Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of my favorite films and has been for many years. I remember first watching it alone late one night, sneaking around the living room when I was seven years old. There was a lot that I didn’t comprehend, but the basics were all clear to me and a love of suspense was instilled. Though this film is great anytime, a chilly fall evening with the haunts of Halloween right around the corner is a perfect time for first-timers to experience the perfect suspense thriller.
Today, it’s hard to have any knowledge of Psycho without some major spoilers, so please, if you have any innocence about this film, stop reading and go watch it. Psycho starts out with a classic Hitchcockian woman on the run plot and takes an unexpected turn, making it a story of murder where the victim’s family is getting closer to danger while looking for the truth. It stars Janet Leigh as the woman on the run, John Gavin as her lover, Vera Miles as her sister, and Martin Balsam as a private investigator.
One of my all time favorite film characters is Norman Bates. At first sight, he seems like a quiet and kind young man, a dutiful son just looking after his sick mother and the family business. However, even before the murder we can tell there is so much more. The argument with his mother that Marion overhears is so telling and makes him seem trapped and tormented by her. The conversation about stuffed birds and his mother, they go together a little too well. And one of my favorite traits about Norman is his nervous chewing. Whether Sam is firing questions too quickly or there’s a chance the swamp won’t hide his secrets, he is always chewing. Why was Anthony Perkins not nominated for supporting actor?
When I first saw the shower scene, it was the most terrifying thing I could have imagined at the time. I think back to my seven-year-old self, straining to hear the tv I kept so quiet, afraid to wake my parents and face certain punishment. Things seemed to be turning around for Marion, kind young Norman had helped her realize she could go back and make everything better and that hot shower was washing away her sins. I was such a good little Catholic school girl. But suddenly that shadow creeped forward, ripped back the curtain. Then that scream, and those piercing violins, I couldn’t breathe. My eyes widened as the shots clipped rapidly between the reaching knife and vulnerable flesh. Before my mind could comprehend what just happened, the murderous figure was out the door and Marion slipped slowly down that tile wall into a gruesome death. The blood swirling down the drain helped me relax and I realized my hand was clamped over my mouth. Maybe I had nearly screamed. As I looked into Marion’s dead open eye for the first time, I blinked and consciously tried to control my breathing. I had never seen something so unexpectedly violent in all my seven years and while I had just been scared stiff, part of me loved it. It has been a rush that I’ve been searching for in great movies all my life.
It was years later that I learned how important Psycho was to the history of film. Hitchcock put out a campaign that no one would be allowed into the theater after the screening of Psycho had begun. What Hitchcock made law for Psycho just felt like common sense to me. Before this time, I guess people just waltzed into the theater anytime within the showing, regardless of what they missed in the plot. But Hitchcock was a genius and didn’t want to let his audience down, knowing how perfectly he had crafted Psycho.
Today, I hope no one comes in even a minute late to watching Psycho. There is so much to enjoy from the very beginning. Being a former art student, I love the opening credits by Saul Bass. And that first conversation between Marion and Sam. And the way the cop with the dark sunglasses is so menacing. And every single moment in the Bates’ house is amazingly tense! Believe me, you cannot miss one second of Psycho.
“Hate the smell of dampness, don’t you? It’s such a, I don’t know, creepy smell.”