The year is 1960. The first Birth Control pill was put on the market. John Kennedy won the presidential election and became the 35th US President of the United States. Madagascar gained its independence from France. And Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” terrified audiences across the nation. “Psycho” is considered by many one of Hitchcock’s greatest works; it is often regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Shot and produced on a very low budget (about $800,000), “Psycho” was deliberately made to look as if it were a very cheap exploitation film, starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam.
The audience is immediately thrown into a shady hotel room where two lovers, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin), are forced to meet in secret due to complications with Sam’s recent divorce. Sam is a struggling business owner and Marion is what seems to be an innocent office worker; and both of them just want to get married, but they lack enough money. This all changes when a rather wealthy insurance customer walks into the business for which Marion currently works. The man is buying a property worth the likes of $40,000, enough money that would help Sam pay off the alimony payments from his divorce with just enough left over for the two to leave town.
Marion is instructed by her boss to take the money down to the bank so that it can stored in a safe place while the transaction takes place. As one can imagine, Marion has other thoughts in her head and she ends up taking the money, all $40,000, and skips town.
After a few scenes of driving, we see her asleep in her car with a police officer standing at her window (this is a common theme in Hitchcock movies: the paranoia of police). Marion instantly believes that he suspects her of theft, and she eventually in a rather flustered way gets the officer to let her drive away. For the next few scenes, the officer is seen following her and even watches her intently as she frantically purchases a used car.
Marion is now frightened and hysterical, so she decides to stop at a rundown old motel, The Bates Motel. She is soon met by a nice young man, the caretaker and owner of the motel, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The viewer can tell that Marion believes that there is something wrong with Bates, after learning of his passion for taxidermy and hearing Mrs. Bates, Norman’s mother yelling at him. She soon seems to warm up to Bates, even feeling a little sorry for him. Marion even suggests that Norman try and move his motel to a more populous place near the main highway.
After Marion leaves for her cabin, we see Bates spying on her getting ready for her shower. We now witness one of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood history; a mysterious figure slashes Marion in the shower, killing her in the process. Hitchcock designed this scenes in an artistic manner. There is never an instance of the blade slashing skin, as we see in many modern horror films. There is also no gore and very little blood. Also, the classic score used in this scene added emphasis to the murder, almost acting as another character in the film.
Shortly after, Bates discovers the body and is taken back by the site. He seems to be confused about what to do at first, but then he decides it is best to clean up the scene of the crime by disposing of the evidence.
Marion’s sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles), becomes suspicious when she learns of her sister’s disappearance and hires a private detective, Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam). Soon, Arbogast turns up missing as well, so Lila and Sam are forced to get to the bottom of this. They learn some creepy truths of the Bates Motel and the Bates Family from the local sheriff. Because of this information they decide to make their way to the motel to see what is going on.
One of the greatest horror films of all time, “Psycho” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to thrills, mystery, suspense, and sheer horror. Many consider this a masterpiece by Hitchcock, and I would have to agree with that statement. The audience is frightened not by blood, gore, and jump scares as modern audiences are, but by the creepiness of the black and white film, the chilling dialogue, and terrifying character portrayals.
Overall, “Psycho” is a visual masterpiece and will continue to scare audiences for years to come.