Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Film Review - Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

Fig 1. Psycho Poster. 

 Psycho, a film that follows a woman attempting to flee with money that she had stolen, until her untimely death at the hands of a psychotic killer. The film then follows her friends and a private detective as they try to pinpoint her whereabouts. They track her to the motel that she was murdered in and one by one they are taken down by the mysterious killer. Until, finally the killer is caught and revealed to be none other than the motel owner himself. This comes as quite a surprise as the viewer is led to believe that the owners deranged mother is the killer, right up to the reveal at the end that shows her to have been long dead.

Roger Ebert states in his review ''The setup of the Marion Crane story, and the relationship between Marion and Norman (Anthony Perkins). Both of these elements work because Hitchcock devotes his full attention and skill to treating them as if they will be developed for the entire picture.'' (Ebert, 1998). The audience is in this sense, tricked. Tricked because the murder scene is early in the film and with no real build-up, but also tricked because as a result, the story suddenly switches protagonists after much of the introduction was devoted to a steady back-story of the victim. This bizarre shock was very much intentional in making the audience uneasy and unsure of where the story was heading. The film relays shock after shock like this, constantly skewing and twisting the natural plot-line until it is unclear what to expect next and where to expect it from. This is only heightened by the films natural flow of suspense, when something dramatic isn't happening, very little else is other than characters moving slowly and talking.

Mark Monahan mentions in his review of the film ''Hitchcock's mischievous genius for audience manipulation is everywhere: in the noirish angularity of the cinematography, in his use of Bernard Herrmann's stabbing string score, in the ornithological imagery that creates a bizarre sense of preying and being preyed upon.'' (Monahan, 2014). Quite often in the film there are bizarre camera angles which put the audience in the mindset of preying and being preyed upon. For instance, when Marion and Norman are talking in the back room of the motel, the camera points upwards towards the stuffed birds of prey hanging threateningly above them (See Fig 2.), almost as if they could strike at a moments notice. The intense and uncomfortable angles at which scenes are shown certainly boost the films haunting psychological story.

Fig 2. Sandwich Scene Still

In Bill Weber's review of the film, he states ''The imminent, brutal turn of the plot in Cabin One's bathroom is the film's most celebrated fillip, but this quiet, subtly ominous dialogue between Leigh and Perkins enriches the film's texture and raises its emotional stakes.'' (Weber, 2010). It would be hard to talk about this film thoroughly without mentioning one of its most celebrated and memorable scenes. The shower scene in which Marion is killed off surprisingly early and abruptly. Despite no images of the knife piercing flesh, the scene is chilling and shockingly violent. Even more chilling is the following scene, which sees Norman rushing down to the room having heard the screams. He is confronted with the grizzly scene and begins to slowly and methodically clean and empty it of evidence, including that of Marion's lifeless body, which he wraps up in the shower curtain and puts in the boot of her car. He drives the car into the nearby bog, which eventually consumes the car, leaving no evidence of the crime. 

One of the many strengths of this film is the way in which each scene stretches. The audience is constantly waiting for something, some inevitable shock or conclusion that will wrap up the long winded scene for them. With the exception of an undue and arguably unnecessary psychoanalysis of Normans mind by a psychiatrist at the film's conclusion, Psycho simply cannot be faulted.

Illustration List

Hitchcock, A (1960) Figure 1. Psycho Poster. (Accessed on 26/01/15)

Hitchcock, A (1960) Figure 2. Sandwich Scene Still. (Accessed on 28/01/15)


 Ebert, R (1998) (Accessed on 26/01/15)

Monahan, M (2014) (Accessed on 27/01/15)

Weber, B (2010) (Accessed on 28/01/15)

1 comment:

  1. Great review Jack, supported by well-chosen quotations :)
    Nice one, keep it up!