Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year of release: 1960
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 109 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho
Taglines: "The picture you MUST see from the beginning... Or not at all!... For no one will be seated after the start of... Alfred Hitchcock's greatest shocker Psycho.", "A new- and altogether different- screen excitement" and "Don't give away the ending - it's the only one we have"!
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Secretary Marion Crane is entrusted by her boss to deliver $40,000 in cash to the bank but instead she decides to run off with the money to start a new life with her lover Sam. Sam (who incidentally knows nothing of the theft) lives some distance away and Marion whilst on route to him gets caught in a heavy rain storm which leaves driving conditions difficult. Fearing an accident she pulls over and decides to spend the night at the Bates Motel. The business appears to be down on its luck with Marion the only guest though she is initially charmed by the seemingly lonely owner Norman Bates. Norman lives in the shadow of his cross tempered and ailing mother in a large Gothic style house on a hill overlooking the motel grounds. As events unfold at the motel Marion becomes known as a missing person which prompts her sister Lila to search for her. She is aided by private detective Arbogast who is working on behalf of Marion's boss who having discovered the theft is willing to not involve the police if Marion can be found and the cash safely returned. Lila and Arbogast are joined in their quest to find Marion by Sam, a search which takes them to the Bates Motel and reveals Norman's grisly secret.
Good points: Psycho has a great cast of characters with the true star of the show of course being Norman Bates expertly played by Antony Perkins. He does a great job of portraying the mentally unstable motel owner. Both creepy and voyeuristic with a penchant for taxidermy there is something immediately disconcerting about Norman. On the other hand however he also manages to showcase a vulnerable shy and somewhat charming nature and manages to elicit sympathy as a lonely guy doing the best he can to manage a failing business while also looking after his sick mother. The rest of the cast is very good as well with Sam and Lila being a likeable pairing towards the end when they team up to play detective. Even Marion manages to come across quite well despite the theft, showing remorse and a desire to return and put right her wrongs before circumstance intervenes.
The twist ending is very good indeed and at the time must have come as a real shock to the audience. It was the twist seen here which perhaps inspired many other horror and slasher films to do something similar with a twist ending or surprise killer reveal now being something of a staple of the genre. Few manage to emulate the effectiveness of the twist in this though.
The music is very good throughout with the famous strings used in the shower scene and again later at the films climax now being the stuff of legend in the film and entertainment business. The film still sounds great to this day some nearly sixty years on.
Going hand in hand with the aforementioned musical score is of course the famous shower scene which still retains much of its power and is most definitely an unsettling moment. Though not actually in any way graphic it is shot in such a way that it looks a lot more brutal and violent than it really is so a clever piece of film making. We also see much blood (albeit black and white blood) as it swirls around in the water and down the drain. Blood being something missing from Peeping Tom, another classic horror/proto slasher of the day and one I think of in the same breath as Psycho. As with the twist ending the shower scene has been recycled time and time again in the slasher genre from both big well known releases like Friday the 13th The Final Chapter and The Prowler to low budget independent and more modern entries such as The Graveyard and Summer's End: The Legend of Sam Hain.
Bad Points: There aren't many bad points but I did pick up on a few small unrealistic things that warrant a mention. First it seemed too quick and easy for Marion to change her car. I know she was paying in cash and obviously and with it being so long ago there would be nowhere near as much paperwork involved as there would be today but you would think it would still take fifteen or twenty minutes or so at least. Here though it only takes a minute or two after her first greeting the salesman. Maybe thee is supposed to be a jump in time here and it is supposed to take longer but if so that isn't clear. Also it was a bit weird that the policeman at this time was just standing around staring at her as bold as brass when she hadn't really done anything wrong as far as he knew. You would think he would be a bit more discreet about watching her. It could also be said there was no point in her even changing her car seeing that she was in view of a policeman as once it became known she was wanted for theft that policeman may remember her and recall she will now be in a different car. Finally regarding Marion I felt it was unrealistic that she could hear the conversation between Norman and his mother so clearly from the motel lobby seeing that the talking was presumably taking place some distance away up at the house. The rain had stopped at that point I think but even so I don't think voices would carry that far as clearly as they did here.
After Sam goes to the Bates Motel to look for Arbogast and Marion he mentions upon coming back to Lila that he saw the silhouette of Mrs Bates at the window and also banged on the door of the house to no reply. I don't think we actually saw either of these things happen though ourselves which I found unusual. It would only have taken ten seconds or so after all.
Some may be turned off by the fact that the film is shot entirely in black and white. I personally didn't find this a problem but I guess some may be bothered by it and as such prefer to watch the remake over this.
There is a very low body count but you have to remember that this was a mix of genres really and served as inspiration to what later became the slasher genre as opposed to an out and out body count style horror film itself so it isn't really a problem. Still it could be another thing that puts people off especially younger horror/slasher fans more used to gory deaths coming thick and fast.
Verdict: A true classic that seems timeless despite the black and white visuals and its ever advancing age. It has a great villain in Norman Bates and a clever plot to introduce him with a couple of major shocks in particular with Marion not quite being the main player she first appears to be. It is very difficult to find fault with and is very deserving of its legendary status and is certainly one of Hitchcocks's masterpieces. Some credit should go to Robert Bloch as well who wrote the book this is based on though I've heard the film turned out quite different to that. In any case this is a film that no horror fan should be without.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Marion: Stabbed in the shower multiple times. Body dumped in a swamp close to the motel.
2) Detective Arbogast: Surprised at the top of the stairs. Is stabbed which results in him falling to his death.