I’m reposting my Psycho review from last year as it was the featured film this week in my American Horror class. I have edited it for clarity, and updated it.
There are so many posts that end with “I’m an awful film buff” that I should give them their own tag. None worse than the declaration I’m going to make right now…up until last week I had never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho all the way through! I saw the first 45 minutes when I was 13 and just didn’t have the interest in continuing further. I’ve seen a few more Hitchcock films and so far my favorites are Notorious, Rebecca, Suspicion, and The Birds. I wouldn’t consider him my favorite director (gasp!), but I appreciate the contributions he’s made to the world of film. So, that brings us to Psycho, a movie I will easily be adding to my Best of Hitchcock list! The movie is a taut thriller with an awe-inspiring performance from Anthony Perkins. Really, this review is going to be spouting things that far better critics than me have been saying, but at least Hitchcock has gained another convert.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer and flees with it. Stopping for the night she ends up at the Bates Motel run by the bizarre Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his invalid, unseen mother. When something happens to Marion, it’s up to her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Marion’s boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) to find out what happened.
I can’t really spoil this movie as everyone knows the twists and turns, whether you’ve seen the movie or not. If you don’t know what happens 45 minutes into the movie or you don’t know what the twist is with Norman and his mother, then I question your sanity. Either way, this movie already holds a special spot in my heart as I’ve been up close and personal with the Bates Motel and house. Living in California, I’ve visited Universal Studios Hollywood and seen the actual sets Hitchcock filmed on. I know many a person who does Universal’s Halloween offerings where you can walk around the actual sets and sometimes actors even dress up and pop out at the tram (unfortunately I haven’t been privileged with that yet). Watching the finished product and being able to visit makes you really feel like you’re stepping into the past, into a moment in time and really feeling the Hollywood that, unfortunately, we don’t see anymore.
The movie itself is fantastic and my praise really isn’t saying much as other critics have praised this as the classic it is. For me, the best part was Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. In any other movie Bates’ character would have been a potential love interest for Marion, and really he’s a good boy underneath all his murderous intent. When he meets Marion they have a sweet, meet-cute conversation where he discusses his hobbies (taxidermy) and his mother (“A boy’s best friend is his mother”). If this was a romantic comedy these two would fall in love and live happily ever after, or there would be issues with his mother that the couple would have to overcome. I have to believe Hitchcock intentionally wanted to pervert the notions of the romantic comedy by having Norman’s sweet, boy-next-door persona mask an unhinged psychopath. It becomes so hard not to love Norman, even as you get closer to the end and realize he’s responsible for everything.
The scares are in some of the most unexpected areas. Sure there’s the aforementioned shower death, which is frightening enough to scare you into not washing yourself, but there are moments such as a ten minute, silent sequence of Norman cleaning up after the murder of Marion. You see him bring in the shovel, clean up her stuff, dump her car into the lake. It’s so methodical and calculating that you say to yourself “This isn’t the first time he’s had to do this.” That, to me, was the most frightening element of the film, that this sweet man has probably murdered for years.
I’m only giving a taste of this movie, as numerous essays have gone in-depth into this movie and its symbolism. It’s the prognosticator of the slash film, and I advise everyone to watch it, immediately.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.