Revisiting “Psycho”

Roger Ebert writes that, “Hitchcock deliberately wanted Psycho to look like a cheap exploitation film. He shot it not with his usual expensive feature crew (which had just finished North by Northwest) but with the crew he used for his television show.” Subsequently, Psycho feels like the best episode of The Twilight Zone ever, and seeing it projected like I did last night effectively cranks the thrill-o-meter up to 11. It’s a creepy, entertaining movie that isn’t nearly as much fun on TV as it is in a theatre.

Things that make it work — #1: The performance from Anthony Perkins as a shy, seemingly-harmless but kind of odd motel manager. I’ve met people like this and Perkins plays it convincingly. #2: The famous shower scene where Janet Leigh is murdered. Everyone in the theatre knew it was coming and it still made everyone jump. It’s unexpected. #3: The sudden, deafening soundtrack that cues each murder scene. From Wikipedia: “The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an original all-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann entitled ‘The Murder.’ Hitchcock originally wanted the sequence (and all motel scenes) to play without music, but Herrmann begged him to try it with the cue he had composed. Afterwards, Hitchcock agreed that it vastly intensified the scene, and he nearly doubled Herrmann’s salary.” My only complaint is the basement scene near the end of the movie that should have been the big, shocking reveal but turns into a laugh-out-loud joke because somebody is wearing a dress and it just looks silly. Psycho does have its dated qualities (especially in that basement scene), but it’s one of Hitchcock’s most exciting movies. It definitely stands out from the rest of his work.

About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John's, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at mudsongs.org.

5 Replies to “Revisiting “Psycho””

  1. This is still a great movie. I think it holds up better than North by Northwest simply because it doesn’t have those annoying fake “outdoor” scenes.

  2. I think “Psycho” may have jumped to the top of the list for me. Hitchcock’s movies feel a bit dry and academic at times. “Psycho” goes for the jugular. Considering the restrictions from censors Hitchcock had to deal with, the effectiveness of “Psycho” is even more impressive.

  3. Back when I was 14 or 15 I happened to turn the TV on and this movie was on. I had missed the opening credits, but it was still in the opening scene. I had no idea what the movie was, and I don’t think I’d even heard of the movie. It was in black and white and that was so uncool for me at that age. But… I was immediately drawn in and sat through the whole thing, riveted the whole time. It wasn’t until it was over and I looked at the Newfoundland Herald (TV Listings) to see the name of it that I realized what it was.

    I’m not into analyzing movies, slicing and dicing them for their merits in cinematography or sociological value. To me, a good movie is a good movie. If it draws you in and you are glued to it, it must be good, and entertaining. I’ve watched plenty of movies that I enjoyed over the years, most of which I planned to watch. I purchased a ticket, rented a tape/DVD… whatever. But, by far, the most memorable movies for me are the ones that I didn’t plan to watch that I happened across and got hooked in. Psycho was the first one for me. Others are Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Fargo, Deer Hunter, Deliverance, the Matrix, and Birdy…. oh, and Finding Nemo! ;-)

  4. Good point. Some of my favourite movies, too, are ones I stumbled on, usually late at night, sometimes missing the first 20 minutes or so. For me, the list includes some artsy films like “Down by Law” and “Red Sorghum,” but I remember the pleasure of discovering them almost as much as the actual movies.

  5. steve I had a similar experince with Duel…just a young guy starting watching and was glued….just recently re watched deliverence…jesus that kid had no cg effects…….that movie still scares me…..

    I like your comments Phillip about Perkins..”..I’ve met people like this…” ya me too…perhaps the line should have read I am like people like this….

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