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March 01, 2009

PSYCHO — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Psycho-1960Alfred Hitchcock should be credited with making the first slasher movie for the groundbreaking narrative template he created for "Psycho." Regardless of how many times you've seen it, "Psycho" is a compulsively watchable horror thriller that builds taught layers of exponential suspense with every scene. At the time of its release, there had never before been a film as terrifying and menacing as “Psycho.” Hitchcock played drolly with his public persona creating trailers for the movie in which he hinted at the horrors in the story. Hitch was in the middle of a 10-year run of his popular television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” for which he was known as a celebrity along the lines of Rod Serling’s concurrently running “The Twilight Zone” TV series.    

Famously made on a shoestring budget ($800,000), with a regular television production crew, "Psycho" is a black-and-white picture that gains claustrophobic momentum from its desolate "Bates" motel location where Janet Leigh's Marion Crane makes her last stop.

Psycho

The inventive British director opens the film with a tawdry scene in a cheap motel room where Marion is finishing up a lunch break assignation with her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). They want to get married but can’t afford the cost. It’s a soap opera scene with a touch of debauchery (get a load of Marion’s magnificent white bra) that Hitchcock uses to draw the audience into Marion’s mindset. Marion is a feminist prototype anti-heroine whose luck runs out. 

Running off with $40,000 from her employer is a terrible idea for any number of reasons for our troubled Phoenix, Arizona real estate secretary. No small amount of irony arrives from Marion’s decision to return the purloined cash and face the consequences of her actions after making a run for it. Sadly, Marion never gets a chance to follow through on her plan to come clean.  

Psycho

Anthony Perkins gives a career-topping performance as Norman Bates, the Bates Motel’s sinewy owner with a nasty mommy complex. Perkin’s ingenious use of his gawky physicality and facial expressions creates one of the most frightening characters ever created for the screen. Hitchcock based Norman Bates on real-life Texas-born psychotic Ed Gein. Anthony Perkins’s career was all but ruined as a result of making “Psycho” because he became typecast as Norman Bates ever after.

The 1960 film found Alfred Hitchcock working at the height of his powers during a career that spanned more than 60 years. The film’s famous shower scene is still studied by film students for Hitchcock's brilliant use of montage. The 45-second sequence remains one of the most visually and viscerally striking episodes ever captured on celluloid. "Psycho" is everything a horror movie should be, creepy, sexy, dark, and terribly shocking. In a word, perfect.

Psycho2

Rated R. 109 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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