By: Julian Spivey
Very rarely does a film come along where you can truly say “this film has changed
the world of film making forever”. In 1960 a movie came along that did just that and more. Not only did this movie change
the world of film making forever it also launched a genre that has thrived throughout the past forty-five years. That movie
is of course is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitchcock’s 1960 shocking thriller has become known as the “mother”
of the horror and suspense movie genre. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is based on a novel by Robert Bloch, who based
his story from the real life events surrounding a psychotic serial killer from Wisconsin named Edward Gein. While Gein may not be the most familiar name among
historical serial killers, his name should be well known among knowledgeable movie goers as he is the inspiration behind not
only the main character in Psycho, but also the main character in the movies Deranged (1974), The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
It is Joseph Stefano who penned the screenplay for Psycho after reading Bloch’s
1959 novel. Bloch himself became a screenplay writer for horror films after the success of Psycho penning the movies Strait
Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964), The Skull (1965), The Deadly Bees (1967), Torture Garden
(1967) and Asylum (1972) among others. Once Hitchcock read Stefano’s script he decided that he’d bring
the film to life he bought the rights to Bloch’s novel and also bought as many copies of the book as possible to get
it out of circulation, thus keeping the ending of the movie a secret. Hitchcock wanted the movie ending to be so secretive
that he even withheld the final scene in the script from the actors until it was time for it to be shot.
Hitchcock’s Psycho was made using a low budget ($800,000), but has had more
success than his higher budget films. Hitchcock also decided to due this movie in black and white, when color movies were
the “it thing”. In fact, Hitchcock’s previous movies Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and
North by Northwest (1959) were filmed in color. One reason why Hitchcock decided to do the film in black and white
is that he felt the movie was too gory for color (by future horror movie standards this film has almost no gore at all). The
decision to not film Psycho in color ends up giving the movie an eerie feeling that likely would not have occurred
if shot in color. Hitchcock also decided that he did not want a professional movie crew used for the filming of the movie
and used the television crew for his own TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962), this being a main reason
for the movie low budget.
Psycho also changed the world of film making in many other ways. For instance, the first scene of the movie
shows the female lead Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, in the middle of a lunchtime rendezvous before having to rush back
to work. Psycho is also the first movie in cinema history to show the flushing of a toilet bowl during the scene in
which Marion Crane rips up a piece of paper and flushes it down the toilet. Screenwriter Joesph Stefano wanted a toilet flushing
scene in the film so badly that he added this part later after Hitchcock told him he could not film what wasn’t written
into the script. Psycho is also one of the first movies to kill off a major star (Leigh) in the first half of the filming.
Yet another thing that makes Psycho so different is that the movies bad character Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins)
at first seems to be such a likable person, when in fact we learn later that he is the complete opposite.
It is the way that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is killed off that truly changes cinema
history forever. After conversing with Norman Bates, the owner of a rarely used motel and learning about his strange hobby
of collecting taxidermy birds, she goes back into her room and takes a shower to prepare for her night’s sleep. This
is where everything changes. First of all, the movie follows Janet Leigh throughout her shower (without showing nudity as
that would still be a few years away in film). The movie also shows Norman
as a “peeping tom” as he watches Marion Crane through a hole in his office. All of a sudden you begin to see a
shadow creeping in from behind the shower curtain. Then suddenly the curtain opens and you see a black silhouette wielding
a knife. A look of horror flashes across Marion Crane’s face as she is being stabbed multiple times (as terrifying violins
screech). After the stabbing is complete Marion’s body slowly slumps down into the shower. At last the scene comes
to an end as Marion’s blood can be seen swirling its way down the shower drain. Janet
Leigh spent three weeks on the set filming her role as Marion Crane. One whole week of her filming was dedicated to the ever-important
shower scene that lasts only forty-five seconds. The shower scene is Psycho
has gone down as probably the most parodied scene in movie history as it has been used or mocked in such movies as Phantom of
the Paradise (1974), Dressed to Kill (1980), Squirm (1976), The Funhouse (1981), Killer Tomatoes
Strike Back! (1990), Scream 2 (1997) and many more.
The ending of the film is also what makes the movie truly great. After Marion Crane and
later Detective Arbogast, played by Martin Balsam, are killed it seems as if they are killed by Norman Bates’ overprotective
mother. At the ending it is revealed that Norman Bates is in fact his mother. Bates’ mother had died years before, but
Bates just couldn’t let her go so he dug her body up from the grave and put her in a room in his mansion. Bates began
conversing with his deceased mother. Pretty soon Bates’ mother started to talk back, but in fact it was actually Bates
himself mimicking his mother’s voice and holding conversations with himself as Norman Bates and his mother. Bates even
began dressing up as his mother. When Marion Crane came to the motel Norman Bates began to fall for her, which is when his
overprotective mother side came out and killed Marion Crane. The movie comes to an end as Norman Bates has been caught and
is under psychiatric treatment as the final scene comes to an end Bates can be scene in a room alone conversing with himself
once again and in his face you can see him morphing into his mother.
Psycho didn’t just have a profound effect on the horror movie genre; it
invented the horror movie genre, and is still after forty-five years the classic horror film. Since Psycho other movies
have come along to try and steal its crown, for example, Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and many more, with their bloody, gory scenes, but it is
Psycho that will likely forever remain the greatest horror film of all-time and it is great without having all the
blood and gore of today’s horror films. Psycho will forever remain great because of its suspense and shocking
ending that can’t be beat.