Just a quick note, I own the Alfred Hitchcock collection on Blu-ray, which is why PSYCHO seems out of order. Also, it’s the only film from that collection I consider to be horror.
What can one say about PSYCHO that hasn’t already been said? Unfortunately for this reviewer, not much. The best I can do is marry the two things people usually talk about, the content of the film, and what consequences PSYCHO had on the real world. Oh, and spoiler alert. This film has been out since 1960, and so if you don’t know, or haven’t seen it, you don’t really deserve the surprise.
PSYCHO is sort of like two movies squeezed together. You have the first movie, a suspenseful film about a woman that steals money from her office and is trying to figure out if she should, or can, return it or not. Then you have the second movie about a young man and his overbearing, murderous, mother. Both films contain different characters (except for Norman Bates and Sam Loomis, who appear in both), which help with the distinction between film one and film two. Yet, even though PSYCHO is two films in one, they both blend together effortlessly. So let’s talk about the two separate movies and afterward talk about the whole film as one piece.
The first movie, which we’ll call RUNAWAY MONEY (because I’m too lazy to think up a good title), It begins with this long shot that slowly pushes towards a building, and then a specific window. Right there, already, I’m won over by this film because I love great feats of camera-work, and visual trickery. The idea, in Hitchcock’s mind, was to fully develop Marion so you feel like she’s the main character, when we transfer to the second movie, the audience is shocked when she is murdered. So the first film really tells us a lot about Marion Crane, giving her a full story, having a love affair with Loomis, showing where she works and what she does there, giving her motives and intentions behind her actions. This trick would later be played on audiences with the film SCREAM where Drew Barrymore’s character is killed off in the beginning of the film. The difference between the two, and why PSYCHO is better, is Marion does not feel like a stock character, whereas we learn very little of Casey before she is killed (oops…spoiler alert). RUNAWAY MONEY ends with Marion trying to decide whether or not to return the money, she’s conflicted, which is another trait of a fully realized character, they’re mentally or emotionally complex.
Between RUNAWAY MONEY and…let’s call the second movie MOMMA’S BOY, there is a very brief overlap where Norman Bates and Marion Crane meet when she stays at his motel. They have a conversation in his back room, filled with relics of his love of taxidermy. For RUNAWAY MONEY, this feels like just good storytelling, giving us a rounded out character appreciation for Norman. This same chunk is the beginning of MOMMA’S BOY. If you look at this scene as the beginning of MOMMA’S BOY where Norman is the main character and Marion is just a guest of the motel. This also feels concentrated on story, MOMMA’S BOY could have been a feel-good film about a young man, Norman, who connects with different customers staying at the motel over the course of the film.
MOMMA’S BOY goes into full-swing when Momma Bates stabs Marion to death in the shower, and Norman, switching off his psychosis button, cleans up after his mother. We get the feeling he’s done this before. Suddenly Norman becomes the protagonist, a son trying to look out for his murderous mother. This time she/he killed the wrong woman, as she has people that miss her. Specifically her lover, and her sister. The body count rises as more people keep showing up, looking for Marion. We get a clearer picture of Norman as the film progresses. In the shocking finale, we find out why that backroom was filled with taxidermied animals, because he did the same thing with his mother, who is very much dead, and has been for quite some time. Then the screw turns one more notch and Norman shows up in the basement, dressed as his mother, and brandishing a kitchen knife. Turns out he’s the one that’s been killing people, thinking he was his mother. Wow, what an ending to both RUNAWAY MONEY and MOMMA’S BOY!!!
As for PSYCHO, it’s all around a great film, with an excellent performance by Anthony Perkins. The first time you watch the film you see him as this nice, quiet, individual that is put-upon by the world around him. However, the exact same performance a second time around, and you get a definite creepy vibe off of him that you didn’t have before.
Useless trivia #486: PSYCHO was the first film to show a flushing toilet.
PSYCHO also altered the way people saw films in the theater. Before PSYCHO, people would pay their quarter, or whatever, and go into a movie at any point during it. But Alfred Hitchcock specifically had the theater’s alter that to not allow an audience in after the film had been going for a while. This rule became so popular that we still have it today.
One last note on my favorite part of this movie, the money that Marion stole. In the end of the film it’s entirely inconsequential, nobody finds it. Yet during MOMMA’S BOY you really think someone will find it. It’s also a little symbolic, sinking the money in the swamp with the car, permanently burying RUNAWAY MONEY, telling us to forget it, that movies done, and we’re now watching MOMMA’S BOY.