Psycho (1960)

Psycho

This review contains spoilers but since it’s a classic I doubt I could actually spoil it. Still, if you haven’t seen it, watch it before you read this.

Leave it to me to obtain the most shame among the movie blogger community because I’ve literally seen a handful of classics. As I grew up watching the movies from the 90’s, I never really visited the past but I’m trying to change, I really am! So here’s another addition to my slowly developing BOT feature  (celebrating its 10th post!), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The Movie Waffler made me feel especially ashamed in the comment section under the Bates Motel pilot reviewa series dedicated to the childhood of Norman Bates – because I had not seen Psycho. Though, not seeing the classic didn’t stop me from hating everything about Bates Motel which is an interesting statement because as I had nothing to reference my experience towards, I still ended up disliking the series. Now, as I’ve watched Psycho, I’m even more certain that Bates Motel as a series is a poor way of interpenetrating Norman Bates’ childhood and his relationship with his mother.

While Movie Waffler wished for a review from a person who had a fresh perspective, I sadly won’t be that person. For some reason my brain is designed not to forget the things I’ve read in passing about movies or television shows – in other words, I knew the twist of Psycho. In a way, it did rob its shine because the twist was smartly created and it evolved surprisingly well. If I had not known that Norman’s mother was dead, I would have been surprised. Maybe. Eventually there was this one scene in Psycho that downsized the plot twist. The thing that influenced the explosive end was the fact that there was a lot of dialog revolving around the death of Norman’s mother – for a person who has seen a lot of Criminal Minds (all of it and some of it more than once), that conversation would have revealed the twist before it was visually shown. I secretly wish I had not known about it and then, I would have wanted to discover her death together with that visual but then again, nothing disappointing never really happened while knowing the twist.

Psycho’s plot development was very solid and better than some of the other movies I saw last week. Interesting was the way the focus on the character shifted as the movie went on. The plot begins with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), shifts to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), then to Marion’s sister (Vera Miles) and Marion’s boyfriend (John Gavin) which is very compelling. I think the reason is because while you get to know Marion in the beginning you expect her to be there in the end and therefore you are more shocked about her death. It’s as if you get introduced with a main character, bonding with her and wanting to know more about her and suddenly, she is taken away from you early on in the movie – sounds a bit harsh but it worked so brilliantly. Though her death didn’t really surprise me, I’m quite aware of that scene for the obvious reasons, the fact that she stole money was truly shocking and as well as intriguing. Such a pretty woman and then a criminal.

The shift in the plot to Norman Bates was my favorite part, there was something about Perkins that made his character sadistically likable in a way. If there’s a discussion about casting choices, the fact that Perkins was chosen to be Bates, is most likely a brilliant example of a perfect match. Then again, it’s not out of this world impossible to hit the jackpot with casting, I’m just thrilled it happened as such in Psycho. Which is why the Bates Motel series isn’t going to work out – that feeling that Norman Bates in the hands of Perkins managed to create is something special. Maybe it’s the fact that he never seems like the kind of guy who would harm somebody, to be honest, Norman never was the one who did the killings in the first place. So in a way, Norman was still innocent and remains as such in the mind of Norman – where his mother has taken over. Perkins himself stated that he felt sympathetic towards Norman and maybe from there his unique way of portraying a killer comes from.

When the plot line took its focus from Norman to Marion’s sister, I was a bit hesitant. There was definitely a certain part of me who missed Norman and I felt disconnected from the sister as she was just introduced. Then I got used to her and together with Marion’s boyfriend, the plot started to develop towards the twist with a rather entertaining investigation. Now, like I said, I didn’t really care for the fact that Norman’s mother was told to be dead though it did somehow take away something. Then again, it would have been much less meaningful when I wouldn’t have known the actual ending. Which was eventually not scary at all. I’m guessing the horror at that time wasn’t as designed as it is now – something I knowingly avoid though I don’t really think I’m scared of them per say. Horror just has never been my favorite genre but seeing Psycho made me think that maybe I should give at least the classic horror movies a try.

Finally, I appreciated the final scene where the condition of Norman was explained to the fullest and I felt a bit sorry for him. Then, I saw the smile that was perfectly edited into his dead mother’s smile and I disliked him instantly. Perkins did well in that moment, from a sweet man he was before into a demented man possessed by his mother’s personality – click – and you hate him. Then you think back at his story line and you are confused because you also feel sorry for him. That’s Psycho, the confusion between good and bad, hate and love, born evil and turned evil – that’s why I liked it even though I knew that Norman was behind it all. I still love that even after seeing Psycho I can wonder about Norman’s life and his past, his feelings towards women and his dead mother. Something that I will do on my own because I will not be watching Bates Motel as Psycho is too good to be messed with like that – bad TV-world, stop it!

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18 thoughts on “Psycho (1960)”

  1. Awesome review. I saw the movie for the first time about 2 years ago and didn’t know anything about it except for the shower scene. It really is a classic movie and one of my favorites. Love that picture of Bates!

    1. Hah, I liked that they explained it but maybe it was too literal in a way. For me it was the conversation with the neighbors that kind of.. overshadowed it all.

  2. I think you focus a bit too much on knowing the reveal. The only way you wouldn’t know it is if you saw the movie back when it was first released, it’s one of the most famous reveals in history.

    I didn’t feel sorry for Norman. The things he did were repulsive and sick and the movie was a serious one, unlike for example American Psycho where there is a great deal of satire and sarcasm that makes Bateman into such a charismatic character. That shot of Norman’s face blending in with smiling skeleton is one of the scariest things I’ve seen in my life.

    1. Maybe indeed but I guess it’s the context as well, now the reveal doesn’t feel as shocking.
      I kind of felt sorry for him though you shouldn’t trust my judgment, I always go for the bad/killer ones for some reason – hopefully not in life!
      And yes, the “dead smile” – that was just… all kinds of horrible.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 You should watch Psycho 2 now, it’s a fantastic sequel with lots of crazy twists and really develops the character in a respectful way. Psycho 3 isn’t so good but is still worth a watch, Stoker is very influenced by it. Psycho 4 is awful though. A couple of other classic horrors from the same era are The Innocents and The Haunting, I’d love to read your thoughts on those. Was this your first Hitchcock?

    1. Indeed but with classics, I try to be as open minded as possible when I finally watch them. The getting to them part is the impossible part. 😀

  4. I’m going to hold off on reading the review, thanks to your spoiler warning (just on the off chance you’re spoiling something different than what pop culture usually spoils). Just thought I’d let you know you’re not alone on having missed out on this classic… I finally wound up with a copy that I’ll be watching some time, but I’m undecided on whether to see it soon or hold off until my annual horror block in October.

      1. One nice thing I’ve discovered about talking about watching classic and “must see” films for the first time is that you are almost never the only one. One of a very small number, perhaps, but never just one.

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