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Psycho (1960) - Movie Review

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho movie poster

For a guy who runs a movie page it’s embarrassing, not to mention shameful how many iconic films I’ve never seen. Honestly, you’d probably be outraged if you knew some of the titles that are on my “Films I should’ve seen by now but haven’t” list.

Many of those titles are films by the legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Thankfully this one wasn’t on that list, but it did occur to me after watching it the other night that I’d never sat and watched it from opening credits to end credits before now.

Psycho (1960)

If you somehow haven’t seen this movie, it’s a classic suspense/thriller directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, The Birds), starring Anthony Perkins (The Black Hole) and Janet Leigh (The Fog) among others.

It’s based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Robert Bloch, which itself was inspired by the murders of suspected serial killer Ed Gein (the killer who also inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

This is what it’s about according to the internet:

“A Phoenix secretary steals $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his mother…”

My earliest memory of this film is from when I was in my early teens (around 1993/94). A school friend of mine went on holiday to America with his family and visited Universal Studios. Knowing that I was a huge film fan (even back then) he brought me back a note pad in the shape of the Psycho house that came with a pen shaped like a kitchen knife. I’ve still got it.

Psycho II was actually the first film I watched in this series. And like with a lot of classic movies, I saw the 1998 remake of this one before I watched the original. It’s a pretty faithful remake but it’s not a patch on the 1960 classic.

These black and white films have a certain quality. I don’t know if it’s the era they were made or what, but there’s something classy and inoffensive about them. Even this movie manages to be scary without showing gore or even much blood at all. These days the art of storytelling (in horror films at least) seems to have gotten lost, and most resort to graphic gore, violence or lazy jump scares in order to get the reaction they’re after. It’s annoying!

It’s easy to see why Psycho is such a classic. Not only is it one of the very first examples of the “slasher movie” genre, it was also groundbreaking in some of its themes. For instance; the violence and the sexuality, the likes of which hadn’t really been seen to this extent up to that point. It also dared to kill its main star off half way through the film which is something that rarely happens even today.

There are certain scenes in movies that are infamous. From the “You talkin’ to me?” scene in Taxi Driver (1976), to the ripples in the cup of water in Jurassic Park, there are hundreds of moments in film that HAVE to be seen if you’re even the slightest bit of a film fan. The shower scene in Psycho could even possibly be THE moment of them all.

How many of us haven’t at some point picked up a knife and mimicked the stabbing scene while making the high pitched “REE REE REE!” noise?! Exactly! It’s that iconic.

Again though, as savage and as shocking as that scene is, it’s done in such a way that barely shows any blood at all, just a small trickle of it in the water as it swirls down the drain. It’s subtle genius!

It’s rare that a movie has everything but this one does. It has a great story, absolutely superb performances (from Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh in particular), a brilliantly unnerving and now iconic score by Bernard Hermann (who composed the music for several of Hitchcock’s movies as well as films like Jason and the Argonauts, Cape Fear and Taxi Driver), and legendary direction by “The Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock himself.

Anthony Perkins’ performance in this film is spellbinding. He’s so natural that at times, especially during the “we all go a little mad sometimes” scene, it doesn’t seem like he’s acting at all. I recently found the same scene from the remake on YouTube and watched it to see how close they were. As faithful as the dialogue is to the original, the performances simply can’t be compared. Perkins delivers each of his lines like he means them, and even the subtleties in his expressions are just perfection.

Janet Leigh matches Perkins on almost every level and their scenes together are easily the best in the movie. In fact, once Leigh’s character is out of the picture and her body is disposed of the film loses a certain spark. Not that that’s a criticism, it’s just a credit to her performance and chemistry with Perkins.

It was a real treat revisiting this classic last week. Sometimes you just fancy something a little different to what’s on offer, and with all the usual horror films doing the rounds at the moment because of Halloween, this was a refreshing change, and a reminder of what great filmmaking is all about.

If you somehow haven’t seen it and are looking for something a little different to watch tonight, why not treat your eyeballs to one of the best and most iconic horror movies ever made?

You can rent it from either Amazon Prime or Apple TV for £3.49.

Seen it? Of course you have. Let me know what you think in the comments.


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