Gary Cruise’s review published on Letterboxd:
Psycho is a Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece following a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
This movie is by far one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Based on a book that was loosely based on real life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho kickstarted slasher movies long before they become even more famous thanks to the likes of Black Christmas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and Scream to name a few. Most of the latter mentioned movies were clearly influenced by this movie. Another thing it managed to do is create the genre mashup within horror in which a movie is primarily one genre but with strong horror thrown in bought about by a decision made by the main characters, a style later imitated by the likes of From Dusk Till Dawn, Overlord and Bone Tomahawk. This movie puts this to use very effectively as it starts out as a crime drama and goes on to throw the audience off completely by making a dramatic change into a horror movie. This works so well and adds so many layers to this perfect piece of cinema history. No matter how many times this is rewatched, it still remains just as intense. The mystery elements help pick the audience’s brains as this very well written yet haunting story unravels.
Janet Leigh is, in many ways, the face of this movie. Not only is she the star of one of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history that occurs within this movie but her portrayal as Marion Crane gave birth to a now well known horror movie trope; the lead character that’s not actually the lead character. Leigh played this role so magnificently to the point she received a well deserved Oscar nomination. From the moment we are introduced to Marion, it’s easy to fall in love with this character and her intriguing story which makes it all the more effective when she is put in danger so early into the movie and after we have learnt so much about her, leaving us with one question once she died with an hour of the movie remaining; what now? Briefly after this we are introduced to Marion’s sister, Lila Crane, portayed by the fantastic Vera Miles, the fast talking and fast thinking Det. Milton Arbogast, portrayed excellently by Martin Balsam, and re-introduced to Marion’s lover, Sam Loomis (I see what you did there, John Carpenter), portrayed by the brilliant John Gavin. These characters provide us with a whole new set of people to root for as they figure out something is wrong when Marion goes missing. The outstanding performances by all of the actors helps keep their characters believable and even easier to become invested in.
Amongst all of the characters involved with the Marion Crane drama at the heart of this movie, we are given a dark, unhinged and psychotic serial killer who gets in the way of the crime Marion is trying to commit, creating a whole other plot diversion that takes this movie down a more terrifying and sinister role. This character is of course, one of horror’s most familiar faces, Norman Bates who is portrayed by Anthony Perkins in a career best performance. Perkins is just phenomenal in this role. There has been many similar roles come and go since the release of this movie and some have been just as good, if not better, but there’s just something about Perkins’ performance in this movie that’s so easy to get under your skin. Even in the most simple of moments where he’s just having a conversation with Marion, he’s so unnerving thanks to the lifeless stares he gives her whilst he sounds so alive and positive. Once we realise that he murdered his mother, kept her corpse, dresses as her and that when he was talking to her, he was talking to himself in a different voice, things take a sharp, dramatic and horrifying turn, making Norman even more creepy. The way Perkins handles this role is just incredible as he tries his best to convince the audience that he is a likeable character when deep down, it’s easy to see just how psychotic he really is and this happy, forced likeable side to him just makes him all the more unsettling.
Let’s talk about THAT scene. Our first real glimpse into the horror elements of this movie is during it’s first death sequence; the iconic shower scene. This scene will never not be effective and it’s all for one simple reason. It leaves everything up to your imagination. Sure, you see Marion in the shower, you see a tiny bit of blood and you the outline of Norman dressed as his mother, holding the knife up. What most people don’t realise is, that is all you see. You don’t actually see the knife going into Marion but it’s easy to assume you did thanks to how well made this scene is. From the perfect editing to the iconic screeching score, this is a scene that will never die and forever be referred back to by horror fans of all ages. It’s amongst many other perfectly made sequences of intensity from the master of suspense himself. The cinematography in this movie is gorgeous and makes for a perfect blend of style and substance with neither ever outweighing the other. It’s a movie that looks beautiful from the moment it starts until the moment it ends. Every part of the score, composed by the legendary Bernard Herrmann, is just as instantly recognisable as the next. It’s a very well fitting soundtrack that almost works as an extra character at times, telling you exactly how you feeling and making the moments of suspense all the more unbearable.
Overall, Psycho is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and one of the greatest movies of all time. It defined the genre in ways that not many other movies were able to do and started so many trends within the genre that will never grow old. It still looks and sounds magnificent and still packs just as much of a punch when the well known twists are put into place. This truly is a masterpiece.
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