extent, and deliver a thrill that still hits hard to this day.
Known as the master of suspense, many may associate the way Hitchcock plays out a scene to be dependent on the physical actions of the characters. Whilst this remains true for ‘Psycho’, the film also accommodates dialogue that perfectly develops the narrative and characters who inhabit this eerie world. The relationship between Norman Bates and Marion Craine is so unsettling because there is never a moment when either appears relaxed with the other. Whilst we know the reasons for Marion’s deceptively placed lies within their conversation, Norman remains a more enigmatic character, and all elements of the film re-iterate this idea. As a result, the morality of Hitchcock’s work is far more impactful, and the investment that the audience places in each character becomes of greater significance.
There’s a reason why ‘Psycho,’ is considered to be a classic, and I think that the film works as one of the greatest examples that classic cinema remains important in the modern day – influencing contemporary films and contemporary filmmakers alike.