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movie: Psycho (1960)

How about a horror movie for Friday the 13th, hmmmm?

I enjoyed this Hitchcock classic. I don’t care what Husband says.

He says he can’t believe people were frightened by this. But I think that 1960 was a different time. Susanne Antonetta writes in Body Toxic, “Nobody was supposed to talk about Psycho. My parents came home unable to sleep.” I can believe that this movie was scarier then; I thought it was scary now, although I certainly noted the ways in which it’s dated: slower paced, longer pauses, far less graphic (on which more in a moment). The psychological question is every bit as chilling as ever. The bones of this movie are still scary; the production is of another era, is all.

Some of the elements for which Hitchcock is known – creative camera angles (downright innovative at the time), stark, simple shots and sets, psychological drama, and in this case, low budget black-and-white – were plainly evident. For that matter, it was graphically violent for its time, I’m told. (We noted that there was strangely little blood in that one scene, but maybe it was a lot by comparison.) It’s a little hard to see these things in context, as I was neither alive nor a movie-goer in 1960 when this film was released. But even from the vantage point of 2015 – when new releases are frantically fast-paced and horror movies flow with blood – I can see the artistry here. It’s a different viewing experience now than it would have been then. Now, it looks vintage, dated, but still charming, and still chilling. Janet Leigh’s pin-up-style beauty is classic; all those shots of her dramatic mascara in black-and-white are arty in a way you don’t really see any more. The one really famous scene was striking, again, whatever Husband may think. I also noted the MacGuffin (a term I learned just the other day while looking up Hitchcock). Actually, the item that bothered me was not a shortage of frightfulness, but a hole in logic: it didn’t make sense to me that Lila and Sam would be so confident in the existence of Mother when they have just talked to two people who saw her buried. (Spoiler in white text – highlight or select to view.)

If you notice I’m being cagey about the plot, it’s because I hold out hope that there may still be someone out there like me, who has never seen this movie and really doesn’t know much going in; and for that person, should I reach her or him, I am avoiding all plot description. Go see it blind, Hypothetical Reader.

I’m on board for the classic thriller/suspense/horror genre, and I like a good psychological twist. More Hitchcock to come.


Rating: 7 sandwiches.

Final note: Husband was deeply frustrated by the consistent habit of drivers, traveling alone, to get in and out of their cars via the passenger-side door, sliding across the bench seat. I have offered that the hoods on these old cars are so long that maybe this really does provide a short cut?

6 Responses

  1. One thought (and I’m not a huge Psycho fan — I do like it, but I could probably name at least ten Hitchcock movies that I like better), which is that horror wasn’t really what Hitchcock was after. This is why the limitations on what you could show in those days didn’t really bother him, though he liked to push against them when he could.

    He was — as he was known back then — the master of suspense. Not the thing that does happen, which can only get you for a minute, but the thing that might happen, which can hold your interest for much, much longer.

    And, always, there was his faultless control over where the audience’s sympathies would lie.

    • That’s a great distinction you made, between horror and suspense. The latter is definitely the achievement here. As usual, thanks for helping!

      Which Hitchcocks am I after next?? Do tell.

      • The notification for this comment ended up in my spam folder for some reason, and I just noticed it.

        Other Hitchcocks to see? Bearing in mind that there are a lot of his movies that I’ve never seen, here are some which are definitely worth a look.

        Vertigo.

        The Trouble with Harry. Another of the “lost” ones, this is somewhat lighter than most of his movies. In fact, it’s a lot of fun for a movie where everything in the plot is centered around a corpse.

        Notorious. Great story, great cast giving great performances, and, as my father would have put it, a great tough-minded screenplay.

        To Catch a Thief. The sexiest movie ever made.

        I also have to mention Family Plot. Not a great Hitchcock (some people find it rather disappointing that’s it’s his final film), but it contains a great lesson about storytelling (as I talked about here: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=541), and, without giving anything away, the final shot is absolutely perfect for the final shot in any Hitchcock movie ever.

  2. […] I must admit, this was a sillier movie than Psycho. For one thing, The Birds necessitated special effects, and 1963 special effects do not play well […]

  3. […] Psycho, I was drawn to this later work which has only tangential relation to that Hitchcock classic. […]

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