Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Other horror films: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The Birds (1963)]
In some ways, Psycho is remembered far more for just a couple of scenes as opposed to the movie as a whole. In the hour-and-fifty minute run-time, there’s only a couple a sequences that really bring the goods, which isn’t to say that this classic isn’t worth seeing, but there are portions of the film that have a far more procedural feeling, which, while enjoyable, isn’t always what I look for.
Obviously, being a fan of both the classics and of slashers, Psycho is a film I’ve seen before plenty of times, and I always loved much of it. The way Janet Leigh’s character is utilized is just ballsy and impressive, and though nowadays most people watching can tell where the movie’s going (I think certain movies out there, such as The Usual Suspects, have sort of hard-wired us to look for twists), it still carries a little shock and a lot of enjoyment.
And there’s the suspense, which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t known for for nothing. It’s hard to pin-point a favorite moment of suspense, but early on, when Crane sees her boss walk in front of her car, and do a double-take, a troubled look on his face, with the music popping up – that’s just a fantastic scene. And then there’s the police officer (Mort Mills), who is suspicious from the get-go (not that Leigh’s character doesn’t give good cause).
Some parts of the film can be almost difficult to watch because of the awkwardness. Marion Crane had obviously not done much wrong before, because she can’t lie convincingly worth shit to anyone (a car salesman is bad enough, but her performance with the cop was just embarrassing to witness). She got better once it hit her the mistake she made, but – spoilers – that doesn’t really matter, as she doesn’t live that much longer.
Janet Leigh is pretty fantastic here, though, despite the fact that she’s not really the star of the film past the half-way point. Anthony Perkins (who looks so damn young here) gives a fantastic performance – not a single complaint. Great lines (“We all go a little mad sometimes” and “…wouldn’t even hurt a fly”), and a great presence despite his slight frame. Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) I also enjoyed, despite him not really appearing much. I never loved John Gavin or Vera Miles (The Strange and Deadly Occurrence), but I have no complaints against them.
Once Crane’s character is killed in that shower scene (which is, for good reason, one of the most recognizable scenes in not just all of horror, but all of cinema), the movie enters a somewhat methodical route, with evidence being hidden and a private investigator searching for Crane’s whereabouts. It takes a little time to get back to kills, which isn’t really a problem (as that next kill, on the stairways, is great), but that section of the film was never that fantastic to me.
Make no mistake, Psycho is a great film, and certainly a great example of a proto-slasher and suspenseful thriller done right. And I love it. But The Birds is better.
This is one of the films covered beautifully by Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this classic, all you have to do is listen below.