+ Recommended – R, Horror, Classic (109 minutes)
Eight years after Singin’ in the Rain came Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which used black and white photography to capture the narrative. At the time, more people were transitioning to color photography and black and white was practically a dying breed. However, it gave Hitchcock’s horror classic an extra layer of style to separate it from everything else being produced at the time.
Behind the scenes, Psycho had a little trouble getting its wings off the ground because Hitchcock had a picture deal with Paramount and they wouldn’t let him make the movie because of how edgy the project was. He also had made a deal with Universal for television programs, but Lew Wasserman, the chairman of Universal at the time believed in his project but couldn’t fund the film through Universal’s money because of the picture deal with Paramount.
Instead, Hitchcock decided to fund the movie himself, roughly around $800,000 dollars, and to use Universal lots for filming production. Hitchcock used a Universal television crew, who were used to the rapid pace of back-to-back filming, in order to carry out production on the film. Robert Bloch’s novel was used as a platform for how the progression of the story was presented to a wider audience. Every single crew member on the set of Psycho contributed to the success of the project, especially Bernard Herrmann’s insistent, eerie score, Saul Bass who primarily worked on storyboards, and Anthony Perkins who brought his polished theatrical performance style to the big screen. Excluding the work of even one of these people would most likely squander certain qualities of the final film.
The brilliance of suspense horror comes through in Psycho unlike most modern horror movies. From the very beginning, after Ms. Crane has taken the $40,000 dollars and fled the city, there’s an uneasiness and tangible paranoia. While Marion drives, there is a car in almost every shot following her, using rear screen projection. Most of the time you can make out a silhouette of the figure driving the car; not only does she feel as if she’s being followed, but the audience does as well.
The same concept is utilized during the rest of the film in the background. Several shots include a mirror behind the main character that reflects other portions of the room. Even while there’s no instances of the mirrors being used as a tool for jump scares, the audience can’t help to center their attention, not only on Marion, but also checking the mirrors in the background to make sure she’s safe.
Every frame is purposeful and typically shows character’s internal thoughts or actions. Many scenes are nonverbal, and Hitchcock uses these scenes to provide exposition or explanation at times. When Marion is driving out of town, voice over work was done from the other characters to provide some context into what everyone else is thinking rather than cutting back to the city. The audience remains with the characters until they die, with minimal cuts and transitions to other scenes.
Much of the attention in the first act was placed upon the money, and Marion’s thoughts surrounding the money: where she was going to hide it, what she was contemplating internally, can she get away with this? But the money was just a MacGuffin that propelled the story into the later acts. It’s of unimportance, for the most part, to the narrative that’s unfolding at the forefront. A trick thrust upon the audience for a reward in the latter half.
Finally, the POV nature of Psycho places the audience right within the horrors of Bates Motel. Marion Crane’s character has numerous shots where the audience is observing the surrounding through the lens of her eyes,especially when looking towards the cash. While this mainly is the case for protagonists, the audience interacts with the film through voyeurism (shower scene, opening hotel scene). However, the emphasis of the POV shots is central to the main characters and pointing the audience in the direction of who to root for.
In the case of entering the Bates’ home, the camera films Arbogast’s (Martin Balsam) entrance into the house very differently than Lila Crane’s. During the moments that she enters, the camera tracks her up the hill and to the front door. Psycho is meticulously devised, but nonetheless a carefully crafted horror classic.