Psycho (1960): 55th Anniversary – Influences Transcending Time – By Baron Craze


Fathom Events celebrated with Turner Classic Movie Alfred Hitchcock’s famed film Psycho (1960), enjoying its 55th Anniversary returning to the big screen to entertain audiences and students both amateur and professional of the legendary master of suspense, with the event taking place on two days in various cities nationwide. The production included the special introduction from Hitchcock and then a wonderful introduction from Ben Mankiewicz highlighting the talents of the famed director, informing all that his work not only of this movie, but his other transcend the time and years to claim his work never turned stilted or dull, rather forward thinking into the conscious of the viewers. This movie, is a classic in the hearts of filmgoers, reviewers, cinema historians, and horror fans in general, while the elegance of thrillers may not be showcase as was with Rear Window; North By Northwest and then panned (now highly acclaimed) Vertigo, the master presented a detail film with the assistance and screenwriter of Joseph Stefano.  Although without the book of the same name, by author Robert Bloch, and based around the true crimes of Ed Gein, this film likely never finds itself on the screen. His movies in general are talent in film classes, and dissected numerous times over, through sociology and psychological courses, never relinquishing the grip on the society while the slight elements might find themselves dated, the overall intents strikes through early in the movie and driven with his lasting skills.

The plot is one everyone knows, a story of trying to achieve a better life in one filled of roadblocks and detours, Marion Crane (portrayed by Janet Leigh, in her first horror film) finds herself faced with a dilemma and steals a large sum of dollars from a client at her boss’ real estate office before escaping to paradise. While that is the common plot given from the point of view of some amateur filmmakers, misses the point of the overall depth of the film. The opening sequence that occurs for the period of time a tad risqué, an unmarried couple in a hotel room, in various stages of undress, and the key note to Marion’s appearance, even in a black and white film, here undergarments are white and this foreshadows a tip-of-the-hand to the audience. We the viewers learn much about her and love interest Sam, in sheer brief frames of the film. This allows the film to capture the hearts of women, and encourage a romance for everyone to long for in a better life. Once at the real estate office, a slime-ball of a customer (Frank Albertson) enters with her boss, flashing his cash about $40,000 (and with current inflation $315,820.27) and suggests if she Marion, is for sale too. In addition, he hints the money is undeclared revealing him as a cheat, and those familiar with many films of then those individuals never end in happiness, the suggestion of the money’s evil connections to hide from government and others taken advantage thereof. The trap set before them both, a spider’s web she steals the money for the man she loves, an impulse that soon destroys herself, this theme a regularly used device in Hitchcock’s films, tested and well worth connection with the audience. Immediately one sees more complexities for the audience to embrace than a mere uninteresting one sentence about a masterpiece of filmmaking, complete in then fashion of indie-filming. Herein the next scenes show her undergarments are black in color, conveying two significant points, first her guilt of the crime, regardless of the intention, and also the subtle hint to Hitchcock’s religious Catholic upbringing, reveal the guilty the admission to sin. Everything appears fine, and yet soon enough the music upticks, the thrilling moments evolve, with the discovery of by her boss in chance moment filtered with confusion, who she told she earlier that she felt ill and was going to the bank and then home, two lies catching her further in a trap in the web of life. Hitchcock misdirects to an uninformed audience with the concept of chase film and thereby instilling briefest run-ins with the police and the darkest mirror sunglasses presenting the judgment and providing her inaptness of criminal intent by leaving a wide long path of curious behaviors.  Then a violent thunderstorm raining down upon her, causing another detour from the heavens of righteous to deter her from in lustful desires, and pointing her to The Bates Motel and Norman Bates. These elements, were to Hitchcock worrisome, the existence of his paranoia to law enforcement the power they wield, and then to nature’s strengths to place society well beneath a pecking order, later reference in The Birds (1963).

The care and concern Hitchcock took with regard to Marion and Norman resemble a proud father, watching over his carefully chosen doves, the detail of their relationship the slow burn of the discussion in the parlor, a lesson for any screenwriter. The parlor appears as a nest in more ways, than one they both nestle in, for a meal with birds of prey watching over them, guarded and yet ready for attack. Herein, the audience learns of Norman, his odd hobby of taxidermy, and sympathy caring for mature women, Marion and his Mother. This all sets perfect execution of tone and mood for remainder of the film, even though shock and worries soon follow to what audience now accept as the M. Night Shyamalan big twist in the movie, first demonstrated by the master, and M. Night has stated he is a student of Hitchcock’s lessons. Few truly memorable scenes will continue to exude importance in this movie, though none finer than the “Shower Scene” a scene when first on storyboards and then in the moment, to the editing room, contained numerous individual clamors for the attention of who did what to grab the sensationalism of the scene. However, unlike the modern horror films, the killing had surgical strike about itself, very conservative, and mainly implied to the horrors of the blade and actions, no penetration, no savagery sexual device. This implied aspect repeated for viewers in numerous movies, from The Texas Chain Saw (1974) infamous meat hook scene to Brian De Palma’s Scarface’s chainsaw scene, both legendary and equally impressive as they suggest the horror not showing. Nevertheless, in Psycho, the reasoning lies in the censor board of then, just one of Hitchcock’s problems, the other toilet showing and flushing it, trivial now, but then infamous issues of morality. In one moment, the trick takes place, the audience pulls for Norman, a dutiful son, honoring his mother, and covering her misdeeds, trap in his own web, the panic and yet well thought our clean up, leaves a few wondering has he done this before, the cover up to shift blame. Herein, again, the psychological implications that Hitchcock strives to place perfectly into his movies, the misconstrued of stilted and dullness, all have precision place triggers for the audience to connect on a deeper level with and linger in their minds. He truly provides not just a visual painting of scenes rather involving the emotional state, to exist inside and out in society.  The manipulation continues through the entire ghastly scene, including the disposal of monies and especially the dramatic pause of the vehicle sinking, as Norman express fear, we do too, and with success we, the audience  accept it and cheer silently. All of this works on our fears, guilt to never wanting to displease or upset ones mother, the old statement, and “Do you talk to your mother with that mouth?” reference cursing or anything expressing private explicit thoughts. Hitchcock knew the fears, the thoughts and the guilt we all held in hearts, he understood the complex characters in the movies and audience and treated each with respect. One must note the technical and terrific killing of the private investigator Arbogast (Martin Balsam) in the falling down the stairs, the complexity of it, and brutality taken in first overhead shot, to close up of the final taking of his life. This repeated slashing on film and screen started to find an audience, but this was the suspense master, Hitchcock, nevertheless the risks taken paid huge rewards aided by the music from the talented Bernard Herrman.

Hitchcock enjoyed on a personal level pushing the censors and therein the audiences of 1960s with taboos, with suggestions of premarital sex of Sam and Marion in the bed, the exploration of the innocent individuals with dark sides of evil and secret wanton desires became his playground to explore and we the audience always followed. Though one aspect of this movie, still has heated debate what genre is Psycho, most believed a psychological thriller, and others suggest a murder-mystery (Crime-Drama) a tried and tested field for the master. Others argue it is a horror movie, with reference to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) a horror film which many fans agree, as it earned Oscars, especially with the lead character called Hannibal the Cannibal, though a psychological thriller holds true, once again, a more respectable footing. Both the influences continued, from Halloween (1978) and a legendary character name Loomis to Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety the impact lives on and on, for all. The horror and shocking factors tame to today’s high explicit carnage lusts of violence, gore and sex, it stills provides tremendous detail in storytelling and suspense creations.

The promotional grandstanding that the Hitchcock undertook in the beginning of the movie, carried a bit from his television series and serves equally well by observing the talents of William Castle, and his exploitation thrillers and controlling the audience on a far less scale of financial wonderments. The movie Psycho, never show to critics, making them purchase tickets, a frowning from many, and then promptness to see the movie from the beginning, with no one admitted after it starts. This, though, went a tad deeper and actually covered the real reasoning for the movie in the first place, the box office rewards made the trades, show the little horror films could achieve a wealth of rewards, and the ego of himself wanting to show he could it better than anyone else, likely gave motivation too. A battle with Paramount Studios, ended with them releasing the movie, and Hitchcock serving as the indie filmmaker with a little budget, and tiny crew going against the Goliaths and Titans of the industry – winner – HITCHCOCK! Also, the killing off Leigh, never done before so early in a film, and yet it threw the audience into shock and terror, and later in horror history, the late great Wes Craven repeated it in Scream (1996) this time the killing of Drew Barrymore.

Large malcontent with today’s film students and critics of Psycho and namely Hitchcock is the ending of the movie, and consider the portion of the silly and thoroughly out of place, involving the psychiatrist (Simon Oakland). His explaining of the homosexual and transvestite remarks seem unorthodox and unimportant, is the reasoning most have about the scene. However this charge is vastly incorrect, namely noting that the audience of the 1960s never used these terms in polite company let alone in private, and in fact the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from American Psychiatric Association, removed homosexuality from their references in 1973. Therefore, the defining to convey to the audiences of then the distinctions of this term and transvestite, not as social deviant behaviors and everyone like this is a villain, rather to plant the seeds of doubt into them without preaching. Recalling once again the audience does not understand the psychological terms, that commonly used in CSI, SVU, and notably often in Criminal Minds episodes.  Hence, the suggestion that the scene becomes absurd finds itself dismissed, as the offensive words in the film, and implied all everyone like this is a homicidal maniac, and rather in most cases far from it. Hitchcock successfully transcends, the error in thinking handed down from religious and cultural standings, not in the era, but future ones, and the movie carries on for all to see the master at work.

The film’s influence grew to the unthinkable and with results mirroring it, a poorly accepted remake of Psycho (1998) and while the movie spawned four sequels, a television movie and then short lived television series. Hitchcock’ 1960 classic film holds a special place the genre, as landmark, where the audiences grew up and changed their viewing habits of innocent to more boldness and mature development. Thank you, Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock for all your lessons that cinematic fans of all genres will continue to watch and thoroughly enjoy.