60 years later and Psycho is still scaring it’s viewers and influencing the film industry (Image source: CBS News)
By Eva Blandis | @BlandisEva
The 60th anniversary of the release of Psycho is a perfect time to reflect on how the film has changed the horror genre and transformed the film industry in many ways.
There is no doubt that Hitchcock was a genius, and that his ideas were unique, but what is it that made Psycho so special? At the time, Psycho wasn’t as well-received as it is now and viewers found the film to be very graphic. People weren’t expecting to see so much horror in a Hitchcock film as it was so different from anything he had done before.
In 1960 when the film came out, C.A. Lejeune, a reporter for the Observer, blatantly talked about how the infamous shower scene was too graphic.
“There follows one of the most disgusting murders in all screen history,” she said.
This comment may come as a shock, as these days we are accustomed to violence in films. With directors such as Quentin Tarantino, it is common for films to have high levels of violence.
However, since its initial release, Psycho has been well-received and is now regarded as “immortal” by famous movie critic, Roger Ebert.
Mr Ebert also discusses in his review the effectiveness of Hitchcock only showing blood in the shower scene and not “the knife striking flesh”. Although we may consider this mild violence now, in 1960, it was thought to be very graphic.
“Hitchcock shot in black and white because he felt the audience could not stand so much blood in colour,” he said.
During the shower scene, Bernard Hermann’s clever composing also substitutes for the lack of imagery and leads the audience to imagine the worst. Despite the lack of blood and gore, Hitchcock lulls his audience into a false sense of comfort and then uses twists in the narrative to shock the audience.
Psycho proves that an audience doesn’t need graphic scenes to be frightened when watching a film; it all comes down to the audience members’ imaginations.
“It connects directly with our fears,” Mr Ebert said.
And that is true. Each member of the audience takes something away from this film that makes them second guess their thought processes. Whether it is the sense of sadness that you feel for Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), or the element of shock you felt when Marion (Janet Leigh), who appeared to be the heroin, is murdered in the shower.
For me, the most impressive thing about Psycho is that no matter how many times you watch it, you still get scared.
“These surprises are now widely known, and yet Psycho continues to work as a frightening, insinuating thriller,” Mr Ebert said.
As well as frightening, Mr Ebert is right in calling Psycho an “insinuation thriller”. By not showing the audience what is bound to happen, the audience is forced to use their imagination and automatically fear the worst. Without imagination, this film wouldn’t be as effective.
Richard Brody, a movie-listings editor at the New Yorker, describes the film as no longer controversial as society “has caught up with [Hitchcock’s] obsession.”
The obsession that Hitchcock had with the horror genre is shared widely now, which is evident from the high amount of horror films that have been produced since the release of Psycho. When watching other horror films, it is easy to find cinematic techniques and or scare tactics that were used in Psycho. Specifically, Hitchcock enhanced the shower scene with his clever use of light and shadows.
As well as influencing many modern directors, Psycho made the horror genre more popular, and has resulted in many spinoffs; one of the more popular being Bates Motel which started in 2013 and carried on for five seasons, showing what caused Norman’s murderous ways.
There is no doubt that Hitchcock’s film was ahead of its time, and he should be commended on his willingness to be bold and brave in a society that was so conservative.
Hitchcock was able to make a film that still shocks its audience 60 years later and leaves them thinking about their greatest fears. If you are one of the few people who have never seen Psycho, then I suggest that you celebrate this anniversary and watch it.