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Psycho (1960)

The Halloween Countdown (Day 5)

4 mins read

Psycho is available to rent or buy now

What can I say about Hitchcock’s groundbreaking masterpiece that has not been said hundreds of times before? Well, let me start with a simple statement, Psycho is one of the greatest horror films ever made, a cinematic ride of pure psychological terror that would define movie making for generations to come.

Hot on the heels of North by Northwest, Psycho contains all of Hitchcock’s trademark elements; the blonde woman, the Bernard Herrmann score, voyeurism and delicate themes of sex, power and position. However, his new motion picture would dispatch with the vibrant technicolour of North by Northwest and Vertigo in favour of stark black and white. This aesthetic choice would help Psycho skirt possible problems with censors, the blood of the famous shower scene absent of its ruby red colour. Here, Hitchcock’s primary focus was an exploration of human behaviour and psychological torment. His muse, a young serial killer who sits in the shadows of life surrounded by internal division and a desperate need for control.

Hitchcock’s film would break the mould by embracing several controversial and groundbreaking themes. But, by far the most audacious of these was Hitchcock’s blatant blurring of the boundaries between perpetrator and victim. In Psycho, the narrative and performances ensure the audience feel empathy and pity for the insecure Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). A young man, held prisoner by the ghostly commands of his dead mother and the restrictive and lonely life he leads. While at the same time, Hitchcock’s heroine Marion Crane is both a perpetrator and victim, twisting and flipping our perceptions of innocence and guilt before her sudden, brutal murder. Hitchcock joyously plays with audience expectations at every twist and turn; both characters, held hostage by the events surrounding them. Their secret and hidden desires; their downfall.  


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Throughout Hitchcock’s film, Norman screams for release from the grip of his mother. Yet is equally afraid to enter the real world without the security of her company. The result of this is a complex internal psychological battle, as his deceased mother clashes with his personal need for freedom. His sexuality, desires and social foundations, tied to a claustrophobic sense of enforced seclusion. In the hands of Anthony Perkins, Norman offers us a nuanced portrait of a childhood gone wrong, as two personalities struggle for dominance and freedom. Here, Hitchcock taps into our collective human fears, as the serial killer carries a gentle smile, not an evil glare. His damaged persona, demanding our pity and empathy, over and above our fear.

However, Hitchcock’s masterful manipulation didn’t stop when the cameras ceased to roll. Hitchcock also changed the cinema-going experience by insisting the public watched Psycho from start to finish without interruption. This meant no late-comers would be permitted entry to cinema theatres and ensured long cues outside movie palaces, as punters wondered why Psycho had to be seen from start to finish without annoying disruptions. But, in the end, it was the film itself that challenged our very notions of horror and cinema. After all, Psycho heralded the birth of the serial killer thriller and the modern slasher horror. It pushed the boundaries of perceived decency and tore up the rulebook. Therefore, Psycho is not only the foundation stone of contemporary horror; it’s the dawn of a new era in film.


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