Psycho Film Analysis Essay. How It Changed Cinema
The 1960 thriller film, Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock changed the way that movies were made during the era. Hitchcock created a horrifying, suspenseful, thriller that created an entire new genre of film. Psycho, written by Joseph Stefano, loosely tells the tale of a historic murderer Ed Gein. The film tells the story of the Bates Motel owner, Norman Bates and his uncontrollable desire to kill due to his second personality. This murderous personality is the protective mother, Norma, who was killed by her own son after he discovered her in bed with her boyfriend of the time. Norma’s personality took control when Norman started to feel an attraction to a woman. Norman would awake to his original personality with no recollection of what his ‘mother’ had done. What seemed to be the main character was quickly killed off within the first half of the movie in the famous “shower scene”. This scene opened up quick comments and controversial issues later to be discussed about the film.
With Hitchcock being one of the most well-known directors of the time, he took a big risk in placing together sex and violence in an excruciatingly graphic manner. Hitchcock was constantly aware of the changing of personality in movie goers and knew that this breakdown of the film industry was his time to rise and create an innovative genre. His 1960 film, Psycho, challenged the social norm and caused many controversial issues, but is now known as one of the greatest films in America. According to the American Film Institute, Psycho (1960), is labeled number fourteen out of one hundred films.
Psycho, tells the story of Marion Crane, a secretary from Phoenix, Arizona. She plans to run away with her boyfriend, Sam. The first scene of the film showed Marion and boyfriend Sam half naked in bed together. Considering this being the opening scene of the movie, it caused the audience to become skeptical of what’s to come due to a break in conformity. Marion was shown only in her undergarments while Sam only had pants on. It was to be assumed that the couple had just had sex.
Due to their secret love affair, Sam and Marion both struggle with money as noted in this scene. In an attempt to get away from her life, Marion steals four thousand dollars from a man working with her boss. Her plan is to store the money away, help Sam get out of his money trouble, and start a new life for them. She is told to take the money to the bank but instead, takes the money and leaves for good. She is followed by a policeman because of her skittish manner when pulled over. Marion buys a new car and manages to lose him in the rain. Marion is forced to pull over due to heavy rainfall and ends up at the Bates Motel. Using a fake name and hometown, Marion seems to have found the perfect place to hide away for a day. This is where Marion meets seemingly normal, Norman Bates.
Norman Bates seems to be your average, charming young man when he is introduced as the Bates Motel owner. This is believed to be true until he sits down with guest Marion, for dinner and explains that he lives in the house up the hill with his mentally ill mother. Marion suggests that Norman put his mother away, possibly in a care facility. When he hears this, Norman is enraged. In response to Marion’s apology, Norman says,
“I've suggested it myself. But I hate to even think about such a thing. She needs me... and it isn't... (Looks up with a childlike pleading in his eyes) ...it isn't as if she were a maniac, a raving thing... it's just that... sometimes she goes a little mad. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you” (Hitchcock)?
It is at this moment when Marion starts to notice strange aspects of Norman’s personality. She notices his taxidermy collection, his strange relationship with his mother, and his abnormal personality changes.
Psycho’s release created a row among the public. When Alfred Hitchcock produced the film nearly 60 years ago, he broke the standards of film censors. Before Psycho was released, there was a prevention of sexuality and violence from being released to the public. Hitchcock created a new genre of film with his introduction of sex, violence, and horror all in one movie. The shower scene of the movie became the most talked about shot for decades, it is even still discussed today despite the growth of the film industry. The influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies is still incorporated and felt in today's time. The movie Psycho changed the film industry, creating a new genre and an acceptance of growth with its introduction to controversial movie scenes.
In a Culture article written by Brian D. Johnson, he makes note of something called “The Psycho effect”. The Psycho effect is the aftermath created by Alfred Hitchcock after directing Psycho. Due to the intense effects of the shower scene, it was believed that Hitchcock lured his viewers into watching the movie almost as if it were a dare.
But it wasn’t just the broken taboos that made Psycho such a landmark. It was the way Hitchcock, a supreme showman, presented the movie as a dare to his audience. Starring in a publicity campaign as diabolically plotted as the movie itself, Hitchcock insisted that no one would be admitted to the theatre after the film had started- a revolutionary notion in an era when moviegoers routinely drifted into movies midway through and stuck around for the next show to catch up on what they’d missed (Johnson).
Hitchcock shocked moviegoers with the shower curtain being flung open to reveal a naked woman in the shower. Not only did a scare occur with this moment, it continued in the scene with the woman’s killer stabbing her repeatedly showing knife to skin contact. With the shower scene being more controversial due to Marion’s full nudity, this scene was also a very important break of code in the film industry. Then and there, this broke into two codes of movie conformity.
Critics were astonished with the way that this film was made. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Psycho “Shattered 1950s conformity” while Adam Rosenburg from MTV wrote “On that night, [Psycho premiered] the world saw the birth of the slasher genre and one of the earliest examples of graphic violence in film (John Hudson, How Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ Changed Cinema and Society). After the initial release of the film, critics, viewers, and commentators either were joyed or were horrified by the movie that they witnessed. It was said that this film introduced a new style of editing called ‘Quick Cutting’. Although it went unnoticed at the time, editors slowed down the film to discover that the shower scene is no more than just an illusion. There was a 2 second span where the knife quickly touches the skin, however for the next 43 seconds that the knife appears on the skin, it never actually hits it. In addition to the ‘quick cutting’ introduction, Psycho introduced horror movie clichés that would suddenly be tagged to horror movies for decades. This includes the ever-so-famous background music to the shower scene. This became the most powerful and popular piece of music for horrendous scenes in movies.
Psycho, although extremely judged and ridiculed during the first few years of release, changed cinema for the better. It created an entire new genre of film, horror. At the very end of the film the main female character’s sister, Lila discovers the dead body of Mrs. Bates in the cellar. This shocked viewers as it was very rare to see a decayed skeleton in a film in the 1960’s. She walks down into the cellar to hide from Norman after entering his house. Lila comes across what appears to be a woman in a chair, however the woman is dead. Lila lets out a scream which causes Norman to run down the stairs with a knife in hand. It is at this moment when Norman’s secondary personality is seen for the first time.
Norman runs down the stairs in a blonde wig and a dress representing the personality of his dead mother. Near the end of the film Norman’s mother’s voice sounds and says,
“It's sad... when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son... but I couldn't allow them to believe that I would commit murder They'll put him away now... as I should have... years ago. He was always... bad. And in the end, he intended to tell them I killed those girls... and that man. As if I could do anything except just sit and stare... like one of his stuffed birds.” (Hitchcock).
It is noted by the detective that there is no getting Norman back from this state of his psychopathy. “But in Norman’s case, he was simply doing everything possible to keep alive the illusion of his mother being alive” (Hitchcock). His strong will and desire to keep his mother’s spirit alive took control over Norman and forbid him to think for himself.
Alfred Hitchcock’s directive style was unique in the film industry during his time. According to BFI Screen online writes that Hitchcock “thoroughly deserved his reputation as the 'Master of Suspense'” (Duguid). With his many films, Hitchcock unleashed a new directive style and a whole new genre of film, horror. During the 1960’s a big change sparked in the American film industry. Amongst Hollywood studios having a weakening downfall, a weakening of censorship laws occurred. Sex and violence in movies took a turn from rare to the forefront of American cinema.
Alfred Hitchcock provided a risky way of conducting his 1960 film Psycho. He nearly broke censorship laws by using borderline nude images of a woman, a series of near stabbing shots rather than continuous, and chocolate syrup to represent blood. Although most films were shot in color by the sixties, Hitchcock used black and white to disguise aspects of the film that could have steered away moviegoers of the time. He used these elements in the shower scene to create an illusion of real blood and the extremely realistic killing of Marion. Although Alfred Hitchcock’s film was portrayed as horrific, gory, yet riveting. New York Daily News writer Wanda Hale states in the article ‘Psycho’ is a mind-teasing shocker: 1960 review, “The obvious thing to say is that Hitch has done it again; that the suspense of his picture builds up slowly but surely to an almost unbearable pitch of excitement. Psycho is a murder mystery. It isn’t Hitchcock’s usual terrifier, a shocker of the nervous system; it’s a mind teaser” (Hale). Psycho was not your average horror film with jump scares and ghosts, but a realistic story of a twisted killer that captures all of our mind’s greatest fears.