Psycho is back in cinemas for a limited time from May 27th 2022.
What can I say about Hitchcock’s masterpiece that has not been said hundreds of times before? 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 help define movie making for generations.
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 delicately woven themes of sex, power and position. However, with Psycho, Hitchcock would dispense with the technicolour of North by Northwest and Vertigo in favour of stark black and white as he returned visually to his filmmaking roots. With Psycho, Hitchcock focused on exploring human behaviour, sex and psychological torment. His muse was a young, delicate killer who sits in the shadows of his own life, his mental state one of internal division, loneliness and a desperate need for control. Here Hitchcock’s film would break the mould of horror by embracing several controversial and groundbreaking themes, including a blurring of the boundaries between perpetrator and victim.
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In Psycho, both the narrative and performances would see the audience feel empathy, pity and even love for the insecure and damaged Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) – a young man held hostage by his dead mother. Meanwhile, the film’s heroine Marion Crane would skirt the no-mans-land between perpetrator and victim, with Hitchcock twisting our perceptions of innocence and guilt before suddenly and brutally dispatching his leading lady. Hitchcock joyously toys with audience expectations as both characters play with our emotions and attachment while being held hostage by the events surrounding them – their secret, hidden desires, their downfall.
Throughout Hitchcock’s film, Norman screams for release from his mother’s grip but is equally afraid to enter the real world without the security of her company. This is a complex psychological battle, as his deceased mother clashes with his personal need for freedom. Here Norman’s sexuality, desires and social foundations are tied to a claustrophobic sense of enforced seclusion, with Anthony Perkins giving us a nuanced portrait of a childhood gone wrong as two personalities struggle for dominance and freedom. Throughout Psycho, Hitchcock taps into our collective human fears of the serial killer who carries a gentle smile, not an evil glare, his damaged persona, demanding our pity and empathy over our fear.
Psycho (1960) © Paramount Pictures
However, Hitchcock’s masterful manipulation of the audience didn’t stop when the cameras ceased to roll. With Psycho, Hitchcock would also change the cinema-going experience by insisting the public watched Psycho from start to finish without interruption. This would mean there could be no late-comers at the local cinema, ensuring long cues outside picture palaces, as punters wondered why Psycho had to be seen from start to finish without disruption. But, in the end, it was the experience of watching Psycho that changed our notions of horror. After all, Psycho marked the birth of the serial killer thriller and the modern slasher while tearing up the horror rulebook. Therefore, Psycho is not just the foundation stone of contemporary horror; it’s the dawn of a new era.
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