Friday, 24 January 2014

Psycho (1960)

Fig 1
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is an unrelenting feast for the senses, from the razor-sharp opening titles to the heart-stopping final act, not a second is spared to let you decipher the next move it will make. We follow the short-lived escapades of Marion Crane whom, having stolen her employer’s small fortune, leaves town and begins a paranoia-fuelled journey to Fairvale. Along the way, Marion decides to spend the night in a motel, run by the eerily charismatic Norman Bates, at which point the film takes an inevitably grizzly turn. The story is unique in its ability to develop and shift focus at a rapid pace, keeping audiences guessing as central characters meet their demise at the hands of Norman’s ‘Mother’.

What differentiates Psycho from its successors is the definitive score, which resonates with the viewer and prepares them for an unsettling experience. The piercing shrieks of the violin completely reflect the tone of the film, cut together with long, winding chords which echo the descent into madness we are about to witness. “Herrmann wrote the main title theme for Psycho before Saul Bass created the opening credit sequence. Bass animated it to the music, creating the stabbing, wrenching look in which the credits are ripped in half.” (Nixon, 2014) Similarly, scenes of Marion driving were also re-edited to the sinister composition, giving scenes of ordinary activity a far more stressful edge. (Fig 2)

Fig 2
Norman’s Freudian relationship with his mother is brought to life entirely by the way that he acts, speaks and conducts himself. Ebert recounts a scene in which Norman interacts with ‘her’: “Marion has overheard the voice of Norman’s mother speaking sharply with him, and she gently suggests that Norman need not stay here in this dead end, a failing motel on a road that has been bypassed by the new interstate.” (Ebert, 1998) From this scene alone, we can deduce that Norman is protective over his illness and still allows his naïve fantasy life to play out in the knowledge that leaving could cause him worse problems or even lose his mother. His hobby of taxidermy is also indicative of a troubled upbringing, which foreshadows the idea of reanimation and ‘hunting’ for prey. (Fig 3)

Fig 3
Aside from the haunting soundtrack and oedipal subtext, Psycho is renowned for delivering one of the finest examples of on-screen attack in cinema history – the shower scene. Leading lady, Janet Leigh shares her thoughts on the final cut: “When I saw it condensed and edited in a way that only Hitchcock could do it, it was so frightening to me that it made me realise that it’s an extremely vulnerable position we’re in, while in a shower.” (Leigh, 2000) With countless edits reducing the scene down to a mere forty-five seconds, Marion seems to be left clutching her dying self within moments after it begins. The shadowy close-up of ‘mother’ can also be looked at as a visual metaphor for the film, as it stabs directly at you, just waiting for you to scream. (Fig 4) The creeping silhouette behind the curtain also brings with it an insurmountable tension as the audience draws a final breath for the star, making this scene all the more memorable in its unexpected chaos.
Fig 4
Psycho has become the crowning jewel of Hitchcock’s legacy in film, still shocking audiences with its bold imagery and daring themes. The horror genre of today quakes with fear in the shadow that Psycho has cast on its audience, leaving it quivering and lifeless in a bathroom as the ultimate thrill flees to strike on another unsuspecting soul.



Ebert, R. (1998) Psycho Review (Accessed on 24/01/14)

Leigh, J. (2000) Interview with Tim Lammers (Accessed on 24/01/14)

Nixon, R. (2014) Behind the Camera on Psycho (Accessed on 24/01/14)


Fig 1. Psycho Poster (1960) From: Psycho - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 24/01/14)

Fig 2. Psycho Screenshot (1960) From: Psycho - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 24/01/14)

Fig 3. Psycho Screenshot (1960) From: Psycho - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 24/01/14)

Fig 4. Psycho Screenshot (1960) From: Psycho - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 24/01/14)