In the past I’ve reviewed the film Psycho, for numerous film sites, even did a Q&A series of questions for the Horrornews site now the film hit its 60th anniversary in September, and still has a stellar impact on cinema fans, I had the opportunity to see it once more on the silver screen with others in attendance, and when it finished everyone clapped. This movie is without a doubt my favorite horror flick, it always captures my attention, and for those who don’t know, I am a student, scholar, and fan of Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, he is the true Master of Suspense, likely never to be replaced, he had the ability to toy with audiences worldwide winding their emotions to the brink, holding the building tension to the exact moment, for the meaningful payoff and ultimate rewards. When I have written the reviews in the past editors and owners of sites, would have me trim the content, however this time, there’s none of that, I will in fact touch on a few new aspects that I didn’t dwell on before, therefore those familiar with my previous work on this production, will have new treats to discover. Lastly, before starting this journey, this is the final time I’m reviewing this movie, unless for an book or documentary, until or better yet if the Horror Gods permitted it, that I reach the age of 87 – why, simply Psycho will turn 100-years-old, I’ll likely reveal a well-kept secret by then.
It still garnishes the attention of entertaining audiences and students both amateur and professional of the legendary Master of Suspense, and was his last black and white movie; a classic in the hearts of filmgoers, reviewers, cinema historians, and horror fans in general, while the elegance of his other thrillers may not be showcased as much as with Rear Window ; then panned (now highly acclaimed) Vertigo  and North By Northwest . Alfred wasn’t too fond of working with, however his first writer made the script highly dull, and with time dwindling he accepted the challenge; his personal assistant Peggy Robertson, who often called Alfred “Hitchy” suggested newcomer screenwriter of Joseph Stefano, and upon their meeting and knowing very little about the project needed to sell himself with the telling of the opening act, which secured him the job. The two would go on to write with Joseph having to create the motivation and reasoning for each of the characters’ actions, as the script progressed Hitchcock from time to time acted out the scenes in his office, as his mind worked out the angles.
Although without the book of the same name, by author Robert Bloch (which Hitchcock purchased the rights for $9,000 under a phony name and then all copies possible), and based around the true crimes of Ed Gein, this film likely would never would have itself on the screen. Joseph mixed in some facts versus fiction into the story, and of course needed to remove the beheading scene from the book. His movies in general are taught in film classes, and dissected numerous times over, through sociology and psychological courses, never relishing the grip on society while the slight elements might find themselves dated, the overall intent strikes through early in the movie and driven with his lasting skills. A trivia notes when this film screened in many cities in 2015 and again 2020, thanks to Fathom Events it included the special introduction from Hitchcock and then a wonderful introduction from Ben Mankiewicz highlighting the talents of the famed director. The film has since been included on multiple top five and 10 lists when dealing thrillers and horror films, noting it was Hitchcock’s first horror production, certainly not his last.
One must reflect why Hitchcock went astray from his classic thrillers and venture down the risky path of low-budget horror, he as an insider noticed the changing tides, and the crowds of William Castle productions House on Haunted Hill  and The Tingler , cheaply made and gimmick filled, he wanted to school them in proper technique of outclassing them. The studios wouldn’t back him, they wanted more spy thrillers, therefore Hitchcock deferred his normal salary, took ownership, mortgaged his home, used his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television crew. He created some space on Universal for a motel and the legendary Victorian home with a budget of $800,000 (which equals $6.4 million today). In addition, he borrowed the Universal owned 1957 Ford Custom 300 from the Cleaver family of Leave it to Beaver television series, for Marion to use, which audiences later called out as they viewed that series. A similar vehicle, a 1957 Ford Fairlance 500 used on the film Halloween H20  when Janet Leigh (as Norma) walks towards a brief music of Herrmann’s score from Psycho overplays during the scene, which also starred her real life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. The house can still be seen on tours and was even a few episodes of the Hardy Boys television shows and continues to live, its immortality cemented forever.
The plot is one everyone knows, a story of trying to achieve a better life in one filled of roadblocks and detours, Marion Crane (portrayed by Janet Leigh, in her first horror film) finds herself faced with a dilemma and steals a large sum of dollars from a client at her boss’ real estate office before escaping to paradise. While that is the common plot given from the point of view of some amateur filmmakers, misses the point of the overall depth of the film. The opening sequence, December 11, that occurs for the period of time a tad risqué, an unmarried couple in a hotel room, in various stages of undress, and the key note to Marion’s appearance, even in a black and white film, her undergarments are white and this foreshadows a tip-of-the-hand to the audience. We the viewers learn much about her and her love interest Sam, in brief frames of the film, this allows the film to capture the hearts of women, and encourage a romance for everyone to long for in a better life. However, she wants more in her life than a rendezvous in motel rooms, she craves a proper life. Once at the real estate office, where she works as a secretary a slime-ball of a customer (Frank Albertson) enters with her boss, flashing his cash about $40,000 (and with current inflation $315,820.27) and suggests if she Marion, is for sale too. In addition, he hints the money is undeclared revealing him as a cheat, and those familiar with many films of then those individuals never end in happiness, the suggestion of the money’s evil connections to hide from government and others taken advantage thereof. The trap set before them both, a spider’s web she steals the money for the man she loves, an impulse that soon destroys herself, this theme is a regularly used device in Hitchcock’s films, tested and well worth connection with the audience. Immediately one sees more complexities for the audience to embrace than a mere uninteresting one sentence about a masterpiece of filmmaking, complete in then fashion of indie-filming. Herein the next scenes show her undergarments are black in color, conveying two significant points, first her guilt of the crime, regardless of the intention, and also the subtle hint to Hitchcock’s religious Catholic upbringing, reveal the guilty admission to sin. A brief side note to viewers, as she was packing her suitcase in the background an indirect foreshadowing is shown in the form of ‘the shower’ and some note the color of her pocketbook is black, it was previously pristine white, the purity of herself now fully corrupt.
Everything appears fine, and yet soon enough the music upticks, the thrilling moments evolve, with the discovery of by her boss in chance moment filtered with confusion, who she told earlier that she felt ill and was going to the bank and then home, two lies catching her further in a trap in the web of life. Hitchcock misdirects to an uninformed audience with the concept of a chase film and thereby instilling briefest run-ins with the police with the darkest mirror sunglasses presenting the judgment, after some back and forth, and strange answers she’s free to leave it’s also the first time where we the audience become accessories in the crime. The audience shows eagerness for the officer to turn off and stop his pursuit that brief moment we feel for her fleeing a former life and her driving towards us, for safety. Then at the car dealership, it’s a unusual moment, she feels this will get further distance, however when the officer reappears, her inaptness of criminal intent shows exposure to all around her; thereby instead of showing innocence only leads to more guilt. Herein the first fractions, of her psyche surface, she went from stealing to spending it willful, in a pitiful attempt to hide herself. As she continues on her drive, a violent thunderstorm rains, upon her causing another detour from the heavens of righteous to deter her from lustful desires, and directs her to The Bates Motel and Norman. These elements, were to Hitchcock worrisome, the existence of his paranoia to law enforcement the power they wield, and then to nature’s strengths to place society well beneath a pecking order, later reference in The Birds . It is at this moment, the 1960s audiences still had no clue of what was coming to this beloved star, and more so the complex dualities presented on the screen including hints religious aspects.
The care and concern Hitchcock took with regard to Marion and Norman resemble a proud father, watching over his carefully chosen doves, the detail of their relationship the slow burn of the discussion in the parlor, a lesson for any screenwriter. The parlor appears as a nest in more ways, than one they both nestle in, for a meal with birds of prey watching over them, guarded and yet ready for attack. Herein, the audience learns of Norman, his odd hobby of taxidermy, and sympathy caring for mature women, Marion and his Mother. This all sets perfect execution of tone and mood for remainder of the film, even though shock and worries soon follow to what audience now accept as the M. Night Shyamalan big twist in the movie, first demonstrated by the master, and M. Night has stated he is a student of Hitchcock’s lessons. Few truly memorable scenes will continue to exude importance in this movie, though none finer than the “Shower Scene” a scene when first on storyboards and then in the moment, to the editing room, contained numerous individual clamors for the attention of who did what to grab the sensationalism of the scene. However, unlike modern horror films, the killing had surgical strike about itself, very conservative, and mainly implied to the horrors of the blade (14 times) and actions, no penetration, no savagery sexual device. This implied aspect repeated for viewers in numerous movies, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  infamous meat hook scene to Brian De Palma’s Scarface’s chainsaw scene, both legendary and equally impressive as they suggest the horror not showing. In fact, the shower scenes took place over a course of 6-days ending on December 23rd, and includes numerous angels (78 to be exact) and 52 editing cuts, from George Tomasini (who did many Hitchcock films), to initial film creating 45-seconds of tightening the tension and terror. While Janet Leigh did some of the scenes it was actually Playboy model Marli Renfro, who didn’t mind nudity, therefore Hitchcock could place anywhere with modesty issues, and for the close-up shots using the knife he held the knife as he the precise angle. One cannot omit the very important foley department (in this case of one of his television crew members filled in), as the director sat with his back to them, closed his eyes, listening intently they stab numerous melons, and chose a casaba melon as the sound for slashing into Marion’s body. Nevertheless, in Psycho, the reasoning lies in the censor board of then, just one of Hitchcock’s problems, the other toilet showing and flushing it, trivial now, but then infamous issues of morality. In one moment, the trick takes place, the audience pulls for Norman, a dutiful son, honoring his mother, and covering her misdeeds, trapped in his own web, the panic and yet well thought out clean up, leaves a few wondering has he done this before, the cover up to shifts blame. Herein, again, the psychological implications that Hitchcock strives to place perfectly into his movies, the misconstrued of stilted and dullness, all have precision place triggers for the audience to connect on a deeper level with and linger in their minds. He truly provides not just a visual painting of scenes rather involving the emotional state, to exist inside and out of society. The manipulation continues through the entire ghastly scene, including the disposal of monies and especially the dramatic pause of the vehicle sinking, as Norman expresses fear, we do too, and with success we, the audience accept it and cheer silently, we all become accessories to the crime, but willing to keep the secret. All of this works on our fears, guilt to never wanting to displease or upset ones mother, the old statement, and “Do you talk to your mother with that mouth?” reference cursing or anything expressing private explicit thoughts. Hitchcock knew the fears, the thoughts and the guilt we all held in hearts, he understood the complex characters in the movies and audience and treated each with respect. Hence, noting the skillful dance of pivot and thrust maneuvers when Arbogast (Martin Balsam) confronts and interrogates Norman, the entire scene becomes a study in dialogue building materials for screenwriters.
One must note the technical and terrific killing of the private investigator Arbogast in the falling down the stairs, the complexity of it, and brutality taken in first overhead shot, to close up of the final taking of his life, all similar to his film Saboteur . His cinematographer John L. Russell understood fully without question Alfred’s style, the concept of “My Camera” which meant it is in total control, it moves you move, one fluid motion, it sees what I want and hence the audience, and used a 50mm lens which would resemble the human vision reinforces the concept of voyeurism making the audience an unbeknownst part of film from the opening shot. Like all directors, they are the generals on set, everyone follows their commands, which extended to everyone signing NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) and back then there was no worry of pocket phones. The production beyond secretive the movie slated on the schedule entitled ‘Wimpy’ and absolutely no visitors permitted. Hitchcock’s personal office handled a hoax against media sources and casting agencies for the role Mrs. Bates but not referred to as Mother.
I feel it’s only appropriate to give some special time to discuss Mother, Norma Bates, the reason it goes to the lengths which Alfred did to protect her privacy and well-being, sometimes a director needs to go up and beyond the normal level to achieve that uniqueness for a special character and importance to a film. Her unique voice was actually a blending of multiple actresses’ voices which included Jeanette Nolan and then Anthony Perkins. Then to add to mystery of disguise for Mother, when Norman carries her to the basement, he actually was holding a smaller actress named Mitzi, which led to confusion for the audience. Finally, it is very true Perkins was not on set for the famous shower scene, stuntwoman Margo Epper played the Mother and for the Arbogast scene Actress Anne Dore portrayed Norma. In that last act we, the audience start learning more about Norman thanks to Lila Crane (Vera Miles (Psycho II ) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin), his character name has homages in two legendary slashers of the horror genre.
Psycho became the biggest risk for Hitchcock, nevertheless paid huge rewards aided by the music from the talented Bernard Herrmann (who worked with the master often and influence many composers later such as Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th ) and even heavily borrowed by Richard Band for Re-Animator ; the legendary cue for the sequences often dropped into film compositions as a homage. Hitchcock contested for a while not to included music during the killings, which later he changed his mind in the post-production during the editing sequences. However, the technique later became a staple in the slasher genre, which started to find an audience slowly, likely emerging with Black Christmas  but solidifying itself with John Carpenter’s Halloween .
This movie, still has an on-going heated debate what genre is Psycho, most believed a psychological thriller, and others suggest a murder-mystery (Crime-Drama) a tried and tested field for the master, others argue it is a horror movie. Take for example the film The Silence of the Lambs  a horror film which many fans agree, as it earned Oscars, especially with the lead character called Hannibal the Cannibal, though a psychological thriller holds true, once again, a more respectable footing. Both the influences continued, from Halloween  and a legendary character name Loomis to Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety  the impact lives on and on, for all. The horror and shocking factors tame to today’s high explicit carnage lusts of violence, gore, and sex, it stills provides tremendous detail in storytelling and suspense creations. Nevertheless, Psycho assisted in eroding the silly production codes of the moral majority of censors, especially 3-years later with director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast  as many considered the first splatter flick, rather than just slasher, which closely associates itself to Hitchcock, as previously mentioned.
The promotional grandstanding that the Hitchcock undertook in the beginning of the movie, carried a bit from his television series and served equally well by observing the talents of director and producer William Castle, and his exploitation thrillers and controlling the audience on a far less scale of financial wonderments. The movie Psycho, never shown to critics, making them purchase tickets, a frowning from many (resulting criticizing the film while presenting it with 5-stars), and then promptness to see the movie from the beginning, with no one admitted after it starts. This though went a tad deeper and actually covered the real reasoning for the movie in the first place, the box office rewards made the trades, showing that little horror films could achieve a wealth of rewards, and the ego of himself wanting to show he could it better than anyone else, likely gave motivation too. A battle with Paramount Studios, ended with them releasing the movie, after working on Universal Studios backlots, all under the heading Shamley Studios (which was 100% owned by Hitchcock), he served as the indie filmmaker with a little budget, and tiny crew from his television series going against the Gothics and Titans of the industry – winner – HITCHCOCK! Also, the killing off Leigh, never done before so early in a film, and yet it threw the audience into shock and terror, and later in horror history, the late great Wes Craven repeated it in Scream  this time the killing of Drew Barrymore.
Large discontent with today’s film students and critics of Psycho find dissatisfaction with a portion of the ending of the movie, and consider it silly and thoroughly out of place, involving the psychiatrist (Simon Oakland (The Night Stalker ). His explaining of the homosexual and transvestite remarks seem unorthodox and unimportant, is the reasoning most have about the scene. However, this charge is vastly incorrect, namely noting that the audience of the 1960s never used these terms in polite company let alone in private, and in fact the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from American Psychiatric Association, removed homosexuality from their references in 1973. Therefore, the defining to convey to the audiences of then the distinctions of this term and transvestite, not as social deviant behaviors and everyone like this is a villain, rather to plant the seeds of doubt into them without preaching. Recalling once again the audience does not understand the psychological terms, that commonly used in CSI, SVU, and notably often in Criminal Minds episodes. Hence, the suggestion that the scene becomes absurd finds itself dismissed, as the offensive words in the film, and implied all everyone like this is a homicidal maniac, and rather in most cases far from it. Hitchcock successfully transcends, the error in thinking handed down from religious and cultural standings, not in the era, but future ones, and the movie carries on for all to see the master at work, in addition without the scene he knew the censors would of severely object to film’s release and could of barred it outright. Once again, the Master of Suspense toyed with taboos of society and pushed envelope of cinema by exploring and exposing the devilish suppressed side, which exists in all people, especially those exhibited an innocent outlook. Those taboos fitted many into Marion’s character shown in a bed with her lover so what you ask, it was 1960 the scene implies premarital sex and a woman shown in her undergarment, strictly forbidden topic, although Peeping Tom  from director Michael Powel touched first one these aspects the movie found itself dismiss by all, until recently.
Allow, now, the time to develop deeper into certain aspects of the film ranging from a common misconception to significant of paintings and then onward of numerous dualities shown and much more that you may have originally thought. I first covered the major misconception about this film, in a review of 78/52  documentary about the famous shower scene that Psycho was to be a television episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s Present show or that he became discourage with the production and was resolved for it become a television movie. Here below is portion of this:
The distinguished editor Walter Murch had an extended interview made a statement I tend to heavily disagree with, it involves why make this movie in the first place. Walter states (and this is paraphrased) “…Hitchcock was looking for something different, wanted to pair down and curious more about television shooting than features…” Let’s take this in step, first in 1959 Hitchcock, released North By Northwest [NBN], which was adventure, mystery thriller with lots on action sequences, then Paramount studios approached him to do the first James Bond film Dr. No (1962), however his classic retort ‘I did it already’, hence referring to NBN, this is a very true statement watch both for the similarities. Walter is sadly slightly incorrect, as for the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran from 1955 to 1961, he loved the attention as guest host appearance in 268 episodes, while only directing 17 of them, a far cry that he was passionately pursuing for his directorial avenue.
In addition, another critical piece of evidence, overlooked, the production of Psycho cost $800,000 all from Alfred, the most expensive television episodes at the time were Bonanza (1959) at a cost of $110,000 it is insane to think that any filmmaker at that time would spend in excess of nearly $700k (including $9,000 for book rights) for a 25-minute episode which was the average length of one of his episodes. Therefore, Hitchcock always intended to make his version of a low-budget horror film, except highly layering it with psychological terrors and themes. As for the aspiring filmmakers that seek for their opening to a movie to have significance, well so did Hitchcock, he originally intended for something more grander, than a mere meandering shot rather he sought a sweeping ariel shot via a helicopter, however this movie was made before the smaller camera units and their mounting equipment; showing once more the forethought that he possessed. Therefore, he choose the slow drawn in shot, but relied on blank walls, blackened windows, suggesting a myriad of scenarios being played out in rooms or offices, the silence of them hiding them, before creeping into that special open window.
Let’s now journey into duality shown repeatedly throughout the film, as Alfred used both mirrors and shadows to show the characters layers, as well as the fractured personalities and their tortured realities, while he harkened back to his Jesuit teachings what each person possesses good and evil traits and the justification to use both against or in support of society’s objections to supposedly behavior one deemed morally or immoral. For example, with regard to the opening hotel scene the mirror is off camera while she hasn’t broken any crimes, the immoral behavior of romance gives the intent she can view herself in a mirror. After, stealing the money she refrains from a direct look into a mirror this is because she can’t admit to herself the crimes she committed. The actual first time she forced into a viewing her reflection she can’t as it is absent in the police officer’s glasses, this suggests the religious aspect of her lost soul in a black void, thereby she’ll continue her deceit as the authority cannot stop her.
When Marion enters the lobby of the Bates Motel for the first time, before her physical body appears in the frame she’ll actually share the place in the mirror with Norman, showing once again that something not quite right about each of them, to the unusualness of the angle and how they are reflected.
This extends once again with Norman, his reflection in the window, very subtle hinting there’s two of him, the outward shy dutiful son, the other as the silent deadlier force.
Ironically, in the lobby scene the word “Okay” (shown below) is all that can be seen of the newspaper at the top, some overlook this subtle reference in the black bag represents more than the mere crime rather the deeper meaning of the greed for money and the lust to escape one reality for the fantasy of another, hence the duality of two worlds. However, it transcends further the religious implications, the devil stating “okay” I welcome and permit your indulgences, without judgment, since implied earlier that money was obtain originally unethical means. As one recalls later in the film, a private investigator is hired to find her, and retrieve the money without police involvement, why – because that leads to more questions about crisp $100 bills tallying $40k.
There is, also significances with paintings that influence Stefano and Hitchcock to those used in the movie, first the infamous Bates house, a classic Victorian this comes from Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad  which shows a lonely place, now bypass by the modernization of progress. Hooper’s painting shown below notes an awkward building, an appearance something not quite right, which is how Joseph referred to it to the Norman character, and hence Perkins immediately connects his sheltered character’s mundane existence.
This also extends to Bates’ home, left behind thanks to the progress of a speedier route via an interstate highway. Now to note the other more important painting, the one in the parlor and the importance of the hole in the wall, the painting is by the Dutch painter Frans van Mieris, the Elder “Susanna and the Elders” and depicts the story from the old Testament Book of Daniel, I shall narrow down the scope the tale. It involved a young wife named Susanna who bathed naked in her garden, unaware that two men secretly spied on her, they threaten her with the crime of adultery if she doesn’t submit to them. She refuses and they follow through with their promise but she’s saved by saved by the prophet Daniel. One needs to note before Norman removes that painting, pauses to look back in the direction of the house as to imply “what would mother say” (see the picture below) peeks at Marion just like the men did he secretly engages in his own lust versus love moment, but needs to suppress his feelings because this action is a betrayal of mother and can lead her inflict violence, he needs to be the dutiful and proper son.
However, Hitchcock uses our curiosity against our own morals recalling again its 1960 a voyeur is consider a diseased mind, but as Norman looks intently we also want to see too, and thereby grants a point of view shot, that doesn’t allow us any other place to look but straight ahead a subjective shot.
The film’s influence grew to the unthinkable and with results mirroring it, a poorly accepted remake of Psycho  and while the movie spawned four sequels, a television movie and then a television series. The music used within the film, spawn many others from composer and musician Joachim Horsley with his Psycho Theme on Piano and Knives to countless psychobilly bands. Hitchcock’ 1960 classic film holds a special place the genre, as landmark movie, where the audiences grew up and change their viewing habits of innocent to more boldness and mature development.
Thank you, Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock for all your lessons that cinematic fans of all genres will continue to watch and thoroughly enjoy, and later expanded in his horrifically follow-up classic film Frenzy , another slasher movie. I think I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention that the shower scene harkens back to Rear Window, spoiler warning, the husband killed his wife and suggestively used a bathtub/shower to his wife’s body much smaller hence easier carry it out of an apartment without most suspecting. The praise for this movie continues in leaps and bounds, and in 1992 the National Film Preservation board inducted this movie into its ranks, which joins The Birds , North By Northwest , Vertigo , and Rear Window . Then in 2020 a special boxset of his films was released and included for the first time ever an uncut version of Psycho, his 47th movie, ah a slashing good time.
- The picture you MUST see from the beginning… Or not at all!… For no one will be seated after the start of… Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest shocker Psycho.
- An Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece.
- The Essential Alfred Hitchcock.
- A new- and altogether different- screen excitement!!!
- No One … BUT NO ONE … Will Be Admitted To The Theatre After The Start Of Each Performance Of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho
- It Is _Required_ That You See Psycho From The Very Beginning!
- Don’t give away the ending – it’s the only one we have!
- The screen’s master of suspense moves his camera into the icy blackness of the unexplained!
- Electrifying shocker! (Australia Release)
- The master of suspense moves his cameras into the icy blackness of the unexplored! (window card)
- Exploring the blackness of the subconscious man!
- It’s Back! (1965 reissue)
- See the version TV didn’t dare show! (1968 re-release)
This below picture is a prized possession of my private collection, the original posters are far too expensive for me to own, it is a herald (small advertisement found at movie theaters about upcoming releases); an extremely rare authentic piece of cinematic history.
IMDb Rating: 8.4/10
Baron’s Rating: 10/10