Technically speaking, I have never seen Psycho – at least not in the way that rotund blonde botherer Alfred Hitchcock had intended. After all who here among us can honestly and truly say they’ve seen the Master Of Suspense’s watershed moment without knowing about the twist beforehand thanks to the fact that the DNA of the movie has seeped into the very fibres of popular culture itself – hell, even the TV show Bates Motel chugged on for five seasons while making no secret whatsoever as to what young Noman Bates’ fate was to be. It’s a far cry from Hitchcock’s orginal plan, which insisted that no one be admitted into cinemas after the movie has started, or even the sight of the director himself in the film’s trailer pleading with the audience to not give away any of the twists and turns that lay within the plot; something that would be virtually impossible today without the aid of J.J. Abrams marketing team.
And yet, maybe this is the true testiment to Psycho’s flawless legacy, that it still entertains and thrills us even though every single one of it’s twisted secrets and dark stunts has had the spotlight of 60 years of scrutiny shined into every crevice it has…


Marion Crane has done a very bad thing.
Driving out to California to meet her boyfriend she has with her $40,000 of her employers money that she has stolen with the intention of paying of debts so she can wed. As she stews over how she’s going to get away with so brazen a crime she eventually arrives at the Bates Motel, a simple establishment in the shadow of a looming, creepy-ass house on a hill. The proprietor is Norman Bates, shy, polite, mama’s boy who is obviously intimidated by his unseen matriarch but instantly shows attraction to the fetching Ms. Crane and chooses to show it by spying on her as she undresses through a peep hole in his office. As Marion steps into a shower to wash the road (and guilt) off her skin, a shadowy figure stalks into her room brandishing a kitchen knife – and with possibly the most reconizable shower scene in cinema history, what we think we know about what kind of film Psycho actually is starts to change…


Yes, I know I’m being coy about those twists that I’ve already discussed earlier but I really wanted to put out a painfully naive spoiler alert out there just in case there actually is anyone who has no idea what happens next….
So anyway, the second that shower curtain is pulled back and Bernard Hermann’s shrieking strings go into overdrive, Hitchcock engages in one of the greatest rugs pulls in his elaborate career in that the woman we’ve been following throughout the first third of this movie, the FUCKING LEAD OF THE FILM, is dead. Cut to ribbons in a scene that in it’s 78 setups and 52 edits instantly became the most memorable 45 seconds of film ever and that leaves us utterly bewildered as to what could possibly happen next as our allegiance shifts from the deceased Ms. Crane to poor, hen pecked Norman as he struggles to cover up his mother’s burst of jealous rage. It’s an audacious bait and switch (especially considering the denouement) that now has us wringing our hands for this boy as desperately tries to dispose of the body, the $40,000 macguffin revealed as an impish red herring. It bloody works too; your heart can’t help catching in your throat when Marion’s car stops sinking into the swamp for that one tooth grinding minute and when Arbogast, a bullish private investigator, Marion’s boyfriend AND Marion’s sister all arrive trying to track her down things get even worse. Of course, we’re firmly in the palm of Hitchcock’s hand at this point and the devastating final twist is as genius as it is lurid, a swinging lamp shade highlighting not only that mummified face, but also who “mother” really is…
To pick up on Psycho’s genius is to merely look at the countless films it’s inspired over the decades; be it the relentless switching of the antagonist and therefore our point of view as the plot changes as in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, or the rude fake out as who we thought was the main character falls beneath a killer’s blade (hello Drew Barrymore in Scream). Hitchcock’s streamlined story (from Robert Blotch’s pulpy source novel inspired by the crimes of Ed Gein) and intelligently planned set ups gives us far more nerve rattling pleasures than just the shower scene; Arbogast’s fateful, knife assisted, Sam Raimi-style tumble down the stairs is preceded by a ludicrously tense high shot pointing straight down at the players which fitting makes things look like the board in a game of Clue; and the final shot of mother’s corpse superimposed over Norman’s benign face may not be subtle, but it is ball-tighteningly chilling.
Yes, some complain the last scene where a psychiatrist literally spells out what and why things happened for the audience’s benefit is awkwardly clunky but I’ve always seen it as that satisfying part of a whodunit where Marple or Poirot desides to show their workings to a room full of gawking witnesses. Some more modern complaints leveled at the film concern the portrayal of both mental illness and cross dressing and all I can say to that is that the film is admittedly a product of it’s time and remember the when I actually met someone who not only hadn’t seen the film but thought it actually was a movie specifically about mental illness instead of it being a horror/thriller that drops Norman’s multiple personality disorder on us to weaponize it’s twist.
A watershed moment for cinema and possibly one of, if not THE most influential movie ever made (Brian DePalma wouldn’t have fucking career if it wasn’t for Hitchcock for a start) Psycho is a masterclass in suspense and a serious contender for the greatest horror film of all time; no small achievement considering Hitchcock knocked it off with the crew of his TV show…


But even after all these years with countless imitators, this horror/thriller is still easily the mother of them all.


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