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.