Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Psycho - Film Review

Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film 'Psycho' is a film carrying the weight of a dominant titan of cinematic history, something it has achieved through the means of dynamic shots, a riveting plot line and ultimately being in the hands of the more than capable Hitchcock. The film follows that of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a woman who finds herself fleeing her home town after succumbing to the urge to steal forty thousand dollars of her bosses money. After a short while on the road Marion finds herself at the Bates Motel, a place with little evidence of life with the exception of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), The owner of the motel who carries the odd past time of taxidermy and his mother who keeps her apparently deranged self sheltered in the home behind the motel. The audience very quickly learns that Bates isn't just the slightly timid being he once seemed when he asked Marion to join him for dinner, due to the way he proceeds to fill the conversation with talk of taxidermy and his families malevolent history, this all taking place in Bate's parlour, a lounge littered with the results of his passion for stuffing dead birds. Soon after this uncomfortable meeting, the viewer is subject to one of the most famous murder scenes of all time, the notorious bathroom stabbing, a moment in cinema that a long with inspiring countless parodies and replicas, delivered a masterclass in sound design by showing us the malice a violin could deliver. After word of Marions mysterious disappearance, the private investigator Arbogast (Martin Balsman) is hired with the responsibility of finding Marion. Like in any modern day horror/thriller, the enthusiastic Arbogast got more than he bargained for and came to the same bloody end as Marion, however this death gives the audience more detail, it seems that it was in fact a female that delivered the fatal blow, something that remained a some what of a mystery up until now. With the disappearance of the Arbogast now added to the list of mysteries, a determined boyfriend and sister are thrown into the picture, hell bent on solving these cases. After hearing rumours of Bates mother being somehow involved, they show keen interest in visiting the old house behind the motel where she supposedly resides, a place which clearly had an impact on the design of Texas chainsaw massacre's humble abode that features in the 1974 film. Continuing with the theme of shock and twists,  the audience is granted one last step to trip up on as it is ultimately revealed that the mother is long since deceased, and it has in fact been Bates who has been carrying out these murders, dressed in a not so flattering dress and wig, all whilst being under the mental grip of his schizophrenic alias of Mrs Bates, his mother.

Fig 1: Psycho, Movie Poster

It becomes very apparent why Psycho has gone on to receive the name for itself that it started to gain back in 1960 after audiences were forced to bare witness to the manner in which the plot is thrown in polar opposite directions. Hitchcock's creation is flooded with plot points and twists ,guaranteed to shock audiences, a trait that has continued to give aspiring film makers a mark to look up to when designing their own films and ensuring that Psycho has always felt years and years ahead of its time. Others have stated that "It was the most shocking film its original audience members had ever seen" (Ebert, 1998), further solidifying the idea that audiences never could have guessed what was coming, especially in a time when films were extremely different. The very idea of this much of a complex storyline being existent in this era is enough to permit the film to need a psychiatrist character in the closing moments of the production armed with a detailed explanation of the madness the audience has just witnessed.

Psycho is also a masterclass in symbolic shots, it seems that more often that not, Hitchcock is giving the audience a vast amount of information in the form of symbolism. One of the most blatant examples of this is when Marion is first arriving to the Bates Motel in her new car and the rain is pouring down hindering her vision of the road ahead. Upon viewing this scene it really does feel as if Hitchcock is almost shining a neon light in your face reading, 'this characters future is unclear'. This has often been thought of as "Hitchcock's mischievous genius for audience manipulation" (Monahan, 2015). After keeping this idea in mind in becomes more and more apparent in every scene, with Norman Bates and Marion;s dinner date taking place in a parlour filled with stuffed birds, namely an owl mid flight, it becomes apparent that Hitchcock is trying to suggest this idea of a predator and prey present within the scene. Compare these shots with the scene in which boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) and sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) decide to go and investigate the disappearances and you really do seem to see a pattern forming. The conversation these two characters have which leads to their personal investigation takes place in a hardware store, a place littered with tools and equipment designed to aid a physical objective, something that the two prying characters certainly continue to carry out. With all these examples in mind, the audience does leave the film with a desire to re watch, keen to patrol every scene for more suggestive symbolism, ultimately proving that not only does each shot mean something in Hitchcock's work, but sometimes it's more obvious than you would assume.

Fig 2: Psycho, Screenshot

Along with these aspects of Psycho all leading you down the hall of fame, the sound and production design in the film is second to none. With the task of creating a mood for so many different scenes that carry such different meanings, you would think that some areas are let down or given less attention, when in fact it seems that each note of music or corner of a room has meticulously been pondered over, with the intention of creating a very rounded and complete story. From the violent violin thrashing present in the murder sequences to the array of different patterns which have been engineered to dress the motel rooms designed to create an aura of unrest, it seems that no aspect of the film was crafted without first being given an extremely generous amount of thought and consideration. 
Fig 3: Psycho, Screenshot

It seems as if Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film, Psycho will deservedly reside as a classic no matter what time era it is viewed in. With master classes in both sound design, production design and story telling, Hitchcock truly has given cinema a huge gift, something that generations upon generations of aspiring film makers will have to thank him for. With descriptions to its name that suggest it is "A landmark in film history as well as a monument of cinephilia" (Weber, 2010) one cannot argue that Hitchcock's masterpiece really has left a permanent impression on the world of film. It feels as if Psycho has shown an audience what story telling should feel like, Norman Bates may well of been a psycho, but Alfred Hitchcock truly was the genius of the piece.


Bill, Weber, 2010, Psycho, http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/psycho , Accessed on: 19/01/16

Ebert, Roger, 1998, Psycho, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-psycho-1960 , Accessed on: 19/01/16

Mark, Mathew, 2015,  Psycho, Review, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11025424/Psycho-review.html , Accessed on: 19/01/16

Illustration List

Fig 1: Movie Poster, Psycho, https://uk.movieposter.com/poster/MPW-74748/Psycho.html , Accessed on: 19/01/16

Fig 2: Screenshot, Psycho, http://www.mr-movie.com/psycho-movie.html , Accessed on: 19/01/16

Fig 3: Screenshot, Psycho, http://www.sterow.com/?p=175#.Vp6YE8srHmI , Accessed on: 19/01/16



  1. Hi Lewis,

    You did one mistake in you Bibliography and Illustration on your Accessed date you put 18 is Monday for 19 is Tuesday.

  2. Sounds like you enjoyed this film, Lewis :) Great review!