Friday, November 6, 2015

Psycho Review

I can never narrow it down to just one title when asked what my favorite movie is. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) always makes my list of favorites. As a college student I took a Film as Literature class coupled with Introduction to Psychology. This class gave me the vocabulary to express why I liked or didn't like a movie and sparked an interest in psychology. We critiqued every aspect of Psycho imaginable. It was an incredibly edgy movie for its day; it set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior, and sexuality in American films, and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam's California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who seems to be dominated by his mother.
Psycho is based on the Robert Blotch novel of the same name. It's a very good read and the film is an outstanding adaptation of the book. Hitchcock acquired the rights to the novel and proceeded to buy up copies to preserve the novel's surprises. Paramount Pictures executives were hesitant at Hitchcock's proposal for Psycho and refused to provide his usual budget because of their distaste with the source material. They further attempted to thwart Hitchcock's cost-conscious approach by claiming their sound stages were booked even though the industry was in a slump. Hitchcock countered that he would personally finance the project and film it at Universal-International using his crew from his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series if Paramount would merely distribute. Paramount, wanting as little to do with what they believed would be a failed movie, deferred most of the net profits to Hitchcock. When Psycho became a sleeper hit (a movie that didn't have a huge opening and went on to have huge mainstream success), Hitchcock made a fortune. The conflict ended Hitchcock's tenure with Paramount and by the time principal photography started, Hitchcock had moved his offices to Universal and the film was actually shot on Universal's back lot. Universal owns the film today as well, even though the Paramount Pictures logo is still on the film. The fascinating story of the making of Psycho is encapsulated in the 2012 movie Hitchcock, which worth seeing if you are a fan of Psycho.
One of the things that makes Psycho so intense is the visceral emotions it generates in its audience. Marion, who is normally a reasonably good person, steals a considerable amount of cash. Nearly every scene we follow her through after the theft is rife with paranoia. Even though we don't agree with Marion's choice we empathize deeply with her fear of being discovered and the paranoid thoughts about how people might react to her when they find out. Visually depicting a character's unease and nervousness isn't terribly complicated, but watching Marion's panic increase and hearing her play out possible scenarios in her mind is both a tribute to Hitchcock's directing as well as Leigh's superb acting. Even in scenes without Marion the disquiet and feelings of suspicion it generates is absolutely palpable.
Psycho is probably best known for its shower scene, the film's pivotal scene and one of the best-known in all of cinema. Even if you haven't see Psycho, chances are you have seen the shower scene spoofed, parodied, or referenced in at least a few other sources. It is so iconic that it has spawned numerous movie myths and legends. It is unarguably a work of cinema art. The scene runs 3 minutes and includes 50 filming cuts; in the main action in the sequence, everything was so rapid that there were 78 separate pieces of film in 45 seconds. It's rich use of symbolism, fascinating shots with the camera, and Leigh's magnificent performance make this one of the more memorable and outstanding pieces of cinema art. And, the scene was done with no visual nudity; nothing is shown below Leigh's bare shoulders or above her knees, which goes to show that overt nudity is not required to make a movie good.
Initially Hitchcock was disappointed with Psycho. He even disliked the shower scene and believed the movie would end up on a low budget drive-in double-feature. Hitchcock did not conceive of music for the shower scene, but motion picture music composer Bernard Herrmann insisted that Hitchcock try his composition. It was only after seeing the film with its score, including the shower sequence, that Hitchcock realized that the movie would work. Truly, Psycho would not have been the phenomenal success that it was without the iconic soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos the shower scene and other important scenes to add to the atmospheric foreboding.
There is so much to mention and discuss about Psycho I really could go on for pages about it. Not only was Psycho immortalized for its contribution to the horror genre, it practically created the slasher movie genre. This is one of Hitchcock's Masterpieces, and should be seen by everyone. It features brilliant camera work, directing, and cinematography, it was filmed with tact, grace, and art. Hitchcock didn't create modern horror, he validated it. Psycho is 55 years old (as of this writing) and it still gives me chills. This is one of my all time favorite movies; it is worth seeing many times over, and well worth the investment to own a copy. I highly recommend seeing it if you haven't already, and seeing it again if you have.

What is your favorite Slasher film? Why did you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!

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