By my estimation, Psycho is not just the #1 horror movie, but quite simply the greatest film ever made. Psycho is as close to perfection as it gets, and no other movie has come close to having its impact on the history of cinema.
Director Alfred Hitchcock had one-upped himself right into a corner after North By Northwest, a sprawling epic so huge it saw its protagonists running across the top of Mount Rushmore. The biggest question in Hollywood at that moment was: How will Alfred Hitchcock top himself this time? Like the genius he was, Hitchcock decided to go in the opposite direction. Instead of making a bigger, splashier, grander film, he made a low-budget horror movie based on a novel by Robert Bloch that was loosely inspired by the true life story of serial killer Ed Gains.
The story of Psycho was kept so top secret that Hitchcock bought up every copy of Bloch’s novel that he could get his hands on so no one could possibly know its twisted ending. The trailer itself shows barely anything from the movie at all, instead opting to have Hitchcock himself take you on a hilarious tour of the set. Upon the movie’s release, posters of Hitchcock were plastered to movie theater walls warning patrons to be on time; for no one was to be permitted into the theater after the movie had begun.
The performances in Psycho are ahead of their time, in terms of acting. Instead of hitting every word, every note, there’s a gracious subtly in real human conversations like that between Norman Bates and Marion Crane back in the parlor over sandwiches. Anthony Perkins plays the part of Norman with such awkwardness and vulnerability that no matter what he’s up to, your heart can’t help but go out to him sometimes. For Perkins, it was the role of a lifetime, and one he would return to again and again with great respect for the original and humility for the opportunity to portray one the greatest characters to ever grace the silver screen. If Psycho is indeed a perfect film, it is largely in part due to Perkins most perfect performance as the quirky, worrisome Norman.
Hitchcock story boarded Psycho within an inch of its life, and it paid off big time. Shot by shot, his camera is placed at precise angles to elicit a particular human response — from confusion to embarrassment, from nervousness to blatant fear.
In several scenes, Hitchcock holds a mirror up to its audience to show them the hypocrisy of the prudishness of the times: When Norman gives into voyeuristic temptation through the peep hole in the wall, we judge him for watching… and yet, we are watching. Censors insisted over and over again that they saw nudity in the infamous shower scene, and yet there is none. Hitchcock got away with “murder,” if you will, even being the first film to show a bathroom toilet, something the censors referred to as “crass” and “disgusting.” There is no underestimating the number of doors Psycho opened for filmmakers and for the history of cinema.
Credit must also go to Bernard Hermann for his cutting score, without which much of the beauty of Psycho would be lost. Hermann’s contributions to the film are so valuable, he practically deserves a co-directing credit.
I enjoy a lot of things. Writing. Reading. Spirituality. Video games. …But there are few things more fun than finding that rare someone who has never seen Psycho and knows nothing about the movie, so that you can relive the shock and awe all over again.
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