Alfred Hitchcock directs Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and John Gavin in this horror thriller where a lonely lad who runs a deserted hotel has to contend with the corpses his mother keeps gifting him with.
I love Psycho. Love the urgent, bullying score by Bernard Herrmann. I love the illicit introduction where we sneak, like frustrated peeping toms into the lovers hotel room after a cheeky nooner. I love Perkins amazingly seductive protagonist – slightly camp, slightly unhinged yet loveable. I love his and Marion’s back room chat that flirts and skirts and teases with revealing the deadly truth of the trap they have found themselves in. Like blood circling a plug hole, it only has one destination. I love the shower sequence which feels like a time traveller has wandered into a old staid, black and white movie and shown you a fast paced, unrestrained vision of the future. I love the breathtaking pause when a car stops sinking in a swamp. The future is horrendous and lurid and disturbing! And I love that big reveal.
Everything about Psycho is wonderful, flawless… except Doctor Exposition from the school of yakety-yak at the close down. He can do one! I always start planning the rest of my day as he burbles through what we already know or suspected or feared. That one teeny tiny misstep aside and Psycho is amazing.
What caught my eye this time is how Hitch makes us feel complicit in both of his leads’ mania. For the first half of the film we are Marion Crane… we live her internal monologue, her paranoid POV. We ride her rollercoaster of sleazy workplace temptation, lapse of judgment, guilt, police harassment and eventual clarity. Hitch sympathetically makes us experience the weekend of an amateur embezzler, life on the run for a ordinary citizen… in the first person. Would we fare any better than Marion Crane? But then the shower turns on, we have a psychotic break… a schizophrenic shift. Suddenly we are Norman… a far less regular character… we have to dutifully dispose of bodies, evade snoops who are smarter than us and keep mother’s rotten secret… a secret that doesn’t bear acknowledging.
The iconic murder of Marion Crane isn’t just shocking for it implied violence. It is a pivotal moment where we swap criminal minds from the opportunistic and forgivable to the deviant and unpredictable. Hitch stabs us and slashes us and wraps us in a shower curtain, when we awake we have tagged out of being a normal person who has made one impulsive, foolish decision and we are now looking through the eyes of a mind we shouldn’t be able to fathom… but chillingly can. Psycho is a cruel work of empathy and identification. A masterpiece of terror as it makes us first victim, then accomplice to brutal, bloody murder.
“We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”
Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/