Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Storytelling and Commission: Psycho - Review

Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock's movie made in 1960 which represents the horror/psycho genre. The screenplay was based on a novel by Robert Bloch with the same title.
Psycho is considered to be Hitchcock's most successful and famous production that opened many doors for future horror movie directors. It tells a story of a young woman – Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) – who steals money from her employer and flees from the town in order to start new life with her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin). On her way to California, a strong storm forces her to stop and spend the night in Bates Motel owned by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his mother.
From the beginning, Norman is surrounded by a weird aura and tension, even though he behaves like an average man, who feels lonely in the no longer visited motel. Hitchcock’s Psycho consists of very strong aspect which is the actors’ performance. Every character feels in theirs place, although Norman’s act has been considered as the most memorable one throughout years, as „Perkins does an uncanny job of establishing the complex character of Norman, in a performance that has become a landmark„ (Ebert, 1998). The tension that accompanies Bates becomes unbearable. The viewer feels that something is not right and that behind a good image of a loving and suffering son, Norman hides his horrendous crimes and sick thoughts.  Duality of this character and the fluent transitions between two sides of his mind, made it unforgettable. However, no matter how successful the role might have been, after Perkins’s performance in Psycho the actor couldn’t get rid of the mark the role left on him, even though he appeared in various productions.
Perkins’ performance is one of the most recognizable roles in the history of the cinema, though Psycho has something more to offer to the viewer than just actors and plot twists in Hitchcock’s style. What the movie does is clearly explained in Becker’s review as he states: „What Psycho does is it takes an audience right out of its “comfort zone” (Becker, 2012). Unexpected happens, expected never comes. The growing tension of the movie is created by single scenes and shots which announce upcoming events and crimes. One of the best-known scenes in the history of the cinema is the ‘shower scene’ which shows the dead of Marion, who throughout the whole movie up to this point, is being considered as the main character.
There are many theories and thesis around that single scene and this is not only due to Hitchcock’s expressive approach to it but also because of its hidden meaning. Moment before Marion’s being murdered she decides to return the stolen money. She feels guilty for the crime and showering might be considered as the way of starting over again, getting rid of the past.
To create the scene Hitchcock’s used 70 different camera angles and most of them are extreme close-ups. By using such technique the director wanted to transfer fear from the screen to the viewer’s mind, as it felt more personal to see the crime being committed from a small distance.
The ‘shower scene’ is not the only one that creates a strong tension and emotions by precise cuts in the footage. The whole movie consists of many Hitchcock’s tricks that might be unseen for the eye but they work unconsciously and make the audience wait for horror to happen.
With its unique style and many controversial theories involved, Hitchcock's  “Psycho should be seen at least three times by any discerning film-goer, the first time for the sheer terror of the experience...the second time for the macabre comedy inherent in the conception of the film; and the third for all the hidden meanings and symbols lurking beneath the surface...”  (Vera, 2010).
As Vera states in the quotation, the complex structure of the movie is exactly what makes it unforgettable and valuable for the cinematography. Back in 1960s. Psycho presented a fresh and uncommon approach to the genre, new ways of creating tension and understanding how important the connection between the audience and movie characters is. Another valuable aspect of the movie is the music composed by Bernard Herrmann which, just like the ‘shower scene’, became one of the most memorable elements of the cinema.
Psycho deserves to be called the legacy of the cinematography and Hitchcock’s best production. What makes it even more special is that it is a timeless production that shocks and generates different and strong feelings no matter how many times one watches it.


  1. Hey Sam,

    An engaging review - and your fluency and 'voice' is improving with every new sentence you write. I have a comment for you; in this review, you demonstrate your knowledge of those 'tricks' and use a quote to refer to the hidden meanings and symbols - but actually you don't investigate these - you assert their existence, as opposed to introduce, unpack and examine them. Perhaps you need to start thinking about saying 'more about less' - i.e. that you take a smaller component of the films you're watching and really, really scrutinise and examine them. You begin to do this when you suggest that Marion's shower is symbolic as well as literal, but it's exactly this kind of fascinating insight that would be further enriched by supporting evidence; i.e. that you find a quote that corroborates this idea of this scene in particular having symbolic importance. If you read over this review again, you'll see that there are a number of statements in it about technique, symbolism and meaning, but these statements float free of any specific examples or evidence. This gives your review a rather 'generalising' tone...

    okay - but just to reiterate; your written english is for the most part smooth and fluid, and you present your reviews with elegance. So - my advice; next time, use your reviews to focus on less, but seek to say more :) I look forward to JAWS with this in mind...

    1. Thank you, Phil! I am really happy to hear that my writing is improving :))

      I am definitely going to follow your advice! : )