Making wrong choices. Raising red flags. There were plenty of these to go around so its no wonder Norman Bates’s “mother” was so successful in killing those who were unfortunate enough to fail her moral standards at the Bates Motel. Still, I enjoyed every minute of this 1960 classic which, up to this very day, I believe is Alfred Hitchcock’s finest work.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary for 10 years at a small real estate firm, takes $40,000 entrusted to her by her boss to start a new life with her boyfriend, who is dead broke from paying alimony to his ex wife. En route to her lover amid a strong downpour, Marion stops by the remote Bates Motel, operated by a rather withdrawn young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his mother. Norman seemed normal enough but his mother was obviously abusing him so Marion feels some sympathy for him. When Marion mysteriously disappears, her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and lover Sam (John Gavin) look for her with the help of an experienced private investigator by the name of Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and as they sniff around the Bates Motel, they feel something amiss with the quiet, run down motel and its occupants.
Its amazing that the film has been around for close to 50 years and yet, the different cinematic techniques it used still stands as one of the best up to this very day. Hitchcock employed really simple effects but executed them so perfectly and meticulously that I cannot find fault in the technical aspects of the film. I liked the steady cam and the excellent framing of shots, the assorted camera angles (although I did sense that Hitchcock was partial to close ups of his main star Janet Leigh). The shower scene that became one of the most epic scenes in the history of Hollywood was awesome. Leigh got the perfect pitch for the perfect scream and it was obvious with every frame that this was going to be the signature scene for the film so the filmmakers used utmost care and artistry in the handling of this particular scene.
I also loved the music composed by Bernard Herrmann for the film. It was sophisticated but still provided a sense of urgency to the scenes where stabbing and violence ensued.
Psycho was one of the first films to reveal a major twist in the ending and I would have given anything to experience this movie without that knowledge in order to get the full impact of the revelation (which admittedly a monologue on the lengthy side). Its hard not to get spoiled when the movie has been around before I was born and spinoffs and television series are being developed around it. But the real highlight of this movie was Norman Bates himself, played by Anthony Perkins. There were stages to his performance as Norman, at first a bit charming and shy, and then changing into someone weird, innocent and in the end, downright creepy. His expression in the last shot gave me the chills. His flexibility as an actor truly impressed me.
The only funny thing about this movie was actually the overreaction of Leigh’s character to everything, which could have been justified by being a first time criminal but her reaction to all points leading her to the Bates Motel raised alarms in even the least suspecting of minds. The way that Abrogast brazenly pressured Norman with his questions, or the way Lila and Sam trampled about to search the motel were no feats of genius too, by the way. But still, it was in the 60’s and that’s the way things might have been done in that era so I’m keeping my mouth shut about it now.
All in all, Psycho deserves the reputation that it was able to establish through the years as one of the horror greats because it really was, and still is. It wasn’t as scary as the 90’s slasher films and SAW movies but it had a very disturbing quality to it that preyed on the audience’s mind. That despite the epic scoring and perfect cinematography that everything is not as it seemed, and there are actual people who are similarly pegged as Norman, and therein lies the thought that would bring nightmares to the fore. By the way, the movie was based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch and Norman’s character was inspired by a real life serial killer in Wisconsin, Ed Gein.