Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1960, 109 minutes

Hitchcock's first horror film was slashed by the critics on its release - the only film to get a worse reception at the time was Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (in my opinion the better film). But while the latter sank almost without trace Psycho went on to be a box-office smash, spawned a host of imitators, and created a new genre - the slasher movie.

A blonde (Janet Leigh), on the run with $40,000 stolen from the company for whom she works ends up staying the night (well, not quite) at a motel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Don't be too concerned with the plot (undoubtedly the product of a sick mind and all the better for it) or the acting (which is average), instead concentrate on the way the story is told for it is Hitchcock's technically brilliant mastery of film-making that gives this film its classic status. The imagery is vivid and effective, from the stuffed birds with which Bates is obsessed to the crown of hayforks which frame the blonde's sister's head at one point. There is the feral screeching of Bernard Herrmann's now infamous score; there is the "metaphysical vertigo" of the overhead shot as Bates drags his mother down to the cellar; but most famous of all is the narrative twist that is the first murder. Having identified so far with Leigh through her nightmare car drive, consisting of a rain lashed windscreen, a suspicious cop in dark glasses and the horror of a missed turning, Hitchcock dispatches her in the most vulnerable hygienic setting of a shower. Suddenly we switch our identification to the shy uncomfortable Norman who Hitchcock slowly reveals to possess a malignant, disturbed mind...

Maybe it's too easy to over-analyse this film and forget that it is first and foremost a black comedy full of Gothic wit, and an excellent example of Hitchcock's diabolical sense of humour. Psycho is superb. See it in the cinema for maximum effect.

"Probably the most influential horror of all *****" - Empire

Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97