Psycho is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling movies ever made. The director Alfred Hitchcock is universally regarded as one of the best directors who ever lived. The way that he is able to create and sustain suspense throughout all his movies and able to keep the audience glued to the T.V is believed to be magical. However, we are now living in the twenty first century and the methods that Alfred Hitchcock uses, may not attract a modern audience. With computer aided designs (CAD) and special effects around, Psycho may not be able to keep up with the gripping thrillers, like the trilogy of ‘Scream’.
The main plot of the story is about a girl called Marion Crane who is an accountant. While she is on a lunch-time session with her boyfriend Sam Loomis, she finds out that her lover is in debts from his father’s death and that the only way that they would be able to get married is by getting money. When she returns to work she is given forty thousand dollars to put into a bank. However, she doesn’t put the money in the bank and leaves town. All sorts of suspicious things happen between the period of her leaving her home-town Phoenix and arriving in a small motel in the middle of nowhere called the Bates Motel. As soon as you see the house that shadows the motel, you know something is going to happen. The famous shower scene, where Marion is murdered in the showers takes place in the motel and the murder of Detective Milton Arbogast.
Eventually Marion’s sister Lila Crane and her boyfriend Sam Loomis begin to find out the truth about Norman Bates. The mystery is solved in the cellar of Bates’ house and we eventually find out that he has a split personality. He can become wild and be the Psycho or he can be a nice normal man. He is finally put away in a Psychiatric Hospital. Throughout the movie Hitchcock uses many ways of keeping the audience glued to the T.V including, camera angles, lighting, sex, music and wrong decisions. All these factors have made Psycho one of the best movies made and millions of copies are still being sold worldwide. For the past fifty years Hitchcock has made the public aware of him and his movies and will surely never be forgotten.
In the first scene of Psycho we see Marion Crane having a lunch-hour tryst with her lover Sam Loomis. Their love-making is frustrated by the fact that Marion and Sam are unable to get married because of his dead father’s debts. In the modern world that we live in sex is a factor that will keep either elderly or youthful people glued to the screen. This is why it is a good starting scene that will keep viewers watching. We see Marion in her blouse which at the time would have aroused men. However, in this day and age there are many movies with woman topless and even more woman just wearing blouses. This technique may have attracted an audience in the fifties, but won’t attract too many people in the modern world. However, it is a good way to keep the audience watching and a very good starting point to a movie.
The shadows, the use of black and white and the way that Hitchcock uses the light also maintains suspense throughout the movie. Everyone knows that darkness gives an eerie sense of awareness. It is a key feature that tells the audience that something suspicious is going to happen. Making most of the film being set in darkness, always make the audience think whether there is going to be another murder. This un-answered question always keeps the audience gripping onto their chair and keeps the suspense going. One of the best uses of light was in the cellar, when Lila Crane (the sister of Marion) finds the corpse of Norman Bates’ mother. When Lila swings the corpse round thinking that it was the mother, the shadows on the skull made by the light make you jump out of your seat.
The shadows go in and out of the eye sockets and give the audience a real fright. When you see the back of the mother’s head you think that she is actually alive and well but are greatly shocked to find that she is dead. The lighting makes it much more shocking. There were many creepy shadows Throughout the film. Shadows as doors are slowly opened, shadows through shower curtains and shadows made by stuffed animals. They all keep the audience watching and keep them craving for more. Hitchcock could easily have used colour to screen the movie but chose not to. He made the entire movie in black and white. Contemporary viewers are used to watching all programs in colour and this style, and use of black and white wouldn’t really appeal to our modern audience.
The different ways of using the light are made by the camera angles. The most effect bive camera angle that is used is the close-up. We see many close-ups during the film and the most effective close-ups are the ones that are focused on Marion when she is trying to leave her hometown. You can see as she is driving, the fear of being caught in her eyes. You are able to see all the features and expressions in her face. There are also many close-ups on the policeman as Marion is being stopped. He looks evil because he is wearing dark sunglasses and this makes the audience think that the policeman could be the murderer. There are high angle shots, low angle shots, close-ups, medium shots, long shots.
All the different types of shots make the movie thrilling. Psycho is famed for its shower murder sequence, a classic model of shot selection and editing which was startling for its graphic violence and its violation of the narrative convention. Furthermore, the progressive shots of eyes, beginning with an extreme close-up of the killer’s peeping eye and ending with the open eye of the murder victim, cleverly implied the presence of a third eye, the viewer’s. In a different scene Detective Milton Arbogast is attacked by the Psycho, he is stabbed and falls down the stairs. The side on camera angle that showed you Arbogast falling down the stairs was a very good angle. However the special effects were of humour to our modern audience. Compared to the special effects in modern movies, the falling down the stairs was a big joke. The special effects would have made audiences amazed in the nineteen fifties but it just didn’t suit our modern style of filming.
Psycho didn’t just get its brilliance from the lighting, camera angles and sex. It got its true luminosity from the music. The music in Psycho is the main reason why it is one of the most thrilling movies ever made. Throughout the whole movie there is non-stop music. All the music was played by an orchestra. However, it wasn’t your average orchestra; it was a full string orchestra. If there was no music it would be like a television without any pictures. It would be useless. The music in Psycho could instantly change from a calm tone to a rapid, scary tone without losing the audiences attention. As soon as the music starts to have its effect on the audience, questions like; is this going to lead to a third murder? would be flying through the viewers. The music would always have an attacking affect and would catch you off guard in seconds. This is when you get the real fright. The style of intimidating music will always stay the same in many years to come.
The final points that really make a good thriller are the wrong decisions that are made and the un-developed questions. Throughout Psycho there non-stop wrong decisions, that realistically, modern people just wouldn’t do. The first wrong decision was when Marion decided to take the money and run off with it. As soon as we see Marion run off with the money we know straight away that something is going to happen to her, but are not completely sure what it will be. Will she fall into being the first victim of the Psycho? Once Marion has made one bad decision she falls into deeper trouble, which is another wrong choice of activity. A prime example is when she swaps her original car for a different car under the watchful eye of a police officer. The officer looks like a suspicious character; could he be the Psycho? Throughout the movie there are many more wrong decisions and un-answered or un-developed questions. All questions are answered when the film is in its closing stages and to some people it won’t be a surprise to them when they find out who the killer is. However, to most people they will only find out who the perpetrator is, in the dying scenes and this is how the tension and suspense Throughout the movie is built up.
His ingenious technical style combined with his strange, yet charming wit is what made him one of the most influential directors of all time. Psycho proves that Hitchcock can engulf a whirlpool of terror and tension, with ease. In a career that spanned over half a century, Hitchcock completed over 50 feature length films, captivating audiences and drawing them into a world of mystery, intrigue and suspense!