Horror Classic, Slasher

Psycho (1960)

0 Comments 01 March 2012

 

Studio: Universal

Theatrical Release: June 16, 1960

Blu Ray Release: October 19, 2010

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

Do you remember that one girl in high school that was so beautiful, completely flawless in looks and personality that everyone loved? She was the kind of girl who was untouchable, the one that was born with a boyfriend. You knew there was never a chance in hell that you couldn’t even come close to dating her. She was walking perfection. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is that girl. No matter how hard I tried and no matter if I won the lottery and hired all the talent in the world, I could never come close to making a better film. Psycho is, by all means, perfection. No matter what kind of mood I am in or what I am doing, if Psycho is on TV, I can’t help but watch, staring at its beauty. By putting this masterpiece on blu ray is like taking that perfect girl and giving her a make over. If you own a blu ray player, Psycho better be on your shelf.

What makes Psycho so great? Why is it that every film critic seems to gush with envy and love this 52 year old film? Psycho was the film to break all barriers. This is the film that paved the way for such films as Lady in a Cage, Peeping Tom, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in terms or violence and sexuality. Every horror film to have come out since Psycho‘s release has been influenced by it one way or the other.

Psycho‘s opening is not what you expect the film to be like. It opens with a man and a woman in a hotel just finishing their afternoon lovemaking session. We know the woman Marion (Janet Leigh) is sick of messing around with this man behind everyone’s back and wants a relationship which he too desires. When Marion meets Norman Bates, the film acts as if the storyline will center around this woman caught up in a love triangle between these two men. When Marion steals money right from her bosses hand and quickly leaves work to run off with her lover, one knows that she is doing this out of passion and has not thought this crazy idea through. She changes cars as she believes she is being perused by a police officer but ends up taking refuge at an old out of the way hotel one rainy night. While most of the first half of Psycho revolves aroundMarion’s stolen money, this is the ultimate red herring. The film has nothing to do with the money nor evenMarion. It’s about Norman Bates and whenMarion is suddenly murdered by the middle of the film in the shower, the film completely does a 180. The focus is now on Norman and his hidden but obviously insane mother.

What makes Psycho stand out from Hitchcock’s other films is its low budget grittiness. It’s dark and (at the time) daring adult subject matters is something that most films at the time have never dealt with. Hitchcock’s films were murder mysteries (Vertigo, Rear Window) spy thrillers (Notorious) dramas (Rebecca) action adventures (North by Northwest) and romances (To Catch a Thief). While Hitchock is well known for being the master of suspense, it was Psycho and his television series that made him a staple in the world of suspense and horror. He followed up Psycho with the violent terror film The Birds and later on made his first R rated thriller, Frenzy. Hitchcock was proud of Psycho and loved shooting it on a shoe string budget. While at the time audiences were divided by the film (Walt Disney hated Hitchcock because of the violence in Psycho) it is now considered one of his masterpieces.

Although low budget, Hitchcock was known to try and out do himself after each film by coming up with new strange and complex shots. He would never go over the top to the point where it was entirely noticeable, but he had shots in his films that fit what was happening in the movie. He always considered story over substance (although some could argue that with Rope and Dial M For Murder, story may have taken a backseat). The opening shot where the camera moves through the city and into the hotel room, the shower scene, Det. Arbogast’s death, and Lila’s search for her missing sister are just some of the examples where Hitchcock’s direction becomes stylistic but not overly obvious or gratuitous.

Joseph Stefano’s screenplay cannot be dismissed as his amazing script (based on a subpar book by Robert Bloch) is not only tight and entertaining but adds some great character development as well as some pitch black humor. Bernard Herrmann’s now iconic score has been ripped off (listen to the score for Re-Animator) so many times that one forgets how strikingly scary it is until that shower head is turned on and Marion meets Mother for the first and last time. But with all of this talent behind the camera, would the film even be considered a classic if Janet Leigh or Anthony Perkins were not casted? Leigh earned an Oscar nomination as the troubled Marion but Perkins was completely forgotten during Oscar time. His sad, confused, troubled Norman Bates is still one of the best psycho slashers ever to grace the screen. One still feels sympathy for Norman, even after the murders have taken place. Could a different actor pull it off? I cannot even imagine anyone playing Norman but the late great Perkins. It’s a shame that Perkins died so suddenly and was typecasted in these crazy psychopath roles when he was amazing in other films like Fear Strikes Out, Pretty Poison and Ffolkes which are nothing like the Norman Bates character.

The blu ray of Psycho has never looked better. The picture is completely crystal clear while keeping the right amount of grain. While the film was low budget, Psycho will never look pristine but this is the best it has ever looked. Even the background sets and visuals look much cleaner and more crisp. The detail is also much more noticeable and watching Psycho on blu ray is like watching it for the first time.

I am happy to say that we get both a new 5.1 surround sound option and the original 1960 mono version which I am so used to. While some may love the 5.1 and its use of front, rear, left and right channels, being the purist I am, I can only watch it in mono.

Universal hits a grand slam in the special features department. Adding even more special features to the blu ray than the previous DVD. Included are:

– audio commentary by Stephen Rebello, author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho

– the feature length making of Psycho

– a featurette on the making of the new 5.1 surround sound

– a featurette on Hitchcock’s legacy with film makers like Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter and William Friedkin all talking about Hitchcock’s influence on their work

– audio interview with Hitchcock being interviewed by French film maker Francois Truffaut (this may be my favorite special feature as Hitchcock sounds so much more down to earth and isn’t trying to be hammy or campy while speaking unlike the persona he gave during his TV show)

– news reel footage on the release of Psycho

– trailers, still photos, publicity shots, etc.

I have now stared at this page for 10 minutes trying to sum up what I want to say about this blu ray. Like that perfect girl at school, I am speechless. I am crazy about this blu ray. But then again, I guess we all go a little mad sometimes.

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