Many film directors would agree that there is no such thing as a film capable of having an impact on the world. Whether this is true or not filmmakers still try to produce films that have an enormous impact. Very few succeed. One such film that did was “Psycho”. “Psycho” went into another dimension in terms of its content. No one had ever tried to make a film which covered the areas that “Psycho” covered. Alfred Hitchcock had to use his forty years of experience to put across his ideas but not make the film pornographic or too violent. It is impossible to recreate the experience for the audiences that first experienced “Psycho” when it first came out.
This was one of the most famous and daring pieces of film to be made in that era. Nobody would ever have thought about making such a film because the censors would almost certainly ban it. The shower scene is the key scene because this is the scene in which the psycho strikes first. It is also the end of what at first seems to be the main character, Marion Crane. Because this is the main scene and also the most controversial scene, Alfred Hitchcock filmed it over seven days for only two minutes forty seconds worth of film. There were about seventy different camera angles in the scene. Hitchcock had to consider the censors, which meant that he had to make sure that he kept the content of nudity and violence down to a minimum. This was because at the time the censors were very strict and would not allow the film if it contained too much explicit material. Hitchcock had used several scenes prior to the shower scene to build up the relationship between Marion and Norman Bates.
When Marion first meets Norman you instantly feel that there is something that is going to happen in the scenes to follow. Marion’s attractiveness makes her an obsessive target for Norman. Marion’s last name of Crane refers to the graceful, long-limbed bird of the same name, which makes her seem innocent and vulnerable. From the outset of their meeting, she maintains the social control by her sexual effect on Norman. Even so she still gets drawn into his office, Marion has entered the world of Norman Bates, with no way out. From Norman’s fascination with bird taxidermy you feel that there is another side to Norman and that all is not what it seems. The taxidermy is simply there to distract Norman away from his other personality. Though Norman may seem suspicious Marion still begins talking to him about her troubles. Marion implies to him how she has problems and that that she has to return home to deal responsibly with a serious mistake. Norman sternly expressed, “we’re all in our private traps that never budge an inch.” He should know, with the imprint of his long dead mother on the bed covers, though he’s the only one living in the house. This indicates that Norman is farther down the road of helplessness than Marion, probably so far in fact that he is at the point of no return.
Even though Marion is in a difficult situation she still has chance to put things right whereas Norman doesn’t. Once Marion and Norman have finished talking Marion goes to her room. She begins to get ready to have a shower. Norman remains in his office where he perversely removes a picture from the wall of his office and spies on her through a purposely-drilled hole into her room. He sees her going into the shower so he goes back to his house. This is the first time in the film in which we clearly see the other side to Norman’s personality. This is where we first see his mother.
During the shower scene Alfred Hitchcock uses many filming and sound techniques to get the best sequence across to the audience, without making it too violent, so that the censors could not ban the film. Hitchcock used seventy-eight camera angles to achieve the best possible murder scene. He also used many different types of camera shots to add to the effect of the scene. He varied the lengths of the shots to give a more frantic feel to the scene, such as a close-up closely followed by a medium close up. This especially happens during the murder in the shower.
When Marion walks into the bathroom she rips up her notes and flushes them down the toilet. This was another step into new territory for Hitchcock, as it was not felt decent to flush a toilet on film. It also symbolises that Marion is flushing her problems away. She then steps into the shower. For the first time in the scene the music has now stopped and all we can hear is the sound of the water from the shower.
We then see a shot of the showerhead with water pouring out but somehow missing the camera. This shot took much thinking to overcome the fact that Alfred Hitchcock did not want the water to go onto the camera lens. To achieve this shoot the middle holes of the showerhead had to be blocked so that the camera would not get wet but the water would fall around the camera to get the impression that we are in the shower with Marion. This makes us feel that we are a much greater part of the scene.
We then see her washing herself in the water. This is symbolic of her washing her sins away. The camera then moves round so that we can see the curtain. This is a key shot as this enables us to see the psycho enter the room. At first we cannot see that the psycho has a knife because we only have a translucent view through the curtain. But as he moves closer we feel that Marion is in great danger.
The psycho quickly pulls back the curtain. We then see a silhouette of the psycho with the knife raised. Even though the psycho is in silhouette we can just make out that it has an old ladies haircut. This immediately makes us feel that it wasn’t Norman (the audience now feels confused as they have seen Norman spying on Marion but yet someone else has killed her). The scene is filmed so well that people actually believed that they saw the knife go into Marion when it really never touched her. Some clever editing and some knife shots followed by shots of skin then showing some blood achieved this and the sharp, high pitched notes in the music which add to the effect of the knife penetrating deep into Marion’s flesh. Simple but very effective. The camera shots are filmed in such a way that we feel that we are actually in the shower with her when this is all happening. This makes us feel very helpless and the fact that we feel we are so close but are actually so far.
After Marion has been stabbed several times she begins to fall to the ground. This is when the psycho leaves. We get a close up shot of Marion’s eye, and this is when it really hits us that she has been kills. Yet again you feel so helpless and that you almost feel guilty for not helping her. This was a great bit of directing by Hitchcock because it really involves the audience with the film and makes them feel responsible for the characters. We see it leave through the door and it appears to be a female or at least dressed like a female. Marion then she slides down the shower wall. She then falls, gripping and tearing off the shower curtain, her last protection.
Throughout the shower scene the psycho’s identity is kept uncertain. This adds an uncertainty in the minds of the audience. At first you think that it is Norman, but even then he seems pleasant and gentlemanly. Perhaps he seems too nice? Then when you see that it is a woman who kills her you just can’t be sure. It is very clever they way that you are not shown the face of the psycho. This is the key to not revealing his identity.
“Psycho” was not only filmed incredibly well, but it had a fantastic storyline. No matter how good the directing or the acting is you need a good story line and script. “Psycho” had this. It had good characters, irony, humour, repetitions, imagery and a great piece of music.
The characters that we see in “Psycho” are created firstly by a writer then interpreted by the cast and actors who play the roles. Although this may seem obvious, the way that the actors interpret the characters can make or break a film. There are many different parts that an actor has to consider before his/her character is complete. Although there weren’t very many characters in “Psycho” they were all very different, with different thoughts and personalities. At many times during “Psycho” we feel sorry for the characters or want to help them or warn them of danger. This is due to the fact that we know more than the characters and feel as though we should warn them.
Another aspect of a good film is the irony in it. Irony is created when the audience knows more about the events than the characters do. This means that they can anticipate what is going to happen. It can also occur when something has more significance the second time it is seen or heard because it seems to hint on what may happen in the film at a later stage. There were many different occasions where irony occurred in “Psycho.” One such instance was when the traffic cop told Marion that, “there are plenty of motels in this area…I mean…just to be safe.” Then that night Marion books into the Bates Motel and ends up being murdered. That was just one of the many cases of irony that have been put into the script. You may not realise they are there first time but when you watch the film a second time you can see how much time has been put in by the script writers.
Although “Psycho” doesn’t have much humour in it, mainly due to the fact that it is a serious horror movie, there are still parts of the film that makes you smile. One instance is the part where Arbogast the detective is murdered and falls down the stairs. It seems funny now but it would of almost certainly not have been funny when the film first came out. It makes us laugh because of the way they try to make him look as though he is actually falling down the stairs. It may have looked realistic at the time but compared to the special effects and stunts that can be done in today’s films it does not look realistic at all.
Not only was the filming and acting good in “Psycho” but it also had a great sound track. It really suited the film and added so much extra tension. It was written by Bernard Herman and really I think that he must take some of the credit of the success of the film. It was such a thrilling piece of music that caught the imaginations of many people. Every time Marion became worried or was in danger the music would begin. This was almost like a signal to tell us that something is going to happen. Not only was the music a signal to the audience but it also added tension to the scenes. The Psycho music will always be remembered almost as much as the film itself and will almost certainly be one of the most famous pieces of horror music ever composed.
Alfred Hitchcock had to be very careful of what he filmed in “Psycho” because of the censors. At that period in time they were very strict on what they would allow in the public cinemas. This was a problem for Hitchcock and so he had to edit some of the scenes like the shower scene in particular in such a way that the censors would allow it. In the shower scene he had to make sure that he did not show the knife actually going into the body, yet he still wanted to give the impression that that was happening. He used a combination of frantic shot variation, high-pitched jerky music, shots of flesh and shots of blood to give the impression to the audience that they were actually seeing the knife going into Marion’s body. The first time Hitchcock submitted the film to the censors he knew it would be rejected as he had made it very violent. This was part of his plan. He knew that if he put an extra violent version of the film into the censors first the not so violent one would seem more acceptable. His plan worked and “Psycho” was allowed.
Now that the film had been accepted Hitchcock just had to promote it. He knew that he needed as much publicity as possible to get the crowds in to watch his film. To do this he wanted to keep the story of the film a secret so that once people had watched it they would not tell others and spoil the experience for them. It would also make people curious to what was happening in the film and attract them to watch. To keep the secrecy of the film the actors had to swear an oath of secrecy on the first day of filming and Hitchcock refused and Paramount photographers onto the set to take publicity shots. Hitchcock made a series or misleading interviews to the press to confuse and to gain curiosity throughout the public. At one stage he told a reporter that he was actually filming a version of the Greek myth of Psyche, then told another, “It’s the story of a young man whose mother is a homicidal manic.” This was another of Hitchcock’s ploys to gain publicity for the film. At the end of the film there was a short film where Alfred Hitchcock would tell the audience not to reveal the ending to the film because “it’s the only one we’ve got.” He tried very hard to make the pubic feel as though they were a part of the publicity strategy.
Many people think “Psycho” was the greatest film ever. I don’t. It may have been a great film for its time, with its terrific amounts of suspense, irony and horror, but with the amount of special effects, technology and money that goes into today’s films, I feel that there are many films better than “Psycho.” When “Psycho” came out it was a scary film. But compared to today’s horror films such as “Scream. Even films that are not aimed at horror such as “Blade” contain more violence and blood than “Psycho” did. It’s all down to the censors. With the censors being less strict the directors have more flexibility with what they can put into there films.
Another point that helped “Psycho” become a successful film was the amount of hype and expectation that was brought about by Hitchcock’s short trailers that he broadcasted before the film was released. This added to the expectations and anticipations about the film in the public’s eye. Hitchcock used his great experience to give huge amounts of suspense to the film. This added to the horror of such events as the shower scene and the lead up to the Bates motel. Much time and effort was out in by Hitchcock and the cast to get the suspense, horror and irony into such scenes as the shower scene.
There is such a huge amount of suspense in Hitchcock’s films that he was given the title, the master of suspense. This gave many of his films an edge that many directors could not achieve. Even though I don’t feel that “Psycho” was the best film ever, I do think that it will always be remembered as a classic horror film which is mainly due to Alfred Hitchcock, the mater of suspense.