Jul 12, 2013

[Movies] Psycho (1960)

Psyho is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous movies. And up until only recently, I had never actually seen it in full. Sure I had seen clips of the famous shower scene over and over again and I've bumped into the odd excerpt from the movie while channel surfing. But still I had never found the time to watch the movie completely from start to finish.

But after watching the movie Hitchcock, I found myself wanting to address the Alfred Hitchcock shaped hole in my life, one movie at a time. This journey began with Rope and now continues on with the infamous suspense thriller, Psycho.

Normally I don't do well with movies that are described to be shocking or containing horror elements. I just don't do well with attempts to scare me since admittedly I don't handle such content all that well. You can say that I scare easy or that I just don't have a full appreciation for getting scared - whatever. But I do my best to get past this side of me when the movie calls for it. And I already have a greater respect for Alfred Hitchcock even with the little I've seen of the man's cinematic works.

And this was certainly a great movie indeed.

Synopsis: Psycho is the 1960 suspense movie directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The movie had been somewhat based the 1959 Robert Bloch novel of the same name, which in turn had been loosely based on the crimes of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein. Joseph Stefano wrote the screenplay.

The movie begins with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her lover Sam (John Gavin) completing a little romantic tryst at some hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. They talk about their money issues just before Marion returns to work at a realtor's office. She's present when a customer decides to pay for a house using $40,000 in cash - and Marion is asked to deposit the money accordingly. But with the money in hand she decides to leave town and keep it for herself.

Marion does her best to drive steadily through the night and eventually ends up at the Bates Motel. The motel had fallen on hard times with most of its former traffic having been redirected of the main highway. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a young and clearly introverted man who has had little company apart from his mother. Norman ends up asking Marion if it's okay if the two of them spend a bit more time together given she's the first guest to come along in  a while. But of course there's more to the Motel than what is immediately apparent.

The movie does an amazing job of creating tension through narrative build up. The beginning of the movie is pretty much entirely focused on the character of Marion and her criminal act of theft and lying to the police. And admittedly I can't help but wonder how her story might have turned out had she not ended up at the now infamous Bates Motel.

 But the surprise twist (although not much of a surprise now) in the first third of movie completely throws things out of whack for the viewer. Then you are left following a completely different set of characters and wonder what why the heck we had been following Marion all this time. And this is not a bad thing at all - in fact it only heightens what makes the movie so peculiar and yet so interesting as well.

Apart from the value of the writing and the acting, the scoring of this movie represent a character in itself at times. The sharp, staccato notes during the shower scene have certainly traumatized a generation. But all throughout the movie there are these brilliant touches that keep the tension going and further enhancing the sense of building suspense. And just when you think that you can foresee how things are going to turn out, you'll find out that you're completely wrong.

The movie is brilliant in so many ways, I lose count of what overwhelmed me. There's the subtlety of the writing, the interesting and quite meaningful shots and camera angles used and even just the shift in Norman's character as the movie progresses. He reminded me a lot of a young Edward Norton in Primal Fear - it was quite the dramatic shift indeed.

Psycho is more than just a horror movie - this is a movie about the killer or the psycho himself. Everyone else is just window dressing. But how we go through this journey is ultimately what makes it so amazing. And I still feel the movie stands the test of time - a testament to Hitchcock's brilliance. The movie still rates a solid 5 narrative red herrings thrown our way out of a possible 5.

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