PSYCHO (Alfred Hitchcock) Rating: NNNNN
In a career studded with masterpieces – from 1938’s The Lady Vanishes to 1972’s Frenzy – Psycho (1960) is regarded as Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest film, claiming first place on the American Film Institute’s all-time great thrillers list.
It’s also the most imitated, parodied, analyzed and over-analyzed thriller in movie history.
In all this praise, two things are seldom mentioned.
First, Psycho isn’t as scary as it once was. Even 20 years ago, when I last saw it in a theatre, the audience was rolling in the aisles. That isn’t the movie’s fault. The tale of novice embezzler Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) encounter with madness in a rundown motel is as tight, smart and tension-filled as it was when it had people fainting in theatres.
But the characters, setting and set pieces that were fresh and frightening in 1960 have long since turned to dusty clichés.
To enjoy Psycho today, forget Scream, Halloween, The Silence Of The Lambs and the thousand other heavily indebted lesser works. Focus instead on Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh’s scenes together, on the use of overhead shots, on Bernard Herrmann’s killer score and on the remarkable shower scene – 82 shots in 45 seconds, unheard of at the time.
Also seldom remarked is the fact that Hitchcock basically shot the book. He made only two significant changes to Robert Bloch’s 1959 paperback: he dropped chapter one, which details Norman Bates’s home life with his mother, and in place of the book’s sweaty, fat, 40ish Bates, he cast boyish, sympathetic Perkins.
That alters everything and, as much as anything else, is the root of Psycho’s remarkable power.
Screens Monday (January 14) at the Bloor.