Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has long been heralded as one of the best pieces of cinema history, and after finally watching it for myself, I can plainly see why. Due to some astounding acting, haunting soundtrack, and a keen sense of scene direction, Hitchcock created one of the finest, and scariest, ‘horror’ movies ever, and it’s barely aged a day.
The Bates Motel is a small place off the side of the highway, mostly forgotten. Its owners, Norman Bates and his mother, live in a large house just up the hill from their quaint motel with only each other for company. But what happens when two, mentally unstable people are confined together for years and years? Apparently nothing good.
By keeping most of this twisted mother and son relationship under wraps, Hitchcock allows the viewer to fill in the holes with their own idea as to what has become of Norman, and while it does leave many questions unanswered, it’s all a part of the film’s ingenuity.
In a time where most directors feel the need to cram every ounce of information down people’s throat, it’s refreshing to watch a movie so unique that it really doesn’t care what you think of it, instead opting to merely supply the framework for the viewer’s opinion and letting them fill in the details.
From the minute he walks on-screen, you just know there’s something not quite right about Norman Bates. He’s quirky, and even caring to an extent, but there’s something about him that just sends a creepy chill down your spine. Anthony Perkins gives a truly astounding performance here, and let me tell you, I’m not sure I’ve seen a finer actor in any classic movie.
He’s equal parts charming and unsettling, and seeing the way he stumbles over his words, or tries to cover up a dark lie, is incredibly realistic and even scary. Norman is a man at war with himself (literally), and Perkins does such a stand-up job portraying how truly disturbed this young man is that you can’t help but be enthralled, and terrified, by this character.
In fact, every character here gives a great performance. From the minor to the major, every actor in this film gives it their all and there really isn’t a single weak link among the cast. Jane Leigh gives a relatable and sympathetic tone to a woman who steals forty-thousand dollars from her boss, and while she is only present for the first half of the film, she leaves such a mark on the story that she never truly leaves your mind.
Even her sister Lila and boyfriend Sam, played by Vera Miles and John Gavin respectively, give a great portrayal of two people looking for answers. While not as developed as they could be, these two do a really good job of giving the viewer someone to root for; and in a story filled with dark, disturbing people, it’s a welcome addition.
But really, this is Norman Bates’ show all the way, and even when the story slows down, it’s his chilling character that keeps you interested. There’s a reason Psycho has been renowned for so many years, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t primarily because of this single character.
And if Norman isn’t the reason for Psycho’s fame, then the only valid substitution would be the plot twists. While the basic storyline is simple, it consistently keeps you guessing, and thanks to a shocking turn of events just before the halfway point, you will be unable to shake the chilling feelings that something very bad is just around the next corner.
For a movie that’s over fifty-years old, there’s not much about Psycho that really shows its age. While the violence is brutal, it’s done mostly off-screen, and outside of a few cheesy shots, Hitchcock did an amazing job filming this movie to last the test of time. Even the soundtrack is fantastic, giving every scene the desired amount of creepy and keeping that uneasy feeling alive long after the violence has passed.
The only real complaint I have in regards to the way way Psycho was filmed is that a lot of the movie takes place in the dark. I’m not talking about the black-and-white visuals (which are great), but rather that a majority of the more important scenes takes place in dark, making it occasionally difficult to see what’s happening. Maybe this was a purposeful choice on Hitchcock’s part, but either way, it did irritate me a bit.
It’s true that I would’ve appreciated more of a true ‘climax’, but what it lacks in flashiness, it makes up for in shock value. Even after numerous twists and turns, the film’s final, resounding twist will shock you and ingrain itself in your mind for a long, long time. And that uneasy feeling that occupied your gut for the entire film, it’s definitely not going anywhere anytime soon.
Hitchcock truly has crafted a masterpiece of cinema with Psycho. It’s a timeless, forever haunting experience that every movie buff should watch. While it’s not perfect, it is brilliant, and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally see it. If you have any doubts about Psycho, cast them aside, pop a big bowl of popcorn, and just let the story unfold itself for you. It really is worth it.