Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Kelechi of Confessions From A Geek Mind. He also did Singin’ In The Rain. Thanks for the reviews, Kelechi! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Psycho, IMDB rank 29 out of 250…
There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.
Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB Review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.
IMDB Top 250 Guest Review – Psycho (1960)
If you’ve noticed the tagline on my blog banner then you can probably tell where I borrowed it!
Yes the words “we all go a little geek sometimes” is a play on words from Norman Bates’s famous line from Psycho and honestly, Psycho is one of my favourite horror movies.
Psycho tells the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), an office worker who is fed up with the way life has treated her. She regularly meets up with her lover Sam (John Gavin) during her lunch breaks and would love to move forward with him. However there is a catch. Sam is a divorcee and has to pay alimony money. He cannot afford to move on and provide a decent way of living for Marion. In an opportunistic move to start a new life, Marion decides to steal $40,000 from her employer who entrusted her to pay into the bank. On the run as a thief she decides to get out of town and head to California where Sam is located. After a long drive she pulls into The Bates Motel, which is managed by a quiet young man called Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his controlling mother. As the hours tick by, Marion suddenly becomes a first hand witness to Norman’s deep dark secret.
“I think I must have one of those faces you can’t help believing.” – Norman Bates
To start off, I guess you need to ask is why Psycho has lasted over the years. Why is it considered Hitchcock’s greatest film and why is it one of the best horror films ever?
Modern horror films rely on gore to surprise the audience, using endless clichés that has been repeated a thousand times before. They almost become comedic because of this exposure. Psycho differs purely because it is (pardon the phrase) a psychological approach to the horror genre.
Psycho doesn’t rely on a creature/monster/a guy with some deformity or mask who lusts for revenge on the people around him. On the surface, Norman Bates is just an ordinary, everyday man. He has that innocent and charming face, an all American type hero that would happily help you with anything (which is how Anthony Perkins got the part). He’s unsuspecting. Norman Bates is that friend you knew from school, a work colleague or that person you bumped into at a shop. In essence, these key attributes play an essential and powerful role in the ending and ultimate reveal of Norman’s secret.
What separates Norman from the sane folk in the world is his mental psychology. Norman is an expert in duality (trying very hard not to spoil this!) His life is completely dominated by his mother in every aspect yet plays the dutiful son responsible for her well being. At times he reacts fearfully or angrily based on what his mother would think or behave. He can be defensive about his mother because the outside world doesn’t understand their relationship. When Marion turns up at the Motel, psychological jealously ensues with Norman being attracted by Marion and his mother being very disapproving. In the extremity of it all with its steady build-up of clues and uncertainty, it eventually leads to shocking and murderous intentions as demonstrated in the famous shower scene where Marion Crane is brutally stabbed to death by Norman’s mother.
Psycho illustrates within each frame of film how dangerous, twisted and scary the human condition can be. You can never truly know what someone is thinking (unless you’re a psychic). By making this point it’s central theme, it makes the audience uneasy, questioning and self-doubting. Without you realising it, it creates an aura of unpredictability in the human behaviour that Norman Bates (with his poster boy charm) embodies. His devilish smile at the end of the film is a great example of that distorted duality which he accepts and embraces.
“Oh, we can see each other. We can even have dinner but respectably in my house with my mother’s picture on the mantel and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.” – Marion Crane
In reality, Psycho is two stories for the price of one. What often gets remembered and talked about is the second half because of how disturbing it is. However, it is the first half of the film that importantly sets the second half of the movie in motion.
In some parallel universe, Marion Crane would never have met Norman Bates. She would have kept on driving and probably made it to California with her lover, $40,000 richer as well.
Marion (like Norman) goes through a psychological change but of a different kind. Her backstory is not heavily dwelled on. She’s not perfect but she is a decent woman seeking to better her frustrated life. Sensing the perfect opportunity to change her fortunes, she becomes a thief, stealing money from her employment. It’s clearly her first offence – she acts nervously and cautiously around a car salesman and a policeman, desperately hoping not to get caught. When she does feel she’s out of the woods, she begins to smile, enjoying the thrill and a clear satisfaction that her plan is coming to fruition.
It is only when she turns up at Bates Motel that her euphoria rapidly changes.
Whether it’s female intuition or just a natural conscious within her, her small talk with Norman Bates becomes revealing. She begins to notice the strangeness behind the false façade of his personality – his mother, taxidermy as a hobby, twelve rooms with twelve vacancies etc. You could probably hint at Marion beginning to feel a little uncomfortable and it is through this self-doubting exchange that she develops a conscience. She begins re-evaluating her decision, calculating how much she spent from the stolen money. She may have flushed the calculations down the toilet but it was her way of recognising and apologising for her mistake. She then takes a shower to “wash away” her sins.
In the end, despite the change of heart she still gets punished – stabbed to death by mother.
Some could argue that Marion got her comeuppance. If she didn’t steal the money she wouldn’t have found herself in a vulnerable position. But then again – did she really deserve that? Was her crime fiendishly bad in comparison to what Norman Bates was doing?
This build-up is crucial to how the second act of the film plays out. Marion (just like Norman) is an everyday person – a beautiful and attractive woman who made a mistake. We quell our thoughts of criminality by our own sense of morality and conscience (unless you’re playing Grand Theft Auto) but Marion decides to act on them. Her sudden and dramatic death after she tried to correct a wrong comes out of the blue. The shower scene highlighted how exposed Marion was, powerless and defenceless to stop the assault. In Bernard Herrmann’s dramatic score, each sharp-pitched string note represented the sound of the knife sinking deeper and deeper into Marion’s skin, prolonging the agony the longer it went on. It wouldn’t have the same memorable impact if the entire scene was silent, something that Hitchcock originally intended. The rest of the film takes a dramatic and sinister tone as the audience slowly begins to uncover the dark undertones of Norman’s personality, with Sam and Marion’s sister leading the enquiry.
Janet Leigh was a popular actress in her heyday so to see her killed off halfway through a film was a bold move. Usually when a star headlines a film, they stick through to the end. Again this provides further evidence of Hitchcock’s mantra with Psycho – no one is truly safe.
The two stories are beautifully woven together. At first they appear random but the criminal undertones and characteristics are present with Marion and Norman. Unfortunately for Marion, she met someone far more devious and dangerous than herself.
“There’s an old saying, “First customer of the day is always the trouble!”” – California Charlie
Another cool benefit to Hitchcock’s directorial work on Psycho is the low budget feel of the movie. It’s a cinema release yet feels like a TV special. Everything about Psycho feels intimate, drawing the audience closer to the story and the clues. Filming in black and white made Psycho visually engaging. Colour would have been distracting; black and white maintained the mystery, hiding the truth in plain sight and keeping character motivations ambiguous. It was also a clear nod to Hitchcock’s favourite film at that time – Les Diaboliques (1955). Psycho represents Hitchcock at his best, utilising his skills and knowledge from his TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and bringing them to the big screen.
Hitchcock also created hype with Psycho aiming to create illusion and surprise. Audience members were refused entry to the cinema to see the film if they turned up late. It’s essentially the director punishing you for your time-keeping skills but also giving you a fair opportunity to watch his film without guessing or questioning the context by watching it as it was intended – from A to B. Even the original 1960 trailer ran over six minutes which was completely unheard of as Hitchcock wanders through the set teasing the plot like a crime scene detective.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho will always be fondly remembered as one of the best horror films because the film exploits the psychological fear within it. The events that occur in Psycho are believable and real and could happen to anyone. That fear is scarier if you knew that madness was happening on your doorstep instead of some grotesque monster suspiciously lurking around the neighbourhood. It’s a fear we choose not to entertain too much as it’s easier to believe in supernatural characters that defy logic such as Freddy Kruger or Pennywise the clown.
Nevertheless, those characters had an inspiration and Norman Bates leads the way for that realistic portrayal of fear.
As Norman would say – we all go a little mad sometimes.