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'Psycho 1960' Mama Mia 22/01/2016

Figure 1: 'Psycho 1960' Poster
This film review will focus on the film 'Psycho 1960', the film was not known for its animation or graphical fidelity but its incredible writing and manipulative story that really immerses you into the film. This film is one of, if not the most iconic horror films of all time, bringing us clich├ęs such as the iconic horror music where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is murdered by the Psycho (Psycho Shower Music). The film was made in 1960, was directed Alfred Hitchcock, the screenplay was done by Joseph Stefano and the music was done by Bernard Herrman. This film is a know legend in the film industry, if there was any film to go to for inspiration for every single horror film ever made it would be this one. "What makes "Psycho" immortal, when so many films are already half-forgotten as we leave the theater, is that it connects directly with our fears: Our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police, our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of disappointing our mothers." (R Ebert. 1998)

Figure 2: Marion Crane Driving
What Psycho does really well in its situation is essentially mislead us intentionally right from the beginning, from the start we are mislead just by the camera positioning. The story starts off with our supposed main character Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stealing $40,000 (Forty Thousand Dollars) from her workplace after being asked to put $40,000 in a bank by her boss. Without any dialogue even being said we can clearly tell what the character is thinking, the camera darts between her, a suitcase and the envelope with the money. We also look at her face when she is looking at the envelope and we can not only see great fear in her but also a colossal amount of adrenaline, she had the opportunity to take $40,000 for herself and no-one was going to stop her, she figured why not take the risk as the reward is exceptionally high. From there more references are made to make the viewer believe the film is about a girl on the run with tensions running very high, her being approached by a police officer, the car dealer saying "First one of the day causes the most trouble." and the most significant one, her running into her boss as she leaves the city. So already we have this story being set up, we can get the whole picture in our heads right up until the point where she pulls over into the motel. This is the scene before she meets her gruesome demise, she is offered by the owner of the motel Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to have a meal with him. She then leaves after the meal and only about 5 minutes later she is violently stabbed to death by our 'Psycho'. Even after she has been killed and is being hidden, we are still wondering, but wait, what about the money? and then it gets dumped in a swamp only for us to either question what the hell just happened or realise that whole starting sequence with the money was nothing merely than a cleverly used diversion from what the film is about. Its in the name, its about a Psycho, not a woman who goes on the run with $40,000 dollars.

Figure 3: Norman Bates
Normans character is surprisingly well done, from the way we view him as an actual character he seems like someone with something to hide. We know from the ending of the film what kind of a person he is, a psychopath, however throughout the film we get a vibe of a man who is very innocent or child-like. Now as we know Norman is using his dead mother more or less as an excuse to murdering people, becoming his mentally unstable mother and then proceeding to clean up 'Her' victims after wards, almost like he is covering for her so she doesn't get sent to a mental hospital. One key thing to note about Norman is where he works and the conditions he is put in, its almost like solitary confinement, that could have something to do with why Norman is the way he is. He also has a rather rare hobby, taxidermy. Taxidermy is stuffing dead animals to make them in statues, whether he kills them or not is not stated in the film, but his current condition would probably take a very good guess. Taxidermy can be a very odd hobby, you are taking dead animals and stuffing, but for some reason he seems to have a very interest in birds, which is kind of ironic considering his situation. Bird are one of the few creatures that can achieve flight, not being bound to the ground by gravity so they are considered one of few animals that are 'Free'. However a bird is also an animal which can spend its entire life inside of a cage, some sort of prison, being held in by metal bars like a cell. For Norman, this hobby could actually be a very clever nod at the start of the film to what kind of person he is, being bound not by metal bars but by his mother. Something to note is how the film seems to relate to birds a lot, Marion 'Crane, the city is called 'Phoenix', Normans taxidermy, the birds eye shots and the birdcage references made by Norman. Another great example of how we can see what the character is thinking just by using the camera is a scene where Norman is being questioned by Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and from the front view Norman looks a cool as a cucumber, but then the camera pans to the underside of Normans head and we immediately see how nervous he is, having his Adams apple move up and down and his intense nervous chewing really make him look uncomfortably nervous, so yet again another excellent use of the camera. "The screenplay by Joseph Stefano is way ahead of its time in both its dialogue and construction. For those unfamiliar with the iconic shower scene (is anyone?), it would come as a huge surprise that the character of Marion, who has been established as the protagonist of the story, dies within the first hour. There are actually two murder set pieces in "Psycho," and they are both dazzlingly executed. The sequence where Arbogast is attacked as he mounts the staircase in the Bates' home is exceptionally composed and cut together, powerful enough to still creep viewers out and cause them to jump in their seats." (D Putman. 1998)
Figure 4: Mother
In the final moments of the film we can see Alfred Hitchcock at his best, giving us a plot twist and then being able to catch everyone out with an ending that is both shocking and surprising. What's more interesting to note though is how Hitchcock has to explain what actually happens in the end of the film to make up for lack of an explanation for Normans actions. Once again for the whole film we are given the false truth, Norman is protecting his mother from the outside world so she doesn't go to a mental hospital, even up to the point of the end of the film where Norman is still acting like there is something to hide, but nothing as drastic as him being the killer. "For one thing, Hitchcock no longer cheats his endings. Where the mystery of "Diabolique," for example, is explained in the most popular after-all-this-is-just-a-movie-and-we've-been-taken manner, the solution of "Psycho" is more ghoulish than the antecedent horror which includes the grisliest murder scenes ever filmed." (J Hoberman. 2010) The ending scene though is one of the more chilling moments in the film, in the final shot where the camera transitions from Normans face to a scene of the car being towed out of the swamp. For about a split second a picture of Mothers skull matches up perfectly up with Normans face, showing not only how dead he has become inside but what he has actually become, a puppet of insanity.


Hoberman, J. (2010) ‘Psycho’ is 50: Remembering its impact, and the Andrew Sarris review. 
(Accessed on 22.1.16)

Ebert, R. (1998) Psycho movie review & film summary (1960)
(Accessed on 22.1.16)

Putman, D. (1998) Dustin Putman’s review: Psycho (1960) - [TheMovieBoy]. 
(Accessed on 22.1.16)

Image Biblography

Figure 1: Psycho 1960 Poster

Figure 2: Marion Crane Driving

Figure 3: Norman Bates

Other Sources


Anthony Perkins

Janet Leigh

Martin Balsam


Shower Murder Scene Theme

Film Team

Alfred Hitchcock

Joseph Stefano

Bernard Herrman