Santikos Cine Classics Review: Psycho (1960) - NP Approved



Cast: , ,
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: USA
Genre: Horror | Mystery | Thriller

Editor’s NotesThe following article is part of our coverage of Santikos Theatres’s ongoing Ciné Classics Series. For more information on the series visit and follow Santikos Theatres on Twitter at @santikostheatre.

Well here I am reviewing Psycho.  No, NOT the Vince Vaughn one (*shudder*).  Yes, THAT one.  In my next column I plan to tackle the Mona Lisa, followed by a controversial essay in which I argue that Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is actually pretty good if you give it a chance, and wash it all down with a career retrospective on bacon and eggs.  That is to say, what in the world am I doing reviewing Psycho?  If you have a pulse and know what a movie is, you’ve presumably seen it already.  It is the film of the most famous film director to ever waddle onto a movie set.  Hitchcock’s most iconic film.  Not his best film, perhaps - critical consensus says that’s Vertigo, though I’ve always been partial to Notorious myself - but the film that more than any other represents Hitchcock’s legacy in the public eye.  Doing a traditional review seems a little odd under the circumstances, so what I’m going to offer is a reminder of some elements of the film that may have faded from memory.  Psycho really is more than that one scene, so let this act as an impetus for rewatching, or at least recalibrating its place in your mind.

You’ve probably forgotten…

What great acting the film has.  Sure there are a few stock-ish characters, but the central cast is solid.  Janet Leigh brings an openness to her role as Marion Crane that makes her untimely demise have real punch.  Of course Anthony Perkins is the real star of the show.  He looks like a boy scout, all golly gee eagerness on the surface, but he effectively brings Norman Bates’ deep disturbances to the surface.  He ticks and twitches even as he prances around with affected carefreeness.  Near the beginning he appears full of tenderness, a wounded but harmless soul.  By the end of course his demons have swallowed him up, and his sinister subconscious emerges, polished and compact as a pearl.


You’ve probably forgotten…

How effective Bernard Herrmann’s score is.  Oh sure, you remember those shrieking violin stabs, but the whole score bristles with tension and foreboding.  Hermann of course scored many of Hitchcock’s films, but Psycho remains the highest pairing of his throbbing scores with the director’s psychological explorations

You’ve probably forgotten…

The great camera work Hitchcock brings to the film.  Because Hitchcock so thoroughly mastered the art of montage, it can be easy to let his editing overshadow his choice of shots.  That goes doubly for Psycho, since the shower scene gains its iconic power from the quick, jarring editing.  The rest of the film, though, features some magnificent camera work.  From the opening crane shot, which surveys Phoenix only to dive in on a lover’s embrace, Hitchcock embraces many tools in his cinematographic toolbox.  His scenes of Marion driving in the rain brim with tension.  He also does a bang up job filming the scenes inside the Bates home, lingering on the stairs with a loving stare and occasionally filming from a top down perspective to give extra clarity to the bizarre happenings within

You’ve probably forgotten…

That the film works not just as a psychosexual thriller but also as a black comedy.  Hitchcock often milks nervous laughs from dark material, and he does an excellent job wringing out humor from Psycho’s darkness.  Great lines abound, especially near the beginning.  Hitchcock also squeezes humor from the absurdity of Norman’s situation and his interactions with “mother”.  The last line of the film, the famous “she wouldn’t harm a fly” is both chilling and deeply, cynically funny.  And of course the whole structure of the film can be seen as a meta-joke by Hitchcock, a prank akin to pulling out someone’s chair as they sit down.  I can easily imagine Hitchcock chuckling as audiences recoil in horror as Marion, the ostensible heroine, gets killed off halfway through.

You’ve probably forgotten…

That, for all it’s wonders, Psycho is not a flawless film.  There are pacing issues throughout.  The end in particular drags badly, especially after the police capture Norman.  At this point a psychologist comes in to explain all the backstory, as told to him by “mother”, the part of Norman’s mind controlled by his mother’s persona.  This speech lasts a long time and spells out all the things Hitchcock had been so careful to bury under the surface of the whole movie.  A pointed lesson that subtext often trumps text, and a warning against clunky exposition.  Thankfully Hitchcock swings back in with a perfect ending, Norman huddled in a corner as his mother dominates his brain waves.

[notification type=”star”]90/100 ~ AMAZING. Psycho is neither as perfect nor as mummified as its reputation would have you believe. Despite its shortcomings it is a classic that is gloriously alive, full of wit and terror.[/notification]


About Author

Asher Gelzer-Govatos fell in love with film in high school, where the one two punch of Lawrence of Arabia and The Third Man opened his eyes to the beauty of the filmed image. Asher is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. He lives with his wife and children in Columbia, Missouri.