The Vault is a new series I’m starting, where I’m going to go back and review classic films that I love. As we just got the epic Season 4 Finale of Bates Motel, it seemed fitting the first film out of The Vault should be, Psycho (the first and only Psycho from 1960!).
Psycho stars Anthony Perkins (The Trial, The Black Hole), Vera Miles (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), John Gavin (Spartacus, Imitation of Life), Janet Leigh (Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate) and is directed by the legend, Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Rear Window).
Marion Crane (Leigh) flees town with $40,000 she stole from a client at her work. She stops at a motel that’s run by a young man, Norman Bates (Perkins) and his controlling mother. Things don’t seem right and horrifying events take place at The Bates Motel.
Psycho is in my top 10 favorite films of all time and in my eyes is a perfect masterpiece. The performances, the direction, the story, the setting, everything is spot on and not a single element fails. The twist and turns the film takes, are predictable but back in 1960 this film shocked cinema goers and it’s so excellently executed it still works today. So lets delve into everything that makes this film great!
Every time you sit down to watch an Alfred Hitchcock film, you know you’re in for a treat. He’s a master when it comes to directing and his trademark tension is present here more than any of his other films. His inventive way of framing each shot to hide the mystery, created so much suspense until finally being revealed at the end. I could count at least seven iconic shots from this film that will be forever ingrained in my brain. On a side note, there is an hilarious trailer for Psycho, where Hitchcock takes you through the Motel and practically spoils the whole film. It’s really weird but fascinating.
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is one of my favorite performances of all time (which is why I’m so surprised I really enjoy Freddie Highmore’s interpretation on Bates Motel). From the moment he comes on screen, he has an awkward, uneasy vibe too him and you know something isn’t right. When he’s running the motel he comes across as a normal guy, maybe just a little weird but when you have a conversation with him for more than 5 minutes, his angry, psychopathic ways comes out especially if you mention his mother. Perkins was so good at playing every aspect of this character, from a charming receptionist, to being psychotic and getting really nervous when asked to many questions. There is a scene with him and a detective, where Norman’s nervous ticks and rage comes out and Anthony Perkins killed that scene.
To go along with the wonderful performance of Perkins, Psycho has a plethora of other amazing talents. Janet Leigh is tremendous as Marion Crane and as a lot of the film is carried by her, she had to be good to keep people interested until we got to the Motel. Vera Miles plays her sister and when she steps into the film, she offers a strong lead to root for. Also props for casting, her and Leigh really looked liked sister. Martin Balsam plays the detective I mentioned earlier and he is just terrific. He was popping up and giving great performances around this time in films like 12 Angry Men, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and he plays off Anthony Perkins so well in the scenes he has with him. Balsam was one of the great character actors and has several outstanding performances to be remembered by.
I have to discuss the shower sequence. It’s probably the most iconic scene in film history, even if you’ve never seen Psycho, you know the scene and music. It’s Hitchcock at his best, with the shadow on the shower curtain, the drain turning into the eye, the chilling score, it’s a scene that will never leave your soul and is one of the most horrifying moments in cinema.
Every good horror film has to have a scary setting, well Psycho has every film beat with that one. The house on the top of the hill looking down on everything is so creepy, it gives the film a feeling of evil pressing down on the motel or a certain relative constantly burdening Norman. Norman’s office with the stuffed animals couldn’t get any more unsettling and added to the disturbed Norman. Along with the setting, is the amazing score composed by Bernard Herrmann. Everyone knows the music behind the shower scene but throughout the rest of the film, the score blares with an intensity that puts you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Now that Bates Motel has gone in the direction we’ve all been waiting for, I hope we get to hear some of Herrmann’s brilliant work.
If you haven’t seen Psycho I couldn’t recommend it more. 56 years later it still holds up as one of the most heart pounding thrillers ever and will stick with you forever. It’s a perfect film with a perfect score!
Have you seen Psycho and what do you think about the 1960 classic?