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Psycho
1960 - R - Mins.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam, Vera Miles, John Gavin
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"Television has brought murder back into the home - where it belongs."
- Alfred Hitchcock

I am often asked what my favorite film of all time is. My reply is always the same: I do not have a favorite from all the genres. But from the thousands of films I have seen, I have not seen a film more horrifying nor terrifying as Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," the only movie that has ever truly scared me in my entire life. And so I can honestly say that "Psycho" is the scariest film I have ever seen, and is quite probably my favorite horror film of all time.

This is the movie that redefined the genre, and literally gave birth to psychological thrillers. By today's standards, "Psycho" may seem - at the most - tame. Audiences may not be scared by the plot anymore - a plot that was, at the time, unlike anything other, but nowadays quite normal. Gus Van Sant remade Hitchcock's classic in 1998 with both critics and audiences blowing it off. Modern audiences of today are used to slashers such as "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," etc., and so Van Sant's "Psycho" did nothing but disappoint them. But I guarantee that if you place modern audiences in front of Hitchcock's "Psycho," they will come out of the film terrified to death (like I was when I first saw it).

Why is this? It is simply because modern audiences don't expect such creepiness and evilness to be in a 1960 film. Most modern audiences think that "Star Wars" (1977) was the start of motion picture history, that anything beforehand is stupid, cheery and not worth their time. They will go into Hitchcock's "Psycho" and expect a happy little picture, which is why they will come out pale with fear.

It all comes down to the fact that in 1960, mainstream films did not have such subject matters as split personality disorder (seen in this year's "Identity"), figures with homicidal tendencies (like John Doe in "Se7en"), or characters who are literally insane (like Hannibal Lector-type-criminals). "Psycho" set the course for these films. It blew audiences out of the water. They had never seen anything like it before. It is probably the only film that has ever really, truly scared me to death. I didn't want to take showers for weeks.

Hitchcock once said, "Cartoonists have the best casting system. If they don't like an actor, they just tear him up." I'm glad Hitchcock didn't try to tear up Anthony Perkins, who plays Norman Bates in "Psycho," as a shy, awkward fellow living off of a re-routed highway. He is perfectly cast and soundly directed by Hitchcock, coming off as a somewhat strange, implacable fellow. We aren't quite sure what to make of him.

Phoenix banker Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a poor creature living off of practically nothing. She wants to get married to Sam Loomis (John Gavin), but the costs of a wedding outweigh both their incomes. And so one night when her employer entrusts Marion with 40,000 dollars, she flees with the money in the back of her car to go find Sam. However, tired from a long drive, she stops at the Bates Motel for the night. She never leaves the motel, because Norman Bates' reclusive mother becomes jealous of Marion and kills her. Or does she?

Hitchcock masterfully weaves the suspense and horror in "Psycho," so much so that we simply do not know what to think until everything unravels towards the end. The infamous shower scene remains one of the most impressive and wonderful segments in all motion picture history, ranking up there with the unveiling of Harry Lime in "The Third Man," the revelation by Darth Vader in "Star Wars," and one of my personal favorites, the part in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" when Neal Page and Del Griffith wake up in bed entangled with each other. ("Those aren't pillows!")

I think that the anticipation of fear, or the insinuation of something sinister lurking behind a shadowed doorway, is much scarier than blood and guts. Freddy Krueger does not scare some people. Modern horror films tell us what we are supposed to fear, whereas films such as "Psycho" leave the images up to us. Not every person may leave a Jason Voorhees movie scared. Everyone will leave "Psycho" scared. Because as our mind tries to place a face on the fear, our mind incorporates our very fears into the image.

Alfred Hitchcock is undoutedly one of the greatest and most influential film directors in the history of motion pictures. He can create suspense like no other and he can make even the simplest story the most nail-biting, terrifying picture of all time. I recently purchased a DVD with four of Hitchcock's early British films from the thirties, including "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes." Hitchcock's sense of solid suspense can be felt even in those early films. He is, quite simply, the master of suspense. Is it no wonder he has gained the exact reputation as mentioned?

Some films land on greatness and don't always deserve their reputation quite so much as everyone seems to think so. "Psycho" is not such a film. Here is a movie that bent and broke every set rule of film making for the time, and changed the course of horror films for the better. The nineties have shown a return to the classic horror/mystery/thriller mix of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. Here is the granddaddy of them all. Here is the best horror film ever made.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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