Thursday, 30 January 2014

Psycho (1960) Film Review

Fig 1: 'Psycho' (1960) poster
'Psycho' (1960) is an incredibly disturbing but remarkably memorable film by Alfred Hitchcock, it's main themes are of murder, psychological illness and sexual pleasure. It starts in the bedroom of a couple, suggestive of it beginning just after intercourse, and moves swiftly onto the female lead, Marion Crane played by Janet Leigh, running away with forty thousand dollars in cash. The journey to see here lover again is however cut short as she arrives at the Bate's Motel. It is then from this point on that the story centers around this motel just of the highway, with it becoming the scene of at least two deaths in the duration of the film and the scene of its great reveal.

The soundtrack, lack of colour and orchestrated silences in 'Psycho' bring greater depth and tension to the film, focusing on the audience's emotions and not their belief in its reality.

"The gravity and severity of devotion can twist a person’s mind into hideous convolutions. It is the severity of Psycho’s brutal score that emphasizes this point." (Mitchell 2011)

As highlighted by Mitchell above, the emotional impact of Bernard Hermann's soundtrack for 'Psycho', his screaming violins are perfect for heightening the tension and creepy ambiance of the film's plot as well as conveying the emotional spikes of the murder scenes. These in conjunction with the films black and white tones, which are used to nightmarish effect, give a supernatural quality to the Bates Motel and the looming house.
Fig 3: Bates Motel and Overlooking house.
This nightmarish quality of 'Psycho' is no where better presented than in its characters.

"it's still gripping and irrevocably gruesome fare played to perfection by a top notch cast" (Wood 2000)

The characters of 'Psycho' are complicated constructs playing to the incredibly frightening tune of Hitchcock. This is most obviously portrayed in the beginning of the film with Marion and Norman, the strange chemistry of the two characters is overshadowed by Hitchcock's sickening plot that controls these constructs like marionettes and pushes them further and further into his twisted plot. As Wood points out the "gripping and irrevocably gruesome fare" is "played to perfection by a top notch cast" but whether this is truly done by the cast themselves is questionable, as Hitchcock can be considered a master puppeteer. His unmatched ability, even today, to hold an audience almost forever on the peak of tension with his cruel, calculated but wholly immersive camera techniques. These camera techniques are used exclusively throughout the film to both portray and convey large amounts of character emotion, his use of Norman's POV when spying on Marion and Norman's mother rushing after the private detective Arbogast falling down the stairs are good examples of this. The top down shot just before Arbogast is murdered and watching Norman's mother's corpse spin around both break this establishment of immersion, instead possessing a more surreal feel to the action portrayed, although this in itself significantly raises the audiences tension; with a feeling akin to imprisonment inside one's own body, passively watching these horrible events unfold.
Fig 3: Norman Bates and Marion Crane in 'Psycho' (1960)
The sinister plot Hitchcock plunges his characters into has an invisible twist that the audience would never have expected.

"Analyzing our feelings, we realize we wanted that car to sink, as much as Norman did" (Ebert 1998)

The quotation above from Ebert points out this invisible twist. It is not a plot or story based twist but is in fact an emotional one, the audiences emotional connection to Norman Bates to be exact. This connection begins when Marion arrives at the Bates Motel, as we are introduced to Norman; a quiet, introvert that practices taxidermy. He is shown to be quite passive, suffering from a controlling mother and her dislike of other women. The audience finds themselves very settled with Norman, slightly uncomfortable with his strong feelings and protection of his insufferable mother, but able to understand this and empathise with him and his instinctual feelings. It is from this point on, after Marion's death, that the status of protagonist is transferred onto Norman and our relationship and emotional connection to the character changes; it is this change that brings what Ebert commented on to fruition, with the audience hoping for Norman and his 'mother' to get away with the crime. A feeling that isn't truly felt until the audience's breathe catches as the car stops sinking for a slight moment, and the relief that follows after it is submerged completely.

List of Illustrations

Fig 1:  'Psycho' (1960) poster [Poster] At:

Fig 2: Bates Motel and Overlooking house in 'Psycho' (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. [Film Still} America: Shamley Productions. At: (Accessed 30/01/2014)

Fig 3: Norman Bates and Marion Crane in 'Psycho' (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. [Film Still} America: Shamley Productions. At: (Accessed 21/01/2014)


Ebert, Roger (1998) At: [Online Review] (Accessed 30/01/2014)

Mitchell, Maria (2011) At: [Online Review] (Accessed 21/01/2014)

Wood, David (2000) At: [Online Review] (Accessed 21/01/2014)


  1. Hi Kyle,

    You have touched on some pertinent topics here; it would be worth digging a little deeper into some of them, I think. For example you say of Hitchcock, he uses 'cruel, calculated but wholly immersive camera techniques', but don't really go into any detail. It might have been worth discussing how he used the extreme close-ups, or the odd upwards shots to get the viewer right in there in the action.

    Just on a technical note, you don't need to have the date after every 'Psycho', just the first one really. If you were discussing it in relation to the remake, then the dates would be relevant, to distinguish which one you were talking about.