Sunday, 20 April 2014

Psycho (1960)

IMDb Top 250 Ranking - #32

Despite only having recently seen Psycho for myself, the word has always been synonymous with the name Norman Bates, which is quite a legacy in and of itself. It might be down to its famous director, its infamous protagonist or the compelling story-line but the film has lived on and became a classic not just of its genre, but of film. Now I've said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again, but when it comes to movies with such a huge reputation I often find myself hesitant to see it for myself. I don’t want to be disappointed; I don’t want to be the only one who says they didn't think much of the film. This might make me a sheep, but I can take that, because most people are. My verdict, however, is a generally positive one.The film was rather fascinating, and finally understanding the legacy of the original “psycho” brought a lot of things into perspective for me. For example, knowing that Anthony Perkins’ career basically tanked after this due to type-casting makes total sense. When an actor can inhabit such an intricate and complex character, why wouldn’t directors and audiences expect this of him again and again? Sucks for the actor, yeah, but makes sense from the audiences perspective. And boy did Perkins inhabit the character of Norman Bates! He captured both the childlike vulnerability and the sinister madness of the character beautifully. The fact that he could so quickly transition from meek mannered Norman to smirking and axe-swinging “Norma” is an impressive feat, and it’s really no wonder Psycho was Hitchcock’s most famous picture with an actor such as this at its helm.

While the film was impressive, and I enjoyed and appreciated the fact that it was shot in black and white, which heightened the terror and inherent isolation of the film, I do have a few bones to pick. For example, the book from which the film was adapted, by Robert Bloch, had more detail which explained thoroughly Norman’s motives and the relationship with his mother which is the centre of the movie. I know that its impossible to include every last detail in an adaptation, but some of the plot points – such as the fact that Norman was the one who poisoned his mother and her lover, and that his father didn't die, but in fact abandoned his family when Norman was a child, and finally that Norman caught his mother having sex with her lover – seem like significant facts that would help the audience understand Norman so much more than they ever get to. But then, maybe Hitchcock didn't want his audience to totally understand Norman? After all, a terrifying psycho isn't quite as terrifying if the audience totally understand him, is he? Lack of understanding can often be an essential component in feeling horror and immersing yourself in this feeling. Not to mention a filmmaker, and Hitchcock in particular, always seem to have a reason for the things they keep and the things they omit. Regardless, these are just the minor frustrations of a literature student, and didn't hinder my overall enjoyment of the movie.

The acting was superb, with standout performances from Perkins (its seems needless to say) and Janet Leigh, who, despite her minor role, packed her performance with just the right amount of vulnerability and strength. The shower scene was a standout for her, and she captured the terror of this scene perfectly. My favourite aspect of this movie was the music. I've always been an advocate for the idea that a movies soundtrack can determine whether a film will be remembered in history and I firmly believe that if it weren't for the tension created by the music in key scenes of this film it wouldn't have stood the test of time quite like it has. The quick pace and rhythm guides the viewer through the film, subconsciously telling them how they should feel at certain points and adding to the movies quiet horror.

One thing I love about the classic horror movies of the 20th century is that they kept it simple, telling stories of horror that could happen in any normal person’s life. That’s where modern movies of the genre have gone wrong I believe, trying to sensationalize the gothic rather than understanding that there is nothing more terrifying than a normal person committing an unspeakable crime. That’s a fact Hitchcock understood, and that’s why his movies will go down in history – he understood the genre and loved the simplicity of it. So to you, my reader, I say that if you truly want to feel fear, go back to the classics. Especially the black and whites – Rebecca is a particular favourite of mine.

To end today's ramble, I’ll keep it short and sweet – see Psycho (if you haven’t already) and enjoy the atmosphere, the characters, and that shock ending that’ll leave you shocked for hours after seeing it. It really does live up to its reputation.

To cut a long story short…

Would I recommend this? Yes. A classic is a classic for a reason, I ALWAYS find.

A film rambler's star rating?

That's it for now folks.