Thursday, 16 February 2012

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock is renowned for his psychological horror films and one of his most memorable films, ‘Psycho’, released in 1960 is no exception. However, the film throughout doesn’t seem to know what exactly it wants to be. Near the beginning, the audience is thrown into a setting from an old noire crime film in which a trusted member of a company steals a boatload of cash from an investor.
                                                                                     Fig 1
 The thief is one of our main characters, Marion Crane played by Janet Leigh, who is soon after killed off by our antagonist, an anonymous old woman who is mother to a motel owner named Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. It’s the same motel that Crane stops by to spend the night at. One by one, crime investigators and curious individuals fall prey to the anonymous mother until it is eventually discovered that she had been dead all along, the mother turning out to be none other than the lonesome son himself who had been keeping her corpse in her room, tending it with chemicals thanks to his experience in taxidermy. (Fig 1)

                                   Fig 2
Often considered to be the very first ‘Slasher’ movie, ‘Psycho’ was one of the very first films to show murder on-screen. This caused plenty of controversy among film critics. As Sarah Wenk from Common Sense Media  explains, “The famous shower scene never shows the knife touching flesh, but it's still terrifying.” (Wenk,<no date given>) Not only that, but the iconic murder scene in the film where Crane is in the shower as Bates attacks makes use of multiple angles called a ‘montage’ edit, all in rapid succession. We think we see everything when in fact the shots are cleverly angled so that we actually see very little of the details of the murder. (Fig 2)
Among montage edits, the film is renowned for its use of special camera effects. There are plenty of motivated shots, one scene especially where Crane’ sister, the first of an inquisitive pair of Lila and John Gavin, Crane’s fiancé, slowly approaches the door to the house of the long deceased mother and residence of Bates. The shot cuts faster and faster between Lila and the door, creating tension and suspense, something which Hitchcock uses to full effect in the movie. Additionally, a notable cross-dissolving technique appears at the end sequence when the camera pans in on Norman’s face. As Steve Biodrowski says in his review: “Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful direction brings the proceedings to life in visually arresting ways, most memorably in the notorious shower sequence, but also in more subtle moments, as when we last see Norman, now fully transformed into his alter ego, Perkins’ sly expression glaring out at us from against an almost blank background, and then briefly, almost subliminally, there comes the superimposed image of Mother’s corpse, her features briefly lining up with those of her son.” (Biodrowski, 2008) A vision of his deceased mother’s skull slowly dissolves over the top of his own face as his mother’s creepy voice sneers in a dark monologue, creating a feeling of vulnerability within a family. (Fig 3)

The film presents us with a somewhat eerie feeling of what family can truly mean. While other films may portray it as a friendly, warm place, Hitchcock shows us that family can’t be all safe. The concept of family in this film is frightful, venomous and tensed by psycho-sexual desires as presented by the fact that Bates killed his mother’s lover through jealousy which is also a reference to the Oedipus complex.
                                                                                     Fig 3
All in all, Hitchcock seems to have put his all into this movie in order to build tension. He takes what we find familiar and warm and twists it into something uncanny and frightful. This psychological horror is definitely a film that deserves its reputation as one of the great slashed films because of its innovativeness through editing and subtly messages.


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