‘Psycho’ (1960) (Film)

‘PSYCHO’ (1960)

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Never Go To Norman Bates’ Motel

Well, I suppose I was going to review this movie sooner rather than later. 😐

Now before you judge me, let me stress I’m not denying that the 1960 film ‘Psycho’ is an influential film. I get that. It’s had an impact over the years, especially with it being directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s had a legacy, including three sequels, a remake, a TV spin-off and a prequel TV series.

But does that mean I have to like this movie? I don’t hate it. Far from it! But I don’t like it either. Maybe because it’s one of those Alfred Hitchcock films that’s more in the region of horror as opposed to mystery and suspense. It’s there with other films like ‘The Birds’, ‘Marnie’ and ‘Frenzy’. 😦

I prefer Hitchcock’s earlier films like ‘Rear Window’, 1956’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘North By Northwest’. In fact, ‘Psycho’ was made after ‘North By Northwest’. It’s quite a departure from making a thriller like ‘North By Northwest’ compared to making a horror film like ‘Psycho’.

At the time of its release, ‘Psycho’ was considered controversial, as it received mixed reviews. But audience interest and outstanding box-office returns prompted a major critical re-evaluation. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress and Best Director. 🙂

That’s quite impressive now I come to think about it. For a film director who made quite a number of arguably ‘tamer’ mystery and suspense thriller films, it’s amazing Hitchcock came up with something quite significant in film history. ‘Psycho’ is considered to be one of Hitchcock’s best and famous films. 🙂

I appreciate that standpoint. But…I still don’t like this film. I feel uncomfortable when watching this film, as the story’s subject matter and themes are pretty disturbing. And I get that’s the point of this film, especially with it having a horror angle to it. But that’s why I’m not keen on horror as other people seem to be.

I’ll try my best to explain why I feel this way concerning ‘Psycho’ as well as bring up some highpoints. Because, let’s be honest, this is an innovative film on Hitchcock’s part. I wouldn’t like to take the credit away from Hitchcock’s creative talent as a director, but don’t expect me to like the film for it.

Before we get into the film’s story, I should talk about the film’s theatrical trailer. I wouldn’t talk about this normally because a trailer usually features clips from the film to give you an idea of what it’s about. That’s not the case with ‘Psycho’s theatrical trailer. It doesn’t feature any clips of the film.

The trailer features Alfred Hitchcock as the main star, guiding you through the location and sets of Norman Bates’ motel where the crime scene takes place. I like the theatrical trailer, especially when Alfred Hitchcock injects humour throughout his monologues about what we’re to expect in the film.

In some way, I highly recommend checking out the theatrical trailer first before you see the film, since Hitchcock’s humour throughout it is about all you’re going to get compared to the film. I also like how Hitchcock comes across as so deadpan. He’s so much like Arthur Lowe from ‘Dad’s Army’. 🙂

Anyway, let’s talk about the film itself. The story begins with Janet Leigh as a real estate secretary named Marion Carter who lives in Phoenix. She has a boyfriend, John Gavin as Sam Loomis. They’re unable to get married because Sam has debts. Eventually, Marion steals a cash payment of $40,000.

Now for a while, the film focuses on Marion’s story, as she ends up on-the-run, driving in her car and making for Sam’s home in Fairvale, California. We’re made to think that this is film is going to be about her trying to avoid being caught by California Highway Patrol officers once she’s stolen the money.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure where this film was going to go, as there didn’t seem to be much for Marion’s story to begin with. But it turns out that Marion isn’t the main heroine of the story and she gets killed off halfway once she meets Norman Bates at his motel. We’ll get to that part very shortly.

Incidentally, ‘Psycho’ is based on the 1959 book of the same name by Robert Bloch. Quite often, Alfred Hitchcock would direct a film based on a book or a play, including ‘Rope’ in 1948 and ‘Dial M For Murder’ in 1954. It’s interesting Hitchcock ended up directing ‘Psycho’ based upon a 1959 book.

Anyway, getting back to the story, Marion stops for the night at the Bates Motel, located off the main highway. The motel is owned by the shy proprietor – Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He lives in a large house overlooking the motel and happens to have a mother that seems mentally ill. 😐

For a while, we’re not sure what to make of Norman Bates, especially when he invites Marion to dine with him. Marion has a light meal given to her by Bates in the motel. There’s a scene where Marion and Bates get to know each other and for a while, things seem to be pleasant between the two here.

It gets a little unnerving when Bates talks about her mother’s illness and how people have a ‘private trap’ they want to escape from. Incidentally, Marion has hidden the money in a newspaper. Once she’s finished her meal, she intends to drive back to Phoenix the next morning to return the stolen money.

And we come to what is arguably the most memorable and most harrowing scene featured in ‘Psycho’. I have to tell you, I had to look away when this scene came up whilst watching the movie on DVD. And there’s a very, very good reason for that, as it’s a pretty jarring scene to witness.

Marion ends up having a shower and very soon, a shadowy figure appears and stabs her to death. There’s no denying that whenever this film gets talked about, the shower scene is the one that people most recall. Whether it’s remade or parodied, people often remember that shower scene. 😐

Now there could be a number of reasons why it’s remembered so well. It could be to do with how horrifying the scene is. It could be the image of Marion screaming in the shower before she’s about to be stabbed by the knife. It could be the image of the shadowy figure behind the shower curtain. 😐

But I think the reason why the film’s shower scene is most remembered by people is the music. Not just because Bernard Hermann composed it. It’s the stings when Marion is being stabbed. No matter how many times you play that scene, the scream-like stings are what come to mind as the first thing.

The ‘Psycho’ scream-like stings have also featured in other films and TV shows over the years. One example I can think of is when they’re played for Darla’s scenes in ‘Finding Nemo’. Another is when they’re played during one of the Series 4 bloopers of ‘The Brittas Empire’ found on the Series 6 DVD.

A thing that I must mention is that ‘Psycho’ was filmed entirely in black-and-white. This is a contrast to the film Alfred Hitchcock directed beforehand, which was ‘North By Northwest’, as that film was filmed entirely in colour. I was curious about why ‘Psycho’ was filmed in black-and-white instead of colour.

In hindsight, it probably made sense for the film to be filmed in black-and-white, as the gory scenes of Marion getting stabbed would’ve been too much, especially for a 1960 film. It’s just as well that the film got a 15 rating on DVD, as imagining those gory scenes in colour would be pretty disturbing.

Back to the story, after Marion is murdered, we see an anguished Norman Bates come to her motel room. He cleans up the murder scene; puts Marion’s corpse, belongings and the hidden cash in her car; and drives it to be sunk in a swamp. The implication is made that Bates’ mother murdered Marion. 😐

Incidentally, once the hidden cash is put into Marion’s car and dumped in the swamp, it never comes back into the story again. The ‘runaway Marion and the stolen cash’ plot is mostly forgotten about for the rest of the film. The focus is on Norman Bates; his motel; and who actually murdered Marion.

For the rest of the film, we have Marion’s boyfriend Sam meeting up with Marion’s sister – Lila, played by Vera Miles. She tells Sam about the theft and demands to know her sister’s whereabouts. Naturally, Sam had no idea Marion was on her way to meet her in Fairvale and that she stole the money.

We soon meet a private investigator – Martin Balsam as Milton Arbogast. He’s hired to retrieve the stolen money, probably by Marion’s previous employer, I believe. As he investigates, Arbogast stops at the Bates Motel and questions Norman Bates about what happened to Marion and the money. 😐

Arbogast clearly doesn’t buy the story Bates tells him, especially when he gets nervous and gives inconsistent answers. I like how Arbogast becomes suspicious of Bates. For a while, I hoped he’d be able to expose Bates as the murderer as well as recovering the dead Marion in the car from the swamp.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen, as when Arbogast attempts to speak with Bates’ mother at his home, the shadowy figures returns again and stabs him to death. At this point, I wondered if there was any hope left, since the private investigator that seemed to be on the right path got killed in an instant. 😦

Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope, as Lila and Sam become suspicious about not hearing from Arbogast for a while. They make their own investigations and they learn from the local sheriff in the Bates Motel area that Norman Bates’ mother died in a murder-suicide 10 years ago. Very suspicious!

Eventually, and convinced something happened to Arbogast, Lila and Sam end up at the motel, posing as husband and wife to stay overnight. Sam attempts to distract Norman in the motel office whilst Lila sneaks into the house. Suspicious, Norman becomes agitated before he knocks Sam out. 😐

Inside, Lila ends up in the fruit cellar where she discovers Norman Bates’ mother…who happens to be dead and mummified. Upon screaming, Lila ends up being confronted by Norman who’s dressed in his mother’s clothes and a wig, posing as his mother. Norman tries to stab Lila, but Sam stops him.

So yeah! Norman Bates was the murderer this whole time. Or rather Norman Bates as his mother was the murderer this whole time. It’s explained in quite a lengthy scene at the police station about what happened here, as a psychiatrist explains the circumstances of Norman Bates’ frame of mind. 😦

It’s disturbing to think that people in the real world could end up with alternate personalities, especially with Norman Bates taking on his mother’s personality after he murdered her when he became jealous of her and her lover ten years ago. It’s a notion that’s unnerving and uncomfortable.

I wonder if Willem Dafoe was inspired by 1960’s ‘Psycho’ when it came to playing Norman Osborn/the Green Goblin in the ‘Spider-Man’ films. Heck, let’s go further. Stan Lee could’ve been inspired by ‘Psycho’ in creating the Green Goblin’s real identity in Norman Osborn in the ‘Spider-Man’ comics. 🙂

After all, Norman Osborn’s first name is the same as Norman Bates’ first name. Coincidence? Maybe. Think about it! The film comes to a close where we see Norman Bates in a jail cell, taken over by the ‘Mother’ personality. Norman hears his mother saying to him that the murders were all of his doing.

I must admit, I didn’t expect a sequel to be made after this film – let alone three. Alfred Hitchcock didn’t direct them, as the films were made after he died. I’m not in a hurry to watch them, although actors like Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles reprised their roles from the first film in the sequels. 😐

The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there are production notes; cast and filmmakers biographies on Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire and director Alfred Hitchcock; and the film’s theatrical trailer. On Disc 2, there’s the ‘American Film Institute Salute to Alfred Hitchcock’ and ‘Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’.

Anyway, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film ‘Psycho’ is undeniably one of his famous and arguably best films in the suspense/horror/thriller genre. I can’t say that it’s a favourite of mine, as I prefer Alfred Hitchcock’s early films like ‘Rear Window’, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘North By Northwest’ compared to ‘Psycho’.

With that said; I can’t deny I’m glad I’ve seen the film and reviewed it for my blog to share my thoughts and feelings on it. It’s not one of those films I would see again and again, but there’s no denying the impact it’s made in film history. I’d stick with the original film than watch its follows-ups though.

‘Psycho’ (1960) rating – 7/10

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  • ‘Psycho II’ (Film)
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2 thoughts on “‘Psycho’ (1960) (Film)

  1. Williams Fan 92

    Great review Tim.

    I understand you’re not a huge fan of ‘Psycho’. I must admit that I enjoyed it a lot, maybe because I didn’t really see the film’s tone as horror. I like to think that the change in protagonist worked well for me. The shower scene is definitely iconic. I believe it was parodied in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ though I don’t believe they used the original music.

    How many other Hitchcock films have you seen. I’ve seen the majority of his Hollywood movies, as well as two of his British films, ‘The Lodger’, and ‘The 39 Steps’. And there’s also the documentary ‘Hitchcock Truffaut’. I think Hitchcock would make a great ‘Doctor Who’ historical figure.

    I still need to see the new ‘Batman’ film. I’m hoping to re-watch the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ movie before watching the second one. I might even review them if I have the time.

    Take care, WF92.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi WF92,

      Very pleased you enjoyed my review on ‘Psycho’. I’m glad you enjoyed ‘Psycho’ more than me. I won’t be checking out the ‘Psycho’ sequels anytime soon, since they’re more slasher films and Alfred Hitchcock isn’t the director of those. I’ve not seen the ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ films. Interesting the ‘Psycho’ shower scene was parodied in one of them. 😀

      Most of the Hitchcock films I’ve seen are on ‘The World of Alfred Hitchcock’ page, though I haven’t seen ‘The Birds’, ‘Topaz’, ‘Torn Curtain’ and ‘Frenzy’ yet. I’ve seen ‘The 39 Steps’ film Hitchcock directed. I don’t think I’ve seen ‘The Lodger’. I’ve definitely seen ‘The Lady Vanishes’. I’ve also yet to check out the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ series.

      Yes, it’d be interesting to see Hitchcock in a ‘Doctor Who’ episode. I don’t think they’ve done that yet in the TV series, the Big Finish audios, the comics or any books I know of. Hope you enjoy ‘The Batman’ when you get to see it. I revisited the first ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ movie on Blu-ray last weekend. Greatly enjoyed it. Looking forward to seeing ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ at the cinema this weekend.

      Many thanks for your comments.

      P.S. The ‘Psycho’ shower scene was also parodied in ‘Toy Story of Terror’.

      Tim 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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