MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Horror Thriller/ Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Frank Albertson, Pat Hitchcock, Vaughn Taylor, Lurene Tuttle, John Anderson, Mort Mills; Voices of: Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, Jeanette Nolan/ Runtime: 109 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by asking you the following question movie lovers: How exactly does one write a review about a film that is over 60-years old, but still just as beloved by both the casual movie goer and the film reviewer to the point that 99.9% of the people I know have always been quick to shower (pun intended) this film with all the praise that they can possibly muster? Well, despite not really being sure if this review will provide this truly iconic film the justice that it has always warranted, and if you will permit me dear reader then I should very much like to try and take a stab at it (pun also intended). Thus with all of that being said I think it is safe to start this review off by stating the following: has there ever truly been a film quite like Psycho in terms not only of just significance to both the worlds of film and pop culture, but just plain excellence period? I mean not only is this the film that for many a film reviewer and/or historian ushered in the modern age of horror cinema and for many a casual movie goer the reason they look at their showers with an eye of caution, but this was also proof that any kind of film, in the right hands, could be excellently made for audiences the world over to enjoy. Suffice it to say then that with top-notch work from a truly phenomenal cast, and terrific work from behind the camera courtesy of both film helmer extraordinaire Alfred Hitchcock and his crew with special regard to Bernard Hermann and the film’s now-iconic score, this is one iconic nightmare that although it will chill you to the core is one that I promise you will want to revisit time and time again….even if it makes you start looking at your shower just a little bit differently than before.
The plot, or rather the amount I choose to tell you, is as follows: Psycho starts its riveting narrative off by introducing to a young woman residing in the city of Phoenix by the name of Marion Crane. Miss Crane, we are quickly able to perceive is a woman with a good head on her shoulders and who is generally both a good person and, incidentally, a good employee at her place of established work. However for all the positivity that Miss Crane brings to the world, she does have what could perhaps be seen as a tiny little wrinkle in her otherwise straightened, pressed, and folded world. That of course being that for some time now, at least the film would have us believe, Miss Crane has been secretly involved with a divorcee by the name of Sam Loomis who owns a hardware store in nearby Fairvale. Yet while Sam wants to take things to the next level, Marion is not so sure due to the fact that Sam both is up to his eyeballs in debt to keep his business afloat and because he still has to regularly send his ex-wife alimony checks. To that end, we see our intrepid heroine decide to take matters into her own hands and proceed to make off with about 40k in cash that she is supposed to drop off at the bank for her boss. Yet while she thinks she has just achieved what many in the larceny field of industry would refer to as “a clean getaway”, that mysterious woman of the universe that is Lady Fate has other plans. Plans that will not only eventually come to involve Sam, Marion’s headstrong sister Lila, a relaxed yet suspicious private detective by the name of Arbogast, and a rundown motel off the main road which is operated by a young seemingly kind yet also quite meek and enigmatic man by the name of Norman Bates and his mysterious mother, but also place you headfirst into a pitch-black mystery the likes of which cinema had never seen before, but by the time it is resolved is one that you, I can assure you dear reader, will never ever forget….
Now I think it should be said that, from a technical perspective, this film is an absolute marvel to say nothing of definitive proof that movie magic can and does exist. Indeed Hitch was a true master helmsman and this film shows that quite well through not only his camera work which is both extremely well done but subtly allows the viewer to feel like they are not watching a movie about some truly terrifying events, but instead are actually there in the situations with these characters as they go through this horrific tale. On top of that, we also that even though a lot of films were being made in color, Hitchcock making this film in black white was a truly genius move towards this feeling more like a slice of real life rather than a fictionalized piece of cinematic pie. Of course I would also be a terrible reviewer if I didn’t even take a moment in this section to pay tribute to the riveting and highly effective score brought to the film by composing genius Bernard Herrmann. Indeed not only is it chilling in all the best ways, but Herrmann’s score really does a great job at making you feel the unease, anxiety, and terror felt by all the characters at different parts of the film and I would even go so far as to say this film would only work half as well as it does if that was not the score being utilized. Finally it’s also worth pointing out that, very much like Spielberg would do with Jaws and Carpenter would do with Halloween respectively, Hitchcock decides to make the ingenious directing choice of showing us nowhere as much as you might think you see. Indeed make no mistake: Psycho is not a bloody film by any means, but everyone I have talked to say the shower scene is one of the bloodiest scenes that they have ever seen. Why? Because the power of the imagination is infinitely more horrific than anything the film ever shows us. Thus by leaving a lot of what we see open to our imagination, Hitch manages to make this slice of cinematic pie one that is not just chilling to the bone; rather it makes it the stuff that only a true nightmare can be made of.
Now in addition to the positives I just mentioned about the work done behind the camera in the paragraph above, I feel it should also be said that this film would be nowhere near the success it’s been to say nothing of the beloved landmark entry in the pop culture it’s managed to become if it were not for the truly top-flight cast brought together by Hitchcock to bring this truly riveting and thrilling nightmare to life. This of course starts with Anthony Perkins in the most iconic role of his career Norman Bates and as you may or may not have heard he is downright fantastic. Indeed the thing about this role is that, even if you know the twist, you still find yourself feeling sorry for him. I mean the film does present him in the most sympathetic way possible in that he really is a genuinely nice, amiable enough albeit shy and quiet guy who just so happens to enjoy keeping to himself whilst also being literally pecked to death by his overbearing mother. Yet the moment the twist is revealed it literally makes you take everything about this character and all that you witnessed from his point of view and really throws you for a serious loop because at first it’s hard to fathom. Yet when you really stop to think about it dear reader that’s when you get the chills because you realize that these elements that you have come to learn and immediately abhore about this guy were always there; the film just did a great job at masking them as effectively as possible with only a few hints here and there thrown in for the eagle eyed out there to really notice. In addition, this film also features wonderful performances from Vera Miles who brings a delightfully dogged determination to her role of Lila Crane, John Gavin who brings a cynical yet heartfelt passion and inquisitiveness to Sam Loomis, and Martin Balsam who does absolute wonders in the pivotal role of the seemingly nonchalant yet observant and quite intelligent private detective Milton Arbogast. Of course you will notice I haven’t said much about Janet Leigh’s performance in this, and no I haven’t forgotten her in the slightest. Rather I feel that while she does terrific work in the role of Marion Crane, her role in this is one that the less said about, the better. A philosophy I have chosen to operate with incidentally because then you can go into this film the way Hitchcock wanted those who had never seen this film before to go into it. All I will say for sure is that hers is an absolute scream of a role, and easily one of the defining parts of her already iconic to begin with career. Suffice it to say then that everyone involved in this from those I have mentioned to all the wonderful players I didn’t manage to do a remarkable job at appreciating Hitch’s vision and helping to bring this vivid nightmare to life.
All in all despite everything I have already written I feel what I said at the very beginning of this review must be stated here once again: what really can be said about this masterpiece of the world of cinema that hasn’t already been said before? Indeed is this film iconic? To put it mildly. Does it still hold up 6+ decades after its initial release all the way back in the long gone year known as 1960? Oh lord yes. Is it one of the finest films that the master of suspense film helmer that was Sir Alfred Hitchcock ever made? Honestly that’s a bit tough for me to say, but that’s also because I consider all his films to be masterpieces in their own right. Is the cast phenomenal? Down to the bit players and even then top-flight as to be expected for a film being made by the legendry film helmer that Hitch was and still is to this very day. Is it still thrilling? In every single way that the master intended and then some. Suffice it to say then that for those of you who have somehow, inexplicably, and against any and all odds never gotten around to seeing this truly iconic slice of cinematic pie then that is a situation you need to rectify as soon as possible and PDQ because what you are missing out on isn’t just a “movie”. Rather it is also one of the most iconic films ever made and a huge reason that the horror and thriller genres are as successful as they have been for generations of movie lovers just like you and me. Yes many slices of cinematic pie in both of those genres truly have come and gone in the time before and since, but at the end of the day there is and always will be only one Psycho and that is truly all that matters. Just please don’t ask me how it all ends movie lover. Not just because that goes against how I choose to do things you understand, but because for once I swore to Mother I wouldn’t tell a soul. On a scale of 1-5 I proudly give Psycho “60” a solid 5 out of 5.