Sunday, May 27, 2007



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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is probably one of the most iconic movies in the history of cinema. If ‘Jaws’ made you afraid to go into the sea, then this movie must have given the chills to anyone who stepped into a shower during the initial days of its release. This is the movie that is most identified as Hitchcock-ian in its suspense and treatment.

The movie starts off with the two lovers, Marion Crane and Sam Loomis, sharing an intimate moment at a downtown motel room in Phoenix, Arizona. We learn that Sam is a divorcee and because of his alimony payments his finances are none too good. Unless his financial state improves he will not be able to marry Marion.

Desperate to improve the situation that they are currently in Marion steals $ 40,000 from her place of work and absconds to find Sam, who lives in a California town, by embarking on a road trip. Marion is raked by the guilt of her stealing the money and becomes paranoid along the way. Her behavior attracts attention including that of a police officer, who finds her dozing off in her car that is pulled over to the side of a road. She even changes her car and buys a new one at a second hand dealership in a bid to avoid attention and continues on her journey to meet Sam.

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As night falls Marion finds herself driving in the dark and totally exhausted. To add to her woes there is a pouring rain too. She gets off the road and finds a motel called “Bates Motel”. There she meets Norman Bates, the young owner who looks after the hotel. She learns that he lives along with his ailing mother in the mansion near the motel. She feels sorry for Norman because she believes that he is wasting his time at the sinking motel. As she retires to her room and begins to take a shower a shadowy woman like figure appears with a knife and stabs her to death.

Norman finds the body and believes that his mother murdered Marion. He quickly disposes off the body, along with the car and all her belongings (including the money, which Norman has no knowledge of) in a swamp nearby. He also wipes out all evidence of the heinous crime. Thus Norman believes that mother is well protected. But what he does not know that there are people looking for Marion who would soon reach the Bates Motel with disconcerting questions. How they reach there and what becomes of them as well as Norman Bates forms the rest of the movie.

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I have often wondered what it would have been like to have watched the movie during the times when it was first released. It must have been quite a shock for the audience to see the biggest box office draw in the movie killed off with more than half the movie still to come. Even before I had watched the movie I had already been exposed to various scenes and references to it in pop culture. So it, in a way, robbed me of the feeling of surprise in seeing one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. Mind you, that didn’t in anyway reduce the terror of the brutality in that famous shower scene.

Alfred Hitchcock is at his peak as a storyteller in this movie. He knew that for the audience to truly appreciate the movie they will have to come into the cinema halls with no inkling of what is to come. So he went to elaborate lengths to ensure that the movie’s suspense and twists were not revealed. He implored the audience not to do so in almost all the posters. Even critics were denied private screenings in a bid to preserve the plot. He also enforced a ‘no late admission policy’, which denied late comers from entering the cinema hall. He contented that the audience would be unhappy if they entered late and not see Janet Leigh, the star of the movie and who plays Marion in it.

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Hitchcock shot this movie entirely in black and white as he thought that the audience would be put off by the color of blood in the shower sequence. Irrespective of whether he is right or not, there is no denying that having it shot in black and white enhanced the creepiness of the entire setting of Bates motel and the Bates mansion. In the hands of Hitchcock every shadow takes on a horrifying identity and enabled him to create the proper feel of the movie. And the music just enhanced the horror of the shower scene. So much so that it is as identifiable as the scene itself. What made it even more iconic were its quick cuts and the symbolisms used in the shot like that of the blood going down the drain or the close up of Marion's open eyes which conveyed nothing but horror.

The actors all do a brilliant job in the movie. So much so that most of them became typecast in their roles. Anthony Perkins who plays the role of Norman Bates played it so effectively that he almost defined the way it should be played. It was as if he was living the role rather than playing it. As a tragic offshoot he found that he couldn’t get any work other than those that had a similar characterization of Norman Bates.

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He also uses innovative narrative techniques. When the movie starts we are led to believe that its main focus is on the relationship between Marion and her lover. Then we feel that the story is about Marion’s theft and her subsequent guilt over. It is not until Marion is killed that we realize that the main protagonist of the movie was not Marion in the first place. Hitchcock keeps us all on tender hooks till the very end, with an astounding revelation in the climax. Psycho is truly one of the most thrilling and iconic movies of all time.


Daisy said...

I saw that movie and it scairt me. A lot!

Jane Doe said...

hello, you are wellcome!!! sure to visit me...


Rach said...

I love this movie, Hitchcock and all the actors have realized a very good work, it's true! But at our time, the old cinema is forsaken a little, I find.
It's too bad...


é said...

Thanks, very much!
Conceição Oliveira

Mark Prime (tpm/Confession Zero) said...

Hitchcock has never been topped. People, directors, have tried, but with little exception, they've failed to deliver.
I found your fright comparison to Jaws quite relavent. I do imagine that if Jaws scared the bajebus out of the audience in 1975, Psycho must have petrified the possibly more naive audiences of 1960.

I watched the contemporary (1998) Psycho directed by Gus Van Sant and found it to be a huge disapointment and a lame effort overall. Of course, the idea of a remake in and of itself was ludicrous and so viewing the contemporary movie was more a curiosity to see just how badly they'd muck it up...I was not disappointed.

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mistur. macsmoth said...

won tim i wus in indea thare lot ov saton lovers lik me. won guy wus un-nise tuo me so i kill him an bern as gud sakrifise to saton. yu com up tuo china an we hav wey funn. yu call:

BillBow Baggins said...

Allow me to repay a compliment by saying you have a very nice blog. This is one of my favorite films by my very favorite director. To me the most fascinating aspect is Tony Perkins' performance in the groundbreaking role of a voyeuristic split personality transvestite. He and Hitchcock really made Norman Bates one of the essential characters in all of film.