Director: Alfred Hitchcock
In the hopes of living happily ever after with her “lover” (Gavin) whose married to another woman, pretty Marion Crane (Leigh) steals 40 big ones from her place of work, hops into her car and skips town. She eventually stops at the “Bates Motel”, due to bad weather conditions, and is fortunate enough to get acquainted with caretaker/shy boy, Norman Bates (Perkins). Let’s just say...things go down the drain after that!
"She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes..." -- Norman Bates
What can I say about Alfred Hitchcock’s genre landmark PSYCHO that hasn’t already been vomited to death since its initial release? Nice rack on that “mother”? Those birds weren’t embalmed right, let me show you? That shower needed some dire plumbing? That shrink’s monologue was way too freaking long winded (incidentally, that was my sole true peeve with the film). I’m at a loss…afraid to be redundant…but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
From a screenplay by Joseph Stefano based on a novel by Robert Bloch (which used true life serial killer Ed Gein’s shenanigans as inspiration), PSYCHO is, in my opinion, the "be all, end all" of genre flicks. One that broke mucho rules/ taboos in the 60’s and that still holds up like a crowbar stabbed in one’s chest today. And its hefty influence just won’t stop, even in 2004! How’s that cousin Arrow? Let’s play “PSYCHO WAS…” kids! PSYCHO WAS… indirectly responsible for the slew of slasher films we’ve been blessed with ever since (by inspiring Carpenter with "Halloween" which started the slash-slash epidemic). PSYCHO WAS… and still is, imitated endlessly to this day! PSYCHO WAS… ripped-off shamelessly over the years (can you spell DePalma)! PSYCHO WAS… the first film that showed a toilet flushing! PSYCHO WAS… the main reason why the “comfort zone” of taking showers changed forever… and trust me… I can go on and on and on. Props to renowned “poon hound” Alfred Hitchcock for saying screw “the system”, I’m making my movie, you go with it or you kiss my grits (no, he didn’t use those exact terms…or did he?). The lad displayed what many filmmakers are sorely lacking today: a set of “Rotweiler” sized-balls between his legs to go along with that talent!
Shot in glorious black and white (yes, color existed then but that’s the way Hitch wanted it), this movie toyed with me like a cat being slung a razor-laced string in his dumfounded face. I’ll always remember my first ever PSYCHO viewing (film school baby, film school…), man, was I taken for a loop-the-loop and then some! I had never seen a flick of its breed before and relished at how it slyly led me in one direction to then suddenly sucker-punch the crap out of me. And the flick wasn’t done with me yet! Not feeling fulfilled with the whooping it had given me thus far, it subsequently “bullied” me into following another, less “on paper” endearing character…one that I inexplicably found myself rooting for! How does that happen! I finally said “Thank You” when I was finished off with that uppercut-ending which sent me to the mat like the bamboozled twit that I was. Those final frames will always be tops in my book! Did I want a side order of onion rings with that yummy, blind beating? NO! I was out cold! The genius! The genius in pulling all of it off! WOW! A cinematic feat of this magnitude hasn’t been equaled to this day (Brian Bosworth’s “Stone Cold” aside, of course…).
It should be said that Stefano’s brilliantly written and structured screenplay wouldn’t have been half as effective without the proper casting. PSYCHO so delivered in that department. Janet Leigh excelled as the flawed heroine while Anthony Perkins never failed to blow my rubber clean off via his showcase as Norman Bates. The mix of vulnerability and menace (don’t confront the man) he exuded was hypnotizing. Nobody else on this planet (no, not even Vince Vaughn) could’ve given that part the nuances that Perkins put out. NOBODY! Add to all that Gourmet excellence, plentiful macabre imagery/atmosphere (that house on top of the hills still gives me the creeps), Hitchcock going “Banzai” with the astoundingly creative/manipulative shots and an exquisite score that painted the violence in our noggins when the film wasn’t showing it… and you get a superior and basically flawless chunk of fear cinema.
There’s a weighty reason as to why PSYCHO is still, to this day, blabbed about, dissected to death and referenced all over the padded room...it is that good…scratch that….it’s that GREAT of a movie! OH GOD MOTHER, BLOOD! BLOOD!
We get some slashings in the face and some stabbings. Not a gore-fest by today’s standards, but in the 60’s, this movie was called on its brutality. How things change…
Janet Leigh (Marion) offered a vulnerable and sympathetic performance that had me siding with her, even when taking into account her “dishonest” action. Anthony Perkins (Norman) was mesmerizing in his touching, unsettling, insecure and layered role. The dude redefined the term “uneasiness”, seeing as that’s how I often felt when Norman shared a scene with somebody. Perkins’ performance should be mounted on the Wall of Fame right next to Marlon Brando’s in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and James Dean’s in "East of Eden". Vera Miles (Lila) did what she had to do adequately while Martin Balsam (Arbogast) owned in his colorful show. John Gavin (Sam Loomis) was the weakest of the lot…think “old school” plastic acting.
T & A
We get Janet Leigh in her bras and panties. We also get glimpses of her body double’s (Margo Epper) flesh during the shower scene. Rumor has it that if you look real hard, you’ll see an inch of a breast somewhere. I have yet to catch it...my “Raiders of the Lost Tit” continues (Note: Get a life already!) The ladies get John Gavin shirtless.
Every element came together here to make this a visually arresting picture. Be it John L. Russell's bleakly gorgeous black and white cinematography (loved the use of shadows) or Hitchcock’s brilliant knack at leading us around like simpletons with his camera. Furthermore, Hitch’s skills shined through when it came to milking tension, double-dipping in dark mood and home-running a slew of revolutionary shots (loved the bumbling down the stairs bit). Lastly, the impeccable editing really brought it all home. Simply dazzling!
Bernard Herrmann's outstanding score has since become a staple in the world of cinema. It supported/amplified the goings-on and the intended tone masterfully.
The bottom line is…well, if you don’t know it by now…I have a Smurf doll I can sell ya (what does that mean?!?) PSYCHO is, in my eyes, as close to PERFECT as a feature can get. Its artistry never ceases to amaze me! Being that this was my umpteenth viewing of the film, I picked up on so many new things as to Hitchcock’s intent throughout. Actually, the man was blatantly putting it all out there for us to see either via bits of dialogue, crafty symbolism or through the manner in which he framed his leads. And that's why I get such immense pleasure in taking a shower with PSYCHO more than once...it becomes richer and richer after each rub-a-dub-dub. Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock for this still unmatched masterpiece! Now go rent the movie! “You have the guts, boy?”
Psycho was shot in 30 days for US$ 800,000.
It took seven days and more than 70 camera set ups to shoot the 45 second shower scene.
One of Hitchcock’s marketing ploys when the flick was released was to restrict anybody from entering the movie theatre once "Psycho" had started.
Anthony Perkins died of AIDS in 1992.
John Carpenter got the name “Sam Loomis” in Halloween from the “Sam Loomis” in PSYCHO.