Psycho (1960)

A legacy of immortality jumpstarting horror and creating the slasher genre with a once-in-a-millennium Shower Scene that changed the trejectory of cinematic history, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a voyeuristic, nature-analytic horror/thriller/noir/detective masterpiece. 9.8/10.

Plot Synopsis: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a secretary in Phoenix on the run after stealing $40,000 from her employer to run away with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). While making her getaway by car, she is overcome by exhaustion and blinded by heavy rain, and decides to stop by an odd motel off the beaten path named The Bates Motel. She meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a young man with a unique interests & a difficult relationship with his mother, and stays the night, only to discover some shocking secrets and crimes around the motel.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Greatest Horror Film Of All-Time?

Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspense-Incarnate Detective/Horror Masterpiece Broke All The Rules – And Created New Genres

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The Greatest Horror Film Of All-Time. That is a massive title to live up to and extremely tough one to fight for against time and technological innovation 60+ years after your release, yet Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho still makes a compelling case for the top of Mt. Olympus. When it released though, it was wildly-controversial: a film that broke all the rules of violence and sexuality portrayal on-screen and sent M.P.A.A. production codes (& theater chains) into a frenzied state of cardiac arrest. Alfred Hitchcock managed to tap into something film as a medium entirely had been missing: a delve into the dark side of our psyche we try to suppress, but demands entertainment & has the power to drive entire markets – horror. The birth and definition of the most financially-successful and pulse-rattling genre of cinema rose from the motel ashes of Psycho – and movies were never the same. One of the most groundbreaking films of All-Time jumpstarting horror and creating the slasher genres with a Shower Scene that changed the entire trajectory of cinematic history, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a masterpiece horror/thriller/noir/detective film with unparalleled directorial elegance, hot escalation of suspense, iconic performances, psychological sin and gender dynamic analysis, irony, and bone-chilling slasher sequences brought to life by one of the greatest scores ever made.

A Revolutionized Plot Structure

A Pedigree Of Elegance In Direction That Feels More Of A Curated Collection Blend Of Drama/Triller/Noir/Detective

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Most instantly provocative about Psycho is the fact that it barely reads as a horror film early-on. There is such a pedigree of excellence and elegance in direction and execution, it feels – and is – more of a carefully-curated collection of drama/thriller/noir/detective twinges in a horror cover jacket than strictly a run-of-the-mill scarefest. The character development and performances are perhaps THE best of any film like it – from Janet Leigh’s paranoia & guilt-tripped Marion Crane to Martin Balsam’s pressurizing private-eye Arbogast to Vera Miles’ soft feminine Lila to John Gavin’s suave-and-masculine Sam to the star of the show: Anthony Perkins’ once-in-a-lifetime Norman Bates. All stemming from a $40,000 embezzlement and cocktail of human sin and psychoanalytic gender cogitation is its screenplay – one of the most complete, avant-garde, and brilliantly-scripted ever penned. After a steamy night in the hotel room, lovers Marion and Sam long to run away together – if only they could get out of the crushing debt-cloud hanging over their heads. The opening of Psycho alone changed the course of cinematic history – being the first to show such racy bedroom antics between unmarried people and women in brassiere and panties in a hotel room that would’ve shocked people by era standards, as well as Hitchcock requiring theaters to mandate a ‘No Late Admittance’ policy to force audiences to see it; again: an unprecedented move in cinema in 1960.

A Subversion Of Classical Romance

A Normal Woman Finds Herself Deep In Trouble & On-The-Run – The Temptations Of Money-And-Love & Past

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Hitchcock innovated the genre by expanding the views of sexuality and social norm here, and much of what we view today thus is only legal on-screen because of his breaking of the rules. As Marion heads back into work as a secretary, a big-honcho comes in touting $40,000 in cash ($351,520 adj. inflation in 2020), and Marion volunteers to put it in the bank for him – only to view the money as her and Sam’s only way out and drive off with it. The film weighs heavy themes of sociological ethics and morality plays in a palatable, tangible jacket – through the universally-relatable form of money we spend our lives in pursuit/avoidance-of-debt of and would be lying to ourselves if we would make a clear-cut financial decision if put in the position of Marion’s. After all, the man who came in carrying the $40,000 cash in his pocket said he ‘never carries more than he can afford to lose’ – just another bit of temptation to cloud the mix. The decision to have Marion be the one to steal for her family is another plot choice that would’ve been ahead of its time, with most films having only men be the one to provide or make a difficult decision for their family like that – thus, a feminist evolution on-screen. A web of subtrifuge, false alibis, car-switches, and cover-stories follows her from the second she embarks on this betrayal – sparking more trouble than she would’ve imagined and slinging a theme of fate/karma into the mix by just how wrong everything goes around her, foremost: how it messes with someone who isn’t inherently a bad person and feels plenty of guilt and doubt of her actions. She cannot help but run through the millions of possible trajectories events could play out in her head on the long road-trip, stammers and stumbles when questioned by police and car salesmen on her bizarre actions/mannerisms, and is caught in this hot escalation of classic Hitchcockian suspense as arid as the film’s Arizona backdrop and sticky/unsettling as Bernard Hermann’s erratic and suspenseful, violin-heavy string score every step of the way.

Fate & A Rainstorm

After Pulling Over For The Night & A Conversation With Normal Bates, She Finds Redemption.. And Takes A Shower

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Fate and a rainstorm (foreshadowing her demise in a sadistically-ironic fashion adding another theme into the mix: irony) lands her at the Bates Motel one night, wherein she meets a cool, nice, even charming young man named Norman who lives alone with his sickly, old, yet abusive mother and engages her in sociable dialogue with twinges of romance and chemistry rife with psychological insights on the human condition. The conversation brings Crane to see the errors of her ways, promising to herself that she’ll make the drive back to Phoenix, AZ to give back the money in the morning – fulfilling a satisfying character arc for us in the audience by all normal metrics of storytelling, after a good night’s rest.. and a shower. As the warm bath water offers a momentary escape from the chaos of the film’s previous events and elemental, baptismal purification from the metaphorical grime and physical sweat of the sin she just overcame, a shadowy figure opens the door and stands behind the curtain. They open the curtain and reveal a big butcher knife that brutesquely slices Marion as screeching violins and screams assault our senses – leaving the bloody corpse lying lifeless on the bathroom floor and our jaws on the floor as the camera irises out from her dead eye. The scene comes in like a buzzsaw to every possible convention of cinema established in the history of filmmaking before it, and – understandably – changed everything.

The Scene That Changed Everything

One Of The Greatest & Most Avant-Garde Scenes Ever Filmed, Hitchcock Created Genres – & Ruined Showers

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The Shower Scene is one of the greatest cinematic scenes of All-Time. The cajones it takes to kill off your main character – the one you’d just spent the entire film building up and giving a masterclass of development, butterflied by an iconic performance by a box-office staple actress in Janet Leigh – in such a brutesque and unforgettable way is unbelievable; pure avant-garde filmmaking at its greatest. This would have been sacrilegious to even attempt in cinema in the ’60’s by every period and societal metric, but Hitchcock’s all-in craps dice-roll at the highest-stakes table cemented his place on the Mt. Rushmore of direction and is perhaps the biggest singular evolutionary leap in film history – one part of us desperately wants to look away from, while the other one can’t look away. The entire horror and slasher genres owe their existence to this three-minute long, 78/52-cut/angle sequence (along with arguably, and in Cinema Lovers Club’s opinion: definitely, 1920’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari) that leaned on Soviet montage stylism and used a technique Hitchcock called ‘transferrance of menace from screen to viewer’s mind’ with its quick-cut shot successions. Beyond its unparalleled place in the annals of cinematic history for innovating and revolutionizing/evolving the medium, the scene is downright f*cking scary – from concept to set-up to perfection-of-execution. The scene messed up A LOT of people when it first came out, hitting a nerve by how twisted its symbolism and very act were. Water is revered across cultures and nature, as well as religion, as the elixir of life and purification element; showers are a momentary escape from life’s problems and how we get ready for, or wind down from, long days between them. Marion’s shower in this particular moment is that concept 10x over, having just followed her redemption arc from the dark recesses of sin that makes the ironic twist-of-fate limitlessly cruel.

The Score

The Cinematic Elevation Of Hermann’s Screeching, Atonal Nightmare Violin Score: One Of The Greatest Soundtracks

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The bone-chilling, bloody, lifeless, sin-delicious antithesis of it: cold-blooded murder is the exact opposite of everything preceding it, and the elemental fuse of the two extremes is easily one of the smartest scenes ever scripted – made 1,000x more effective by Bernard Hermann’s iconic soundtrack amongst the greatest ever made. The film’s overture establishes a pervasive atmospheric doom full of suspense/tension by its meld of erratic, eccentric, jarring, and hyperactive string-heavy sounds. As with Morricone’s legendary score in Leone’s 1968 The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, the film’s mandated lower-budget forced innovation and birthed brilliance by the choice of an only-string quartet played con sordini (muted) the entire score up until The Shower Scene. The perfect decision of instrument being perhaps the most diverse and potential-rife instrument class, strings showcase their value by how the film bounces from soft elegant pads to racy nerve-wrackers to the pure-horror crunching violent assault of The Shower Scene so effortlessly. The climax of the scene by technique change to ostinato minor key cut-shears, with microphone amplification and fusion of screeching bird sounds overlay for even higher existential predatory dread, creates everything that makes The Shower Scene one of the greatest, most unforgettable, and scariest scenes of All-Time. Just as prolific and groundbreaking as the film was narratively, thematically, cinematographically, and executionally is it in soundtrack – establishing the now-ubiquitous genre trope of character orchestral theme (biggest of all: slasher themes), as well as defining the genre tonally and sonically for generations to come.

The Finale

As The Walls Starting Closing In On The Bates Motel & Norman’s Charade, Event Escalation Climaxing In A Fruit Cellar

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The cinematography is filled with draconian and gothic set pieces, perfect motel set design and main house, creepy taxidermy of predacious birds (will address this theme later), old fruit cellars, mutilated corpses, silhouetted killers, tons of intense close-ups on people’s faces in the midst of suspense, and violations of personal space-conventions to further our nerves and anxiety – with vast, breathtaking western landscapes in the background for a bizarre mix. The level of intricacy, craftsmanship, and detail in Psycho’s visual canvas is alone summarized by the fact that in the 180-second Shower Scene alone, there are 78 camera angles and 52 cuts utilized: Enough said. Post-shower scene, the film changes gears from its previous Marion-focused storyline to Norman being the main character – the dutiful son who notices blood in the water and is aghast by the discovery of Marion’s corpse dripping blood on the bathroom floor. This is where Anthony Perkins’ performance truly ascends into All-Time greatness – the sheared duality he plays so breathtakingly-convincingly having no idea what tragic fate befell the victims while being the one who enacted them unbeknownst to his own psychotic psyche (and the audience’s at this point in the narrative too). Marion’s disappearance spawns a private eye investigation and her sister to go looking for her with Sam – Arbogast the detective becoming the cat whose curiosity gets him killed and the others being taken on a whirlwind tour culminating in a meeting with the real Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar before the Norman-dressed one attacks. The final killer reveal is still one of the best and most electrifying plot twists and killer reveals in history of cinema to this day – one that still hits everyone I’ve shown it to like a sledgehammer and is a testament to old-fashioned screenwriting being able to keep such a secret even 60+ years and thousands of genre entires later, while only juggling a few real characters on-screen.

The Psychology Of Nature

A Brilliant Exposition On Gender Themes & The Psychology Of Nature/Predation – A Lens Of Birds

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Psycho is one of the greatest films of All-Time not only for its legacy creating the slasher genre and defining everything about modern horror or visceral entertainment value that sends your heart-racing as much as any film I’ve seen to-date 60+ years later, but also its intellectual value. The film manages to somehow fit in a brilliant exposition on masculinity, gender dynamics, Darwinism, ethics, irony, fate, and psychology amongst its 1 hour 45 minute multi-slasher events – easily the smartest slasher film and one of the smartest horror films ever made (along with Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining). The screenwriters use Norman and Mrs. Bates’ dynamic as a reversed-metaphor for the two biological sides of gender identities; Mrs. Bates is an aggressive, strong, calculating, dominant force who takes what she wants and thus exemplifies many traits of traditionally-defined masculinity, while Norman is the much softer, genteel, and caring counterbalance exemplifying many traits of traditionally-defined femininity. Both of these sides can be found to an extent in both genders, though social evolution has acted upon them into the major phenotypes above; they just happen to be mismatched physically in Norman and Mrs. Bates. These two elemental & hormonal extremes living inside Norman drive the many actions of the film – and all the kill sequences. Because Norman was so alone after his father passed away with no masculine presence in his life as a child, he became extremely attached to his sole caregiver: his mother, a natural psychological reaction. When she sparked a passionate relationship with a new boyfriend (again an involvement of gender dynamics and hormones) years later, Norman felt intense rage and jealousy that he took his place and poisoned him – accidentally killing his mother too in the process. Matricide is psychologically one of the most traumatizing crimes a person can ever commit – killing the person who birthed you into the world and, especially in Norman’s case being his whole world and only parent, your best friend.

A Mythic Experience & Legacy

Themes Of Irony, Fate, Water, & Light; An Evolution Of Horror & Cinematic Norms – The Creation Of The Slasher

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Erasure of the crime, becoming trapped and developmentally-stunted in that childhood moment for life, and internalization of all the facets that caused the crime are natural coping mechanisms and responses to such crimes the film gets incredibly psychologically-accurate. This can be seen in even the tiniest of details like Norman’s room still having all his childhood toys and stuffed animals and the childlike nuances of Perkins’ performance and physicality. It’s even almost empathetic or sympathy-invoking; What’s ‘Psycho’ is the action that symptomatically and dichotomously follows any intense fit of jealousy. Norman was so jealous of his Mother’s new boyfriend that the crime internalized his view that Mother would be just as jealous of any relationship he wanted to engage in – which is why, whenever he felt a hormonal male attraction to any of the girls he met like Marion (with some other classical boy reactions like peeking at older women through a peek-hole getting undressed out of curiosity of the female body), Mother would kill them so he never had the chance to do so – she would get recompense for Norman’s actions beyond the grave by becoming him and doing what he did to her and her lover. Subversion of classical romance, irony, fate, water, and light are also huge themes in the film. Marion is denied the traditional happiness of love, marriage, family, and home Hitchcock viewed as basic human rights, and forced to watch the world from hotel rooms metaphorically symbolic of cages the light of the blinds casts literal bars over her and Sam’s eyes in the opening scene. Fate makes it such that everything goes wrong as she tries to take what she feels she deserves monetarily from it by taking proverbial bread to feed her family (ironically further: a food birds are often fed with), and even gives her the ultimate punishment by the cruelest twist of itself: sending a rainstorm to elementally and ironically foreshadow her shower-death (both twisting water from another pure element and elixir of life into the antithesis) and force her into the place where it happens: The Bates Motel. The way it does so is also through light – a naturally-pure and bright, joyous element Psycho twists into an instrument of demise casting bars on the windows, luring Marion to her death through the Bates Motel’s neon sign, obscuring the slasher’s face into a shadowy figure, and giving a sense of false security to the characters and audience being blindingly-white in shower room that runs red with blood and the death of the main character. As if fate wasn’t cruel enough in life, after Marion’s death and her body and car and thrown into the swamp (another example of water being used to parallel Bates’ sinful deeds with murky water), Sam and her sister Lila spark almost a connubial-feeling relationship while trying to find her – a final jab at the heart of its original challenger in Marion by fate that strikes our nerve chord empathetically.

The Psychological Analysis

A Film Decades Ahead Of Time Not Only By Cinema, But In Science & Diagnosis Of P.T.S.D., S.P.D., And Gender Identity

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The final psychological analysis brings the film circle total and provides groundbreaking insight into real broken minds’ conditions perhaps even more applicable in the mental health crisis of the 2010’s – as well as multiple heavy intellectual themes across the screenplay like birds. Norman suffers from Split Personality Disorder (SPD), wherein his mind was fractured into two separate halves of his own and his mother’s as a result of past-trauma and PTSD. That magnificence of scientifically-accurate psychoanalysis, and how it explains it all in the finale to viewers even without M.D.’s or degrees to understand such a complex relationship, is absolute brilliance and a magnanimous achievement – especially given the fact that criminal psychology was still in its nescient phases and not widely-adopted in the 1960’s. The final piece of puzzle of Psycho’s intellect is the theme that dominate the narrative and every facet – from the location of Phoenix, AZ to name of Marion Crane to the pictures and taxodermical statues all over the Bates Motel and Norman’s many mentions of them: Birds. A famous theme of Hitchcock films to come, with his next entry being solely dedicated to them in 1963’s The Birds, finds its first glimmers here. From Marion being told she eats like one to Bates’ admittance of only doing taxodermy on them instead of bigger creatures because it ‘doesn’t feel right’ to stuff the bigger ones, the film lays groundwork for metaphor relation of birds to women and the predation of them across horror media for generations to come. Physiologically, female creatures are smaller, softer, and ~easier targets than the bigger masculine ones – and male ones used this power to become evolutionarily dominant across nature, as well as can misuse them to hunt or hurt female ones if they wanted to: the morality-impure horror thrives on. Bird is even a slang term for women in British areas like the one Hitchcock is from. This analysis is a huge precursor to ideologies that would drive horror for decades – there is a reason ‘final girls’ and most of the victims are female while the antagonists are by-often male: a biological difference, plausibility in fear and strength, and perhaps sexual/power-dynamic Psycho identified from the very beginning.


One Of The Greatest Films Of All-Time

A Hitchcockian Masterpiece Amongst His Career’s Best; One That Broke The Rules & Created New Genres With Only Butcher Knives, Showers, & Old Motels

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Psycho is one of the Greatest Films of All-Time, as well as one of the most groundbreaking. Few films and filmmakers have ever changed the entire institution of cinema for generations to come like Alfred Hitchcock did here – through a small-budget lens of a female embezzler on the run and shy proprietor of an old motel twisted into an Academy Award-meriting, avant-garde innovation of the artform from its foundations. The film set a new benchmark of violence, deviant behavior, and sexuality’s acceptance on-screen while expanding the medium by showing it could be so much more through voyeurism and no more denial of cinematic sin, but embrasure of it. Impressionistically, it twisted pure themes of water and light into instruments of torture and false-security – ironically swirling events by a cruel fate such that its main themes of birds, gender dynamics, predators, psychoanalysis, and slashers can run wild. One of the most groundbreaking films of All-Time jumpstarting horror and creating the slasher genres with a Shower Scene that changed the entire trajectory of cinematic history, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a masterpiece horror/thriller/noir/detective film with unparalleled directorial elegance, hot escalation of suspense, iconic performances, psychological sin and gender dynamic analysis, irony, and bone-chilling slasher sequences brought to life by one of the greatest scores ever made. Bravo, Mr. Hitchcock. Bravo.

Official CLC Score: 9.8/10