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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.63%
Average: 3.21%
Pretty Bad: 2.14%
Total Crap: 3.74%

4 reviews, 163 user ratings

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Psycho (1960)
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by MP Bartley

"In The Hands Of The Master."
5 stars

A fairly regular complaint thrown out by film critics is that a film is clearly "manipulative". That criticism always has to be tempered by the reflection that every film is manipulative, but we should never see the director's hands in action, pulling the strings, or forcing the audience and characters along a particular route. Psycho, however, is one film where its impact absolutely depends on the fact that we know Hitchcock is playing us all like puppets and he does so brilliantly.

For instance, we all know the fate of poor Marion Crane, because even if you haven't seen Psycho, you know what happens in it anyway, such is its fame in popular culture. Marion, sadly, is doomed from the minute we see her. Not so much because she's having pre-marital sex (with a divorcee, no less), but because Hitchcock gives her no other choice. Once she decides to run off with her boss's money to help solver her lover's debts, there's no turning back. The road she's on is literally a straight one. There's no crossroads, no junctions, no decisions whether to turn left or right. Her journey is always to go straight to the Bates' Motel, to Norman and his disturbed mother. Even when she's trading her car in for another to avoid detection, any chance she has of escape or of turning back is eliminated by the suspicious traffic cop watching her from across the street, boxing her in, barring her way out, unknowingly forcing her ever onwards to that fateful shower. Hitchcock doesn't shoot Psycho in widescreen, it's a cramped and confined film, with Hitchcock moving his characters as coldly as chess pieces, sacrificing some along the way for a bigger gain by the end.

Such a move is at the mid-point of the film where our protagonist violently switches from Marion to Norman. No longer are we following the story of someone who has absconded with a huge amount of cash, we're watching someone cover up a murder, and Hitchcock makes us gleefully complicit in it. We're the only other ones who know what's happened and if Norman is caught, the film is over. The longer Norman gets away with it, the more guilt we have by association, so the more we secretly take pleasure in Norman wriggling away from the net closing around him. Such is Hitchcock's mastery at pulling the strings that, up until that point, we all but forget this film must be called Psycho for a very good reason. Is it that quietly menacing traffic cop? Marion's lover? Or is Hitchcock pulling the wool over our eyes and it's Marion herself we need to keep a nervous eye on?

The main reason, I think, that Hitchcock can get away with such blatant manipulation of characters and audience sympathy is because the more you watch Psycho, the more you realise just how damn funny the film is. Pitch-black humour, but funny nonetheless. Think about it, we spend half the film with one character, half the film with another who's covering up her murder and who is ultimately revealed as the killer who dresses up in his mother's clothes. And then think about all the times we overhear Norman in screaming matches with his mother - that's Norman, arguing with himself and putting on his mother's voice. This is some seriously funny shit, and it's the biggest practical joke that Hitchcock ever pulled - making us terrified of this guy.

A great deal of the humour courses through Perkin's performance, one of the most spellbinding performances in American cinema. First of all, you notice just how nervy, socially inept, and jittery he is. Then on further rewatches, you start to pick up the sexual torment and frustration of the character, how horny he seems around Marion. Then, lastly, you realise just how comical this performance is (and I don't just mean that very last scene of his - Hitchcock sending you out with a nervous laugh and a jolt of fear at the same time). It's there in how he describes the smell of damp as "creepy", the way he chews his gum so furiously when a prying PI discovers Marion's false name in the motel register and the way he frowns at Marion and grumbles "not really" when she innocently observes that he must know a lot about birds. It's a performance that reveals new layers every time you watch him.

It's why one of my favourite scenes in the film is the scene where he and Marion share a late supper in the parlour. It's quietly disturbing enough with the pair of them surrounded by stuffed birds, but it's laced with tension as Norman rambles on and on. As he reveals that he can be unusually perceptive (noting that Marion is fleeing something), awkward, naively charming, the overriding perception is that he's an emotionally disturbed young man, with maternal problems (not the first time we've heard this, either. Marion suggests to Sam Loomis, her lover, that they turn the photo of his mother to the wall if they live together and her co-worker at the bank reveals that her mother gave her a sedative the day before her wedding. Mothers, it seems, are all cut from the same domineering, disapproving ilk). I love watching this scene, simply because so much can be gained trying to spot when Norman is in control and when Mother is just below the surface, fighting to get out.

I always like to try and work out just when it is exactly that Norman decides that Marion will be killed. After their supper when he spies upon her half-naked body? Is that the tipping point for Mrs Bates? Or what much earlier, when Norman shows Marion around her room? Notice how he can't bring himself to say the word "bathroom" to her. Simple shyness, or does he know even then what's going to happen?

It's not just Perkins' show, however. Leigh is also superb, not so much the icy blonde that Hitchcock adored, but a much more strong and capable woman, which makes her fate all the more shocking as Hitchcock shows that his characters don't have to be weak willed to be pushed exactly where he wants them. Hitchcock is clearly having a ball directing Perkins and Leigh, and his disinterest in the other characters such as John Gavin's Loomis and Vera Miles' distressed sister, Leyla, shows. Their scenes are, although not quite boring, certainly done with an unfussy haste to get back to the more interesting characters. Hitchcock has no interest in the good guys here, not when he's got Norman to play with. The exception would be Martin Balsam's Arbogast - but even with him, he's only nominally a good guy. He's a snoop, a pryer, a voyeur - and he gets exactly what's coming to him, in the second of the film's murders and it's always worth remembering that there's only two killings in the entire film.

And there's the proof that Hitchcock did it so much better with so little. 50 years on and both scenes still have the power to completely shred the nerves and send the more sensitive scurrying for cover, all aided by Hermann's intense, shrieking score. The same goes for the discovery of Mrs Bates in the fruit cellar and Norman's dramatic unmasking - although it's a scene that again gets funnier each time you see it, without ever watering down the nightmarish, terrifying, primal thrill of it.

And that, I think, is the reason that Hitchcock's Psycho still thrills, terrifies and amuses to the day, while Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake was a stillborn disaster. Van Sant read the script and saw it as a horror, while Hitchcock read it and let a big smile slowly spread across his blubbery features.

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originally posted: 11/02/09 02:11:58
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User Comments

11/13/20 bored mom A true suspense and horror classic. If you can watch only one Hitchcock film, choose this. 5 stars
12/29/18 Louise (the real one) If I could give it 6 stars - I would! A masterpiece. 5 stars
2/23/17 morris campbell a classic still thrills 5 stars
3/08/15 stanley welles gripping and irrevocably gruesome shocker played to perfection by a top notch cast 5 stars
5/18/14 SID RUMKOWSKI The character Norman Bates is a mother in this. 5 stars
2/09/12 David Hollingsworth Two words: Shower scene 5 stars
10/12/11 t. true a must see for Xfiles fans. Mind blowing how it stands the test of time. 5 stars
6/06/10 User Name Hitchcock didn't just vindicate modern horror, he created it. 5 stars
5/18/10 bla lame 1 stars
4/29/10 skittlemonkey it is an istant classic 5 stars
4/26/10 Fat Chick wonderderous for its day 5 stars
3/10/10 Richard Brandt From the opening strains of Herrmann's shrieking strings, cinema would never be the same 5 stars
11/29/09 Aaron Commareri Hitchcock is the master. 5 stars
2/10/09 lucy2 alrryt but old 3 stars
2/05/09 Anonymous. a classic. :] 5 stars
10/28/08 Hope the best horror film ever. 5 stars
9/22/08 don Masterpiece 5 stars
8/31/08 Em It was a good film and much better than the newer version, alfred hitchcock is a geniouse 4 stars
6/04/08 jared loved it 4 stars
5/22/08 haga i liked it 5 stars
2/24/08 hate it crappist movie ever 1 stars
2/15/08 gemma changed my mind 5 stars
2/13/08 chris cant be beat 5 stars
2/12/08 gemma it's ok, the film is alight could be better, as more effects would be more flashy... 3 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic An outstandingly effective cinematic experience 5 stars
12/30/07 Sugarfoot An obvious inspiration to the slasher genre. Also(Unlike said films) this is a masterpiece 5 stars
12/10/07 JANICE ITS GREAT!!!!! 5 stars
12/05/07 AVEr VEry Very good, the suspense is what makes the film. 5 stars
10/31/07 Mr G i thought i was very suspenseful for its era.... 3 stars
10/18/07 brenda cooper one of the scariest movies ever 5 stars
10/01/07 Jamie Ok-ish. There are only two kills. :l 3 stars
5/31/07 deepak i need to know abot movie story not about whts alfred thoughts but its good movie 3 stars
5/03/07 John G Hitchcock at his best, it scared the hell out of me in 1960 5 stars
4/27/07 Hitch If you found it bad pray that someday you'll have an eye for details and enough brains.. 5 stars
4/18/07 zenshark Makes other movies beg for mercy. 5 stars
4/17/07 Chris Redmond Andreanna, what a remarkably in-depth analysis. You shallow idiot.The best horror film ever 5 stars
4/16/07 R.W.Welch Best directed and best scored horror flick ever. 5 stars
3/29/07 maria compared to our movies sucked i have seen so much better it was good for its age 1 stars
2/21/07 Steve-0 This movie smelled 1 stars
2/10/07 Double M 1 of the most shocking early twists. Perkins is incredible, some of the finest acting ever. 5 stars
1/27/07 action movie fan great hitchcock classic s cary and intense best film of 1960 5 stars
12/08/06 Ron the best Horror movies are NOT slasher ones, that is what this is, still a good movie 4 stars
11/22/06 David Cohen Van Sant will never be the director Hitchcock was, no matter how many ripoffs he does 5 stars
11/14/06 alice thingy it was kwlll 5 stars
11/13/06 Dark Enchantress Great movie! One of the greatest!!!!! 5 stars
10/17/06 Isaac Baranoff If anyone claims to hate this movie, they are PATHETIC LIARS. Perfect horror classic! 5 stars
10/12/06 Audreanna it was dumb 2 stars
6/26/06 MP Bartley Nothing more than big black joke on the audience - but it's pulled off brilliantly. 5 stars
5/14/06 mr.mike hitch"s masterpiece 5 stars
2/03/06 Zack sweet 5 stars
1/20/06 Quigley this movie is downright creepy. perkins is amazing. hitchcock is a total horror genius. 5 stars
1/09/06 Allison this is probably the best movie ever! 5 stars
12/15/05 RJS Utter masterpiece! Ground-breaking work 5 stars
12/03/05 cody a classic by hitchcock flim and tension is here my friends a wonderful story 4 stars
11/05/05 Minhchau Nguyen one of the best films 5 stars
9/02/05 Zack unlike his other films but still good 4 stars
7/23/05 ty mills Hitchcock's best directing, My favorite hitch movie 5 stars
5/15/05 Joe The best horror of Hitchcock ever! 5 stars
4/08/05 Jason Kreitzer The ultimate horror classic and one of the most influential horror movies ever. 5 stars
3/25/05 dwarzel Groundbreaking--killing off main character halfway through 5 stars
1/21/05 Jason Kaul Not Hitchcock's best, but close. Still better than anything Hollywood has put out recently. 5 stars
11/19/04 screb class 4 stars
10/14/04 laura marie the ending was such a suprise! 3 stars
7/31/04 jmsynth The start of modern horror and still unsurpassed 5 stars
7/19/04 Benjamin Petrofsky The Best Slasher/Suspense Film I have ever seen! This is a must see!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
7/10/04 EricDSnider One of the greatest suspense/horror films ever made. 5 stars
7/09/04 Colin M. Demge Wow! Amazing! Chilling! 5 stars
7/09/04 J Cadiramen You just can't beat this for sheer tension! MUCH better than the remake! 4 stars
7/08/04 Denise Duspiva We all go a little mad sometimes 4 stars
6/07/04 Ryan Clark The shower scene hasn't impact, but the film has weakened slightly over the years. 4 stars
5/21/04 Sean Scanlan What a famous shower scene 5 stars
4/14/04 Magenta its not scary, its twisted, demented, and suspensful, its the gratest 5 stars
4/01/04 raymond squires brilliant 5 stars
3/23/04 Trannon Goble My favorite film of all-time 5 stars
2/07/04 Mikey T Horrible & frightening. Everything you'd want from a horror film. 5 stars
1/26/04 Eric Anthony Perkins made all the movies great.You rule dude!!! 5 stars
1/24/04 CC Classic 4 stars
12/15/03 Agent Sands No doubt one of the most innovative movies ever. A shocking masterpiece. 5 stars
12/07/03 Samuel A very good film... 4 stars
12/06/03 john it's made in 1960 (!) and it's scarier and more disturbing than anything made since 5 stars
10/10/03 Erik Van Sant This is horror history. Watch and learn. Hitchcock is a fucking genius. 5 stars
8/29/03 Dae_RaeAustin The definitive horror movie 5 stars
8/19/03 Hewdam A true classic 5 stars
8/12/03 Double G OVERATED, I HATED IT!!!! 1 stars
4/24/03 GWB missing something 2 stars
4/17/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Creepy. 5 stars
4/02/03 Zach YES. 5 stars
2/25/03 Jacob A classic Horror movie with something called Suspense. 5 stars
1/02/03 John Aster Habig A horror film with great character development & mystery well scripted,filmed&acted 5 stars
11/24/02 Kyle Way ahead of it's time. Better than most horror films that followed. 4 stars
10/29/02 Nioami Black Absolutly wicked film even though its in the 60's. 5 stars
10/18/02 holly metcalfe shit scary ,brilliant ,gr8 , 5 stars
9/25/02 sean gothman the king 5 stars
8/16/02 Shaun still holds up well 5 stars
8/08/02 I Can't Swim God I hate you teenaged a-holes who can't respect a classic like this. B&W never hurts!! 5 stars
7/08/02 JAMES WRIGHT grate moosic and good acting 5 stars
5/26/02 Hannah Ok for a 1960's film, but the remake in colour is better. 4 stars
5/25/02 Charles Tatum A little dated, but light years ahead of the remake 4 stars
4/15/02 Film Dude What started it all. Horror would be nothing ithout it. 5 stars
2/17/02 Clarance Eah... Didn't really do it for me... If i wasn't a product of the 80's It might be differen 2 stars
2/17/02 Turtle Scary, very scary. A masterpiece. 5 stars
2/17/02 Meryl Best horror movie ever. 5 stars
1/17/02 David A. Like all truly great works, it never gets outdated. A horror classic! 5 stars
1/05/02 Magnum Craphole My favorite Hitchcock, and really atmospheric. Perkins was perfect. 5 stars
12/18/01 Rampage better than that shitty 1998 remake 5 stars
12/15/01 Ian Barr This film is god. My all-time favorite, no competition 5 stars
8/27/01 spaceworm Works better that CITIZEN KANE as the first movie to show in an Intro to Film course. 5 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat Freaky. 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk The best...perfect...Do you think I'm fruity, Norman? 5 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg An imortal classic 5 stars
6/15/01 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe Anyone who does not rate this AWESOME should choke on my prostate gland 5 stars
5/31/01 Podgous A brilliant film, from a brilliant man, at the height of his brilliant career. 5 stars
3/25/01 Monster W. Kung Psycho rules... one of the best thrillers ever. 5 stars
2/17/01 Tyrone This is the original, few have actually surpassed this, Bates and the soundtrack are amazin 5 stars
2/15/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Suspenseful and terrifying without being manipulating. 5 stars
1/14/01 Gus Van Sant Hey what a good idea for a movie... 5 stars
1/13/01 Invader This movie is a true masterpiece, what an ending-years ahead of its time at least. 5 stars
1/12/01 Skip Excellent from start to finish. 5 stars
11/29/00 SP masterpiece in so many respects, but its "horror" factor is paled by today's standards 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla Watch this masterpiece, and please don't watch that fucked up remake 5 stars
11/24/00 Mic Hollywood should go back and study this one carefully before churning out any more crap. 5 stars
11/18/00 Croweater Can you believe Hitchcock was panned for this initially? I cant, its a classic. 5 stars
11/15/00 salvo toscano Vertigo's my favourite,but this film is simply great 5 stars
11/05/00 Hogarth? Beautifully made, even if it is considered one of Hitchcock's cheaper flicks. The best 5 stars
9/08/00 Gray Brilliant but lacking shocks and has a childish script 4 stars
6/21/00 Michael O"Neill simply excellent 5 stars
6/02/00 Hitch Fan This movie is certainly one of my favorite films ever. Hitchcock's direction is brilliant! 5 stars
5/31/00 Jill Deppel awesome film, never tire of seeing it, remakes never compare 5 stars
5/29/00 todd wow 5 stars
5/05/00 TIGGER The Master at his best 5 stars
5/02/00 Gus Van Sant i bow before the original!I am shit by comparison! 5 stars
5/01/00 David Rogers This shite has classic written all over it!WONDERFUL!Rent it NOW! 5 stars
4/19/00 malcolm unbelievable suspense. scary as hell w/o gore. take notes "Scream". 5 stars
3/14/00 Valerie West Very good till the last scene 5 stars
2/29/00 Bozo Indescribly fantastic; what Hitchcock contributed to movies is beyond anyone's scope 5 stars
2/06/00 Kyle Broflovski CLASSIC CLASSIC CLASSIC CLASSIC!!!!!! 5 stars
10/26/99 Jim Fagboni 5 stars
10/24/99 Christine Haftl I saw the shower sequence in my Visual Literacy class and it's still scary 5 stars
8/19/99 Matthew Bartley Awesomely scary 5 stars
7/26/99 Patshee Anthony Perkins is Best actor and Handsome ! 5 stars
6/22/99 Elizaveta A crazy mind fuck! 5 stars
6/18/99 Sara I really like it, it's well edited. 5 stars
5/26/99 iyu Perfect in every way 5 stars
4/21/99 lucas jackson an outstanding scary horroh flick,the best of its kind 5 stars
3/11/99 little jerry In the history of film there's PRE PSYCHO &POST PSYCHO.That's how important it is. 5 stars
3/08/99 BabbaBooey The best Thriller in cinema history -one of the best films EVER (the remake can bite my ass 5 stars
3/03/99 bill stanbar I hated this piece of crap 1 stars
1/24/99 Meepos. A genuine classic, Hitchcock at it's best. 5 stars
12/28/98 pedro chido 5 stars
12/08/98 Binky Perkins=unbelievably good. Should have been Oscars for all. 5 stars
12/07/98 Shadow Raider Better than the '98 version. Don't mess with it. Think classy. 5 stars
12/06/98 Johny So well done. Perkins is awesome. Remake is pathetic considering this was the basis 5 stars
11/29/98 Mike F Boring. Didn't like it. 2 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink How can anyone hate this ????? 5 stars
11/23/98 Peter OK for a 40s movie. But I've seen better. 4 stars
11/20/98 Fast Eddie The definitive film of the last 40 yrs. 5 stars
10/31/98 Silent Rob 30 viewnings deep, and I'm still seeing/reading things from it differently...EVERY TIME! 5 stars
10/15/98 {{{OZ}}} Awesome Hitchcock. The remake won't have shit on this one. It can't. Psycho is perfect. 5 stars
10/15/98 CaptNish Fuckin' Tony Perkins man!!! Fuckin' Hitch man....beautiful... 5 stars
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  16-Jun-1960 (R)

  31-Jul-1998 (12)

  02-Feb-1971 (M)

Directed by
  Alfred Hitchcock

Written by
  Joseph Stefano

  Anthony Perkins
  Vera Miles
  John Gavin
  John McIntire
  Janet Leigh
  Martin Balsam

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