January 26, 2016

Cutting Edges: Psycho (1960) Review

Psycho (1960) Film Review
Figure 1: Movie Poster

Psycho is an American horror film from 1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This film is Hitchcocks most known piece of work, and is replicated and referred to in many pieces of film since its release in 1960. It is about a young woman, Marion Crane, who after being trusted to take $40,000 to a bank, steals it and goes on the run on her own, often being suspicious to charcters like policemen. After a while she ends up at Bates Motel which is run by Norman Bates who, unknown to her, has multiple personalities and kills her. The film all leads up to the ending, leaving you wondering throughout the film what is going on and what is happening, and who murdered her, up until the very end in an unnecessarily long and detailed explanation of what happened.
Many viewers are put off by the ending in which all is revealed, as it leaves no mystery whatsoever and it seems very over the top and drawn out. Many viewers would have liked to be left thinking about the film, but they left no room for that and it seems Hitchcock wanted everything tied up and nothing left undone. This may be because in 1960 there was no talking about mental illnesses, and audiences back then did need the long explanation of what multiple personalities meant, whereas audiences today have a vast knowledge of mental illness and could have easily predicted what was happening, due to more films like this being made and the story being repeated, more than likely inspired by this one.
In the beginning of the film we are led to believe that Marion is the main character and it will be her story we are exploring, but it soon becomes clear that she is just an introduction to Norman Bates as she is quickly killed early on in the film.
Figure 2: Film still

The camera in this film has a lot of techniques which Hitchcock is famous for. It has a lot of shot which show the characters face and then what the character is either thinking about or looking at, leaving no mystery in what the characters intentions or thoughts are. For example we see Marion rushing around her room and packing her bags, and every now and then we see Marion and then the envelope of money on the bed, and there is a back and forth between these shots throughout the scene, giving us the indication that Marion is feeling maybe guilty and at a conflict about what she is about to do. In this film it seems as if every shot serves a purpose, even though some may be a little too long, each shot gives us new information and new feelings about what is happening.

Figure 3: Film Still

The shower scene in which Marion dies is one of the most famous and the most effective slasher scene in film history. Hitchcock decided the film should be in black and white because he felt the audience would not want to see all the blood, and there is not much of it even in black and white, but it is not needed to portray what is going on in the scene. We never see the knife actually cut flesh either, but that is not needed as Bernard Herrmann’s infamous soundtrack is a substitute for what we are not seeing. It creates as much horror as seeing all the grisly parts would, and the audience is left cringing even though there is not much to be seen on screen.
This scene is made up entirely of many different shots all composed together to create an almost abstract piece of footage. The shots are jumpy and do not follow on from each other, but they create an atmosphere and a sense of what is happening in a frantic and panicky way, making the audience feel as if they are in Marions place, claustrophobic and scared.

Figure 4: Film Still

“Analyzing our feelings, we realize we wanted that car to sink, as much as Norman did. Before Sam Loomis reappears, teamed up with Marion's sister Lila (Vera Miles) to search for her, "Psycho" already has a new protagonist: Norman Bates. This is one of the most audacious substitutions in Hitchcock's long practice of leading and manipulating us.” (Roger Ebert 1998)
Ebert describes how we are feeling exactly how Hitchcock wants us to feel, as if he is directing us. We root for Norman in that scene, even though we see him acting suspiciously and he watches it sink, we want him to get away with it as much as he does, even though something is clearly not right with him. We sympathise with him because he is trying to protect his mother, or that’s what Hitchcock has told us to think by this point, and we want him to get away with it as we feel sorry for him.
Figure 5: Film Still

“She trades in her car for one with different plates, but at the dealership she's startled to see the same patrolman parked across the street, leaning against his squad car, arms folded, staring at her. Every first-time viewer believes this setup establishes a story line the movie will follow to the end.” (Roger Ebert, 1998)
This quote describes the deception of the plot purposely done by Hitchcock, leading us to believe that this is a story about Marion and her getting away with stealing the money. A lot of things are set up to make us believe this, like the ongoing story of the policeman who keeps getting involved in questioning her about what she is doing and why, and who follows her around until she arrives at Bates Motel. We do believe that this will be an occurring plot in the film, always wondering if Marion will be caught or not.
“The creatures are everywhere in Psycho, from the aerial shots, to Marion's surname, to the town where the action begins (Phoenix), to the hideous taxidermy looming on Norman's walls, and even his world-view. "I think that we're all in our private traps," says Norman”  (Mark Monohan, 2015)

Monohan describes the symbolism of the use of creatures in the film, which may subconsciously add to the feeling of uneasiness, like we are being watched, or in some unknown habitat, somewhere which we do not recognise and which does not belong to us. This may put the audience in Marions shoes, as she is doing something so out of the ordinary for her and driving over the country after committing a crime, and she ends up in the unfamiliar territory in Bates Motel. 

Ebert, R. (1998). Psycho Movie Review & Film Summary (1960) | Roger Ebert. [online] Rogerebert.com. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-psycho-1960 [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Monahan, M. (2015). Psycho, review. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11025424/Psycho-review.html [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Figure 1: Movies2watch.co, (2016). [online] Available at: http://www.movies2watch.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/03-psycho-screen.jpg [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Figure 2: Newnownext.com, (2016). [online] Available at: http://www.newnownext.com/wp-content/uploads/backlot/2013/10/psycho-anthony-perkins-as-norman-bates.jpg [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Figure 3: Requitedjournal.com, (2016). [online] Available at: http://requitedjournal.com/files/gimgs/143_02-psycho-2.jpg [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Figure 4: Therabbitnewspaper.com, (2016). [online] Available at: http://therabbitnewspaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/psycho_film.jpg [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].
Figure 5: Upload.wikimedia.org, (2016). [online] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b9/Psycho_(1960).jpg [Accessed 26 Jan. 2016].

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