Sins of Omission: ‘Psycho’ (1960)

Posted by Rod Paddock - August 21st 2012 @ 5:02 pm

These are sins before horror. I am here to make amends.

Welcome to the new Sins of Omission column here at Horror’s Not Dead. It’s not really new, it’s just renamed. Think Tide with Color Guard; same soap, new label. This iteration is going to cover a huge sin of omission: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho.

The Omission

Psycho is the the story of Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) a secretary who embezzles $40,000 from one of her employer’s customers. Marion makes a run for it, eventually checking into The Bates Motel, a roadside hotel owned and operated by the Bates family.  Marion is checked in by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Norman takes a liking to Marion, inviting her to dinner. Before dinner Marion hears an argument between Norman and his overbearing mother.

Soon after dinner we witness on of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema: the murder of Marion Crane in the shower. I have viewed this scene dozens if not hundreds of times, and it stands up to the test of time. A women at her most vulnerable is murdered by a complete psychopath. The remainder of the film is following Marion’s friends and family in their search for her. Eventually the family figures out what happened.

I have two reasons for my sin. First, I was not born when it was made, Psycho came out a decade before my birth. Secondly, and horrifyingly simply, I just never got around to seeing it.

Why It’s A Sin

Psycho is a classic film created by one of the true greats in all of filmdom. Possessing a number of controversial themes (serial murder, transvestites, adultery), Psycho was a movie far ahead of its time. Psycho was made for Universal Studios when Hitchcock’s normal studio passed on it; Psycho was too much for Paramount to handle so he had to go with another studio.

Along with the shower scene, this film is accompanied by one another truly iconic scene. I will not sin by spoiling this reveal for you dear reader. This is a chapter you must see for yourself. Before my viewing, I already knew what this reveal was and you know what? It didn’t affect my viewing one bit. As a matter of fact, knowing the reveal made watching the movie just a bit more interesting.

Apathy or Absolution?

Absolution.

Forgive me readers for my omissions. I missed a great film and I am here to raise my hands up in admission that my transgression was great.  Psycho’s greatness starts from the opening titles.  Created by the legendary Saul Bass, the title sequence for Psycho sets the tone for what we are about to witness. A frenzied pace is established quickly with horizontal and vertical lines dashing across the screen. Your heart will race a little as these titles stream across your field of view.

Part of what will make your heart race is the accompanying score. If you were going to add another lead actor to the credits, that credit would need to go to Bernard Herrmann. The score to this movie is paramount to its success and without it the film might have been very different. The string-heavy score is much like listening to a concerto created by Bach or Mozart on their angriest day; delightful yet jarring! The infamous shower scene, however, starts with no score…only running water. Then the score takes over, moves to its crescendo, and finally we’re back to only running water. The lack of score book-ending this scene is a masterstroke.

Psycho is about the lengths people will go to keep their deepest darkest secrets hidden from the light of day. Janet Leigh’s portrayal of a desperate woman with a criminal mind, brings out feelings of sympathy accompanied by scorn. Ultimately, it is difficult to feel for her position. Anthony Perkins’ creation of the meek, yet sinister Norman Bates is a testament Perkins’ commitment to his craft. Bates is the type of guy who makes your skin crawl every time you meet him. You know something is up with this man and it’s Perkins’ skill that evokes those feelings. The performances of Leigh and Perkins succeed in creating complex characters effectively.

The  story, score and acting all meld in this film to create  a true masterpiece. Do not risk eternal damnation in the pits of horror hell, see this film now, your soul demands it.

I give this film a full 5 Bloody Marys’

 

Watch the opening credits to Psycho:

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