31 Days of Halloween 16 – Psycho

psycho0 Psycho (1960) is one of the best thrillers ever made and has probably generated more discussion than any other film I’ve ever seen.  Hitchcock could have made this movie in color, and I think doing so would have shocked audiences and gone way over-the-top with the red stuff.  As it is, the black and white enhances the movie and makes the contrasts stick out all the more, like the lights on the motel.  It also contributes to the mood.  The mood is grey.  This is a solemn, slow movie that embodies the seedy environment.  The movie starts at a hotel with a racy, romantic interlude to illustrate this, and continues down, to a low-quality motel, then further into the dark consciousness of the characters.

psycho2 I think the music in this movie contributes a lot to the tension.  Hitchcock originally wanted the film to have a background score, then silence during the murders, but changed his mind after hearing what Bernard Herrmann wrote.  Herrmann also scored North by Northwest and both movies have similar cues.  

The movie opens above the city and descends into a hotel, where two people have a romantic meeting.  This descent is repeated several times throughout the movie, until we’re in a damp, dark basement and can’t go any further down.  The camera also reinforces the claustrophobic nature of the film and it seems confined in some shots, up close and personal at the most important moments.

psycho3Marion takes 40,000 dollars from work and dresses to leave town.  The camera cuts no less than four times to the money in an envelope as she packs, reminding us that it is there, keenly on her mind.  She is nervous and apprehensive.  She looks at it and the shot cuts to the envelope each time.  The camera often acts as a clue to the emotional state of the characters throughout the movie and does its job to visually help us discover things.

Norman Psycho: No…mother…my mother…what is the phrase? She isn’t quite herself today. 

Anthony Perkins plays a great character, a weirdo with a lot of problems.  After Marion checks in to the Bates Motel, she overhears “Mother” berating Norman and he later apologizes for her.  Norman’s dialogue is purposefully hilarious and ironic.  His mother is definitely not herself today or any day following.  

psycho5Obsession and compulsion is definitely one of the main themes of the movie.  As Norman and Marion walk into the parlor, we see Norman’s stuffed birds on the wall.  There’s several birds, kept precisely as they were before.  Norman too, wants to keep Marion for his very own, although he already has a motherly obsession. The birds are also strange-looking and depicted with wings unfurled, as if to make us uncomfortable.  Once again, Hitchcock is telegraphing the feelings of his characters, and Marion crosses her arms in an uneasy way as she looks around the room.  She’s uncomfortable too.

psycho6After this scene, Hitchcock switches main characters in his movie and he kills off Marion completely, no longer needing her.  The shower scene that accomplishes this is the most famous scene in film history.  It never shows any violence, but all of it is violent.  

Martin Balsam plays Arbagast, the private investigator who interrogates Norman about Marion.  He learns all he needs to and we assume that he is the impetus for the rest of the movie.  Unfortunately for him, he is just the next victim.  Hitchcock twists the mystery even more, by making the fate of the mother even in doubt.  Marion’s sister and Sam learn that Norman’s mother is really dead and buried in the nearby cemetery.  We don’t really learn the truth until the final scene, because it is the best mystery of all.

psycho7All in all, this is a great movie.  In the end, we’re all observers in this movie and of this movie.  We hear the explanation of the whole business at the end, but it’s quite different from what Norman Bates says in his jail cell.   The psychologist scene is the only one I have a problem with, because Norman says something completely different from the explanation given.  It sticks out and seems irregular, not jiving with Norman’s thoughts.  Perhaps it was Hitchcock’s way of poking fun at the simple explanation, because the truth is much darker and more complicated.


31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon

1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)