Revisited: Psycho

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Marion Crane and her boyfriend Sam Loomis meet for a secret romantic rendezvous during lunch hour at a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. They then talk about how they can barely afford to get married. Upon Marion’s return to work at a realtor’s office, a client comes in with $40,000 in cash to purchase a house for his daughter. The money is entrusted to Marion, who decides to steal it and skip town.

On the road, she pulls over to sleep and is awoken by a policeman who can tell something is wrong. The policeman lets her go, but upon arriving in another town, Marion pulls into a used car dealership and hastily exchanges her car for another one. Driving during a rainy night, Marion pulls up to the Bates Motel, a remote lodging that has recently lost business due to a diversion of the main highway. The proprietor, youthful but nervous Norman Bates, invites her to a light dinner in the parlor. Norman discloses that his mother is mentally ill, but he becomes irate and bristles when Marion suggests that she should be institutionalized. The conversation induces Marion to decide to return to Phoenix and return the stolen money. Marion later takes a shower in her room, during which a shadowy figure comes and stabs her to death. Norman bursts into the bathroom and discovers Marion’s dead body. He wraps the body in the shower curtain and cleans up the bathroom. He puts Marion’s body in the trunk of her car and sinks it in a nearby swamp.

In Phoenix, Marion’s sister Lila and boyfriend Sam Loomis are concerned about her disappearance. A detective named Arbogast confirms Marion is suspected of having stolen $40,000 from her employer. Arbogast eventually finds the Bates Motel, where Norman’s evasiveness and stammering arouse his suspicions. Arbogast later enters the Bates’ residence, looking for Norman’s mother. A figure emerges from her room and murders Arbogast.

Fearing something has happened to Arbogast, Sam and Lila go to the town of Fairvale and talk with the local sheriff. He is puzzled by the detective’s claim that he was planning to talk to Norman’s mother, stating that Mrs. Bates died years ago, along with her lover, in a murder-suicide. Norman, seen from above, carries his mother down to the cellar of their house as she verbally protests the arrangement.

Sam and Lila rent a room at the Bates Motel and search the cabin that Marion stayed in. Lila finds a scrap of paper with “$40,000” written on it while Sam notes that the bathtub has no shower curtain. Sam distracts Norman while Lila sneaks into the house, looking for Mrs. Bates. Norman subdues Sam and chases Lila. Seeing Norman approaching, Lila hides in the cellar and discovers Mrs. Bates sitting in a rocking chair. The chair rotates to reveal a desiccated corpse, the preserved body of Mrs. Bates. A figure enters the basement, wearing a dress and wig while wielding a large knife, revealing Norman to be the murderer all along. Sam enters and saves Lila.

After Norman’s arrest, a psychiatrist who interviewed Norman reveals that Norman had murdered his mother and her lover years ago, and later developed a split personality to erase the crime from his memory. At times, he is able to function as Norman, but other times the mother personality completely dominates him. Norman is now locked into his mother’s identity permanently. Mrs. Bates, in a voice-over, talks about how harmless she is, and how it was really Norman, not she, who committed the murders. The final scene shows Marion’s car being recovered from the swamp.

REVIEW:

With every Hitchcock film, I become more and more enamored and impressed with his work. Psycho is widely regarded as his most popular film. Modern audiences may remember it as being the subject of the Hitchcock biopic, Hitchcock. This is one of the films that automatically brought to mind when you mention classic horror and suspense.

What is this about?

When larcenous real estate clerk Marion Crane goes on the lam with a wad of cash and hopes of starting a new life, she ends up at the notorious Bates Motel, where twitchy manager Norman Bates cares for his housebound mother. The place seems quirky but fine until Marion decides to take a shower. Director Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-nominated shocker has been terrifying viewers for decades — and for good reason.

What did I like?

Suspense. I’ve never been a fan of how quickly the murder of a main character happens, but the suspense that Hitchcock manages to create with misdirection and mystery is why the man is widely regarded as a true genius in the genre. The audience can’t help but be dumbfounded by the circumstances regarded Janet Leigh’s character’s death and the connection with Norman Bates.

Score. Bernard Herrmann’s immortal score to this film is widely known, wouldn’t you say. Everyone knows the screeching violins, but it is the rest of the score and how it is used throughout the film to set the mood that impresses me, along with the masterful job Herrmann did of scoring. They always say music sets the mood. Well, on a certain version of this film I watched at one time, they had the option to watch without the music and it is quite the different experience.

Shower scene. If there is anything this film is known for, it may very well be the shower scene. Aside from the screeching violins, it could be best known for a naked Janet Leigh. Hitchcock got nearly every inch of her on camera, except a few parts that weren’t allowed back then, no matter how hard he tried. What captivates me about this scene is how effective it is without actually showing the murder. All we see is Leigh screaming, the silhouette of Norman’s mother giving a stabbing motion, and blood going down the drain. Somehow, though, this is infinitely more effective than the “horror” we endure these days in film. Not to mention, Leigh is more believable than today’s scream queens.

What didn’t I like?

Post-mortem. For me, it felt like the film lost its way a bit after Leigh’s murder and was just spinning its wheels a bit. That is until the investigation and climax involving Norman and his mother and even that didn’t come off as intriguing as it should have been. I hesitate to say that the picture peaked too quickly, but given the way it is paced, one is led to believe that. I wonder if the book plays out the same way.

Nuisance. If I have one complaint about classic cinema, it is that whenever something is slightly wrong, there is always the boyfriend/love interest who sticks his nose in everyone’s business, often time with a family member of one of the main characters. Well, the same thing happens here. Leigh’s boyfriend from the beginning of the film and her sister, played by John Gavin and Vera Miles, respectively, stop at nothing, even breaking an entering to find out what happened to her, rather than letting the police do their job.

Alfred Hitchcock was a genius and Psycho just proved it. With the perfect amount of suspense, terror, and a final moment of horror, there is no real reason for you not to see watch this cinematic masterpiece. If you are a fan of this genre, then this would be the perfect film for you to watch to see what a true master of the genre can accomplish. This is more than a high recommendation, but a must-see before you die film!

5 out of 5 stars

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5 Responses to “Revisited: Psycho”

  1. […] score for a Hitchcock film. This is perhaps one of his more effective scores, right up there with Psycho. It is said that the score mirrors the spiral motifs used in the film and its posters. Music really […]

  2. […] Along with parodying Psycho, Vertigo, and The Birds, this film makes reference to other works of Hitchcock’s. For […]

  3. […] comes to how scary a scene can be. The most notorious use of this is in Hitchcock films, especially Psycho. This film incorporates some of those same ideas, as I’m sure Kubrick and many directors […]

  4. […] how I am, his films usually take more than one viewing to get the actual opinion. I hated Psycho when I first saw it and now its one of my all-time faves. So, with that in mind, I say watch this […]

  5. […] Back in the day, though, the music was the thing that helped sell a lot of the films. Think about Psycho and how different that shower scene would be without the shockingly effective score of Bernard […]

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