Psycho (1960 Theatrical Cut) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
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 manager Norman Bates cares for his housebound mother.
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Welcome to Knockout Horror and to day 26 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. We are checking out an absolute horror classic today with Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror masterpiece Psycho from 1960. Naturally, there isn’t much to be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said. I’ll try to keep things fairly brief but this is a perfect option for Halloween viewing.
The movie follows the story of a young woman, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who steals a significant sum of money from her boss. Arriving at the Bates’ motel while on her way to meet her lover. Marion meets the proprietor of the motel, the shy and awkward Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). After sharing a meal with Norman, Marion heads off to bed. Unaware that something is about to happen that will set off a sequence of terrifying events.
A Fantastic Story
It may seem strange for me to actually be writing the above description with some view to keeping it spoiler free. After all, this movie was released over 60 years ago and some of the scenes are among the most recognisable, and frequently parodied, in cinema history. But I still think there are a fair few people that haven’t actually watched Psycho.
In fact, my fiancee, herself a massive horror fan, hadn’t seen psycho all the way through. So the way the story actually plays out and some of the twists and turns came as a surprise to her. She knew the general outline of the movie but not knowing some of the plot elements and twists really added to her enjoyment. A testament to how great this film is, even today.
While it is unlikely that the majority of people will have the chance to watch Psycho unspoiled. Experiencing all the twists and turns that accompany it for the first time. It is one of the most compelling stories in horror history. It’s iconic antagonist and compelling cast of characters keep you engaged from the beginning right through to the end. It’s almost a tragedy that it has been copied and ripped off so many times. As it really robs people of the chance of enjoying it as it was intended.
1960’s Theatrical Cut in 4K
In something of a cool quirk of timing. We actually had the opportunity to check this movie out in the cinema just last night. I was always intending to review Psycho as part of this year’s 31 Days of Halloween feature as it is one of my all time horror favourites. But it just so happens that our local cinema were showing it as part of their October horror season.
Certain cinemas are currently running the original 1960 theatrical cut completely restored in 4K and it is magnificent. It is easy to forget that Psycho fell foul of censors back on its release so to see it looking beautifully sharp and as Hitchcock intended is fantastic. It was legitimately awesome to watch this movie on the big screen and I am constantly thankful for this trend of showing older movies in cinemas. I already have my fingers crossed for another showing of Muppet Christmas Carol in December or maybe even The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yeah I am pretty cheesy, I know.
The theatrical cut features the restoring of the removed 13 seconds of extra footage and is the absolute best way to watch the movie. Well, perhaps outside of hitting up a drive through cinema in a 1960’s drop top Cadillac with your best girl on a Saturday night, I suppose. The movie looks glorious, sharp, clear, and pops off the screen despite its black and white palette.
A Controversial Horror
Directed by the legendary, albeit controversial, director Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho was based on the 1959 Robert Block novel of the same name. Psycho represented something of a departure for Hitchcock from his previous movies. Due to a limited budget he decided to film the movie in black and white and he also used the film crew from his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series.
The, at the time, controversial themes presented something of a risk factor for Hitchcock. And their were murmurs of the movie glorifying violence and indulging in sexuality and murder. Something that seems somewhat amusing given the passage of time. But these were serious allegations in the 1960s as mainstream movies simply didn’t indulge in the presentation of characters with sadistic, murderous traits.
Critics Didn’t Like It
While it didn’t do the movie any harm in the long run. Critics jumped on the controversial subject matter. Attacking the movie and dismissing it as being, essentially, made for shock value. The violence and on screen murders were just too much for the sensitive movie reviewers of the 60s. A group far too concerned with the glorification of killing rather than the skill of a, then, world renowned director. They only decided to take another look at Psycho after it started to sell out at the box office and turn in serious cash.
It pays to remember just how fickle critics can be. Stanley Kauffmann, among others, was quick to pile on the movie in his review. Taking aim at the supposed plot holes and violence while the Observer’s Caroline Lejeune refers to the murders as being the most sickening in cinema history. Signing off the review lamenting not making it to the end due to Psycho being a beastly affair.
It should be noted that many English reviewers had their minds already made up about Psycho. Purely due to being inconvenienced with pre-set viewing times and the fact that Hitchcock was now an expatriate. To say these reviewers were left with egg on their face is something of an understatement. Luckily, time didn’t wait to prove them melodramatic with Psycho going on to become an immediate success in both countries.
The way Psycho presents the stories of its characters in almost individual segments is fascinating. What initially seems like the story of a desperate woman making some poor decisions. Eventually evolves into something much greater with a much larger cast and far more twists and turns. It is expertly done. The plot weaves and turns sending the viewer in unexpected directions while never letting its foot off the gas.
The pacing is tremendous with the movie never dragging its feet for a single second. Hitchcock grabs your attention and holds it for the entire run time. Warping and contorting the events surrounding our characters and opening up new threads seamlessly. Before you know it, the movie has almost hit its final stanza and you are wondering where the time went. The mark of a truly great horror.
Something that is deserving of particular note with Psycho, and with Hitchcock as a director. Is the way you care equally about each separate character’s story. You invest thoroughly in each and every scene. Every conversation and interaction is purposeful and important. There isn’t a second of wasted motion. Everything feels significant and every second of screen time is equally relevant. This is something that is incredibly difficult to achieve in cinema. The pacing and story telling is just so damn tight. Psycho is one of, if not the, best horror movies of all time.
A Slasher Prototype
In many ways, Psycho is one of the first slasher movies. I always refer to Black Christmas as being the proto-slasher. But it is impossible not to look at Psycho’s place in slasher history when thinking of the evolution of the genre. Slashers to follow would lampoon many of Psycho’s techniques and place a strong focus on the setup and execution of the murder set pieces. Something that can be directly attributed to this movie’s iconic shower scene.
The thing is, this movie was bucking the typical slasher trends way before they were set. Its antagonist isn’t a faceless killer or a shape hidden in the shadows. The killer here is well developed and has a strong backstory. They aren’t motiveless and they don’t kill for fun. Psycho established a lot of slasher traits for subsequent movies while also laying down the foundations for later horror with more developed and more fleshed out antagonists.
Acting is fantastic. Janet Leigh balances being completely likable with also being of legitimately questionable morals. With the character of Marion inspiring care in the viewer while also understanding why she did what she did. Leigh’s line delivery is perfect. But it is her subtle use of facial expressions that stand out. Consistently reflecting Marion’s conflicted emotions clearly. John Gavin oozes leading man charm as Marion’s lover Sam. putting across a genuinely memorable performance that is particularly enjoyable during his later interactions with Bates.
Vera Miles is excellent as Marion’s sister Lila. Demanding that the viewer care about her predicament and invest in her attempts to uncover the mystery of the Bates’ motel. It’s Andrew Perkins, however, that ultimately stands out. He is astonishingly great as Norman Bates. His mix of shy nervousness and sinister brooding is sublime. The way he effortlessly stutters while speaking and switches between timid and aggressive is incredible. It’s one of the best horror performances of all time, without question. It is in no small part down to Perkins’ pitch perfect performance that Bates became a horror icon.
Excellent Direction and an Iconic Score
Direction is, obviously, fantastic. This might not be Hitchcock’s magnum opus in a lot of people’s eyes. Often considered to be too much of a “popular” vote. But it is surely his most influential. Hitchcock sets up his shots here in a way to put you into the eyes of the characters. Many of the shots are first person and feature characters staring straight at the viewer. Others almost see us as the perpetrators of the crimes.
The viewer is drawn into the story being told and made to practically exist within the film’s world. It’s brilliant stuff and while it might look a little strange through a modern lens. It still works just so damn well. The heavy use of shadows is worthy of note and Marion’s rain soaked approach to the Bates motel is a shot I will love forever. So many of the shots are utterly iconic but it’s the subtlety of detail that deserves mention. Hitchcock obsessed over everything from the way the shower head sprayed water to the 60+ cuts in one 40 second shot to the colour of Marion’s underwear.
It’s impossible to talk about Psycho without bringing up Bernard Herrmann’s score. Psycho is iconic for so many reasons, Herrmann’s score being one of them. Everyone knows the opening piece and the staccato violin shriek that accompanies every knife strike has been used and used again in horror. I mentioned it briefly in our review of Carrie. Herrmann opted for a string orchestra due to the lower budget and it works beautifully. With the score acting as almost a guide for the tension.
Final Thoughts and Score
Psycho is one of the best horror movies of all time. It’s our first 5/5 rated movie and something which I would legitimately struggle to find significant criticism with. Sure, it’s older now and a lot of the subject matter has lost its sting. It may even feel a bit camp and cheesy to some. But it is just a brilliant movie that is insanely important in both the history of horror and cinema itself.
Trailer: Psycho (1960)
|Release Date:||22nd June 1960|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Drama|
|Movie Length:||109 Min|
|Starring:||Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh|
|Directed By:||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Written By:||Joseph Stefano, Robert Bloch|
|Produced By:||Alfred Hitchcock|