This review is part of Film Police’s Hitchcock Appreciation month. There’s always great work going on at that site so please head on over and check it out some of the other posts here!
The curtains finally drew back, the lights dimmed, and I sat there having never seen Psycho (or indeed any Hitchcock film) before. It’s fair to say that I expected to be disappointed, that this film would ultimately not live up to its hype, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I shouldn’t have paid out cash to come along to this re-release of a film that I knew next to nothing about. I was only aware of the fact that there was a shower scene, a knife, and some manic sounding violins – other than that I knew nothing, and that includes all of the twists and turns that run through this film. I feel the need now to stress that I’m recounting a memory from quite a while ago, it was at the beginning of my transition from casual film watcher, to the cinephile that I am now. This was a shift sparked primarily by two films; Psycho, and Pulp Fiction.
Of course once the film actually started I was introduced to Saul Bass’s title sequence; a simplistic design of bars cutting back and forth across the screen, disrupting and halving the text as they do so. It’s an intelligent way of underlining the film’s theme without resorting to information overload, or by being too abstract. However what really affected me here was the score played over the sequence; it is full of malice and threat, and the two combined cut straight to my gut, it in itself is unsettling and primal. It became on the spot my favourite title sequence of all time, and threw my preconceptions of the film aside. I was then made pretty much clueless as to what Psycho would throw at me, and now looking back I count myself as being incredibly lucky to have been in that highly unusual position.
When talking about Psycho it’s criminal not to acknowledge Hitchcock’s direction, and his ability to truly sense an audience’s expectations and the way in which to subvert them dramatically, and yet keep the audience hooked and tied into the film. It’s a hard shot to call, but if I were to tentatively name the film which demonstrates his control and expertise at their best, as a director and a storyteller, Psycho would be the film I would choose. He is a master of his craft here, and it’s fantastic to watch.
Of course a review of Psycho has to also comment on Anthony Perkins. Everybody involved in the film gives a good performance, but he takes the bar set by the others and raises it so incredibly high. He transforms Norman Bates into a deeply complex character with some of the finest acting I think I have ever seen. His subtle nuances tell so very much, without ever truly telling us all that much at all. It’s a performance which gets better with every re-watch, and it is deservedly showered with praise.
The one and only criticism I have of the film is its ending. The way events play out are excellent, and the final couple of scenes are truly chilling, but we are subjected to an overly long and tedious explanatory section beforehand, and it’s unnecessary. It’s not enough to stop me giving this film a perfect score, but it’s vaguely irritating when we just want to keep going with the film’s tension and pace until the final frame.
Still though, Psycho left a lasting impression on me which truly shaped the course of my life. It may sound overly dramatic, but when the lights went up in that cinema I was set on a course to discover film in a whole new way; looking up classics, watching world cinema, familiarising myself with celebrated directors – just simply broadening my understanding of a medium which Psycho was largely responsible for me falling in love with. Endless words have been written on this film to the point where it felt meaningless to sit down and write my own thoughts, but hopefully, if nothing else, I have communicated something of my passion for this film, and just how much it means to me.