In the beginning, the horror movie genre started off in a very basic way. They were all about vampires, monsters and supernatural things that don’t exist. But the 1960 horror classic “Psycho”, was one of the first to explore something real, the beast that lies within the mind of a killer. This is one of my favorite horror movies ever and it’s a challenge to review because there’s no way I can do it justice, but I’ll do my best. The films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who’s often regarded as one of the most influential directors of all time because he takes real facts, blends them with dark humor and psychological themes that reflect his own personal fears. He was a big admirer of the “Psycho” book series written by Robert Bloch and loosely based the film off of them. The psycho character in this film was inspired by real serial killer Ed Gein (who would also be the inspiration for the character Leatherface from the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Just like how Jaws got people scared to go swimming in the ocean, Psycho made people scared to take a shower. The shower scene is often regarded as one of the all time most disturbing and frightening moments in the history of cinema. It was shocking for its graphic violence, it’s sharp editing, the loud shrieks of violin’s, for being labeled the first slasher film but the real reason it was so effective was because no one expected Janet Leigh to get killed. At first, her character was established as the main character but then she was suddenly taken out of the picture. Before 1960, you never kill the lead character off this early in a film and especially when it’s a big named actress. Hitchcock wouldn’t allow anyone in the theater if they didn’t arrive on time because he didn’t want people showing up late wondering where Janet Leigh was. It’s one of the cleverest yet riskiest moves a director has ever made and it pays off so well. Now the shower scene might have been frightening for its time but the scene that really had me personally jumping out of my skin was when the inspector got murdered on the stairs, that was loud, sudden and unexpected.
Just a little fun fact, Janet Leigh’s performance in this film became a big inspiration on her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, so there’s no surprise why she chose Halloween as her first movie. There’s also a very artistic and effective use of sound and music. The score is one of the most recognizable soundtracks to a horror film. But there are also moments with no sound or music and that can especially submerses you into a really uncomfortable situation. You’re constantly expecting loud music to start up or for the murder to pop out of somewhere unexpectedly. To save money, Hitchcock filmed this movie in Black and White, even though color was available at the time. This may throw off a common audience but I think that it only adds the whole dark and moody tone of the film.
The best thing about this movie is the character study of our lead antagonist Norman Bates. Without spoiling too much, this is a character that always keeps you guessing, you can never tell if he’s an innocent victim or an ingenious mastermind, is there a good man deep inside or is he just a time bomb waiting to go off. All this mystery surrounding the character just builds and builds to a nail-biting climax. I dare not spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that just about every movie with a twist ending owes something to this film and to Anthony Perkins intense performance as Norman Bates. In the end where given a chilling back story from a psychiatrist about our tormented lead character which always leaves me with an eerie feeling that something like this could be happening out there in the world.
After this film’s success there were three more sequels and an atrocious Psycho remake in 1998 that copied the first film shot for shot. Just skip all of those and stick with the original because trust me when I say that Psycho is one of the all time greatest horror movies and worth giving a watch. It’s solidly constructed, there’s lots of crafty camera angles, a brilliant character study of a tormented mind and immortal for its contribution to the horror genre. I give Psycho a perfect 5 stars.