Sunday, April 4, 2010

Retro Review: Psycho (1960)

Fifty years.

For fifty years, countless films have tried to emulate its formula with varying degrees of success. For fifty years, its scenes have been dissected to the point where they became separate entities. For fifty years, the screaming close-up shot of Janet Leigh's face has become the de facto cover photo for every book about horror film. For fifty years, reviews, articles, and theses have been psychoanalysing the Freud out of it. With its ubiquitous existence in the film canon, what can I write that hasn't been written already? Nothing, really. But I'm going to anyway.

Psycho is the quintessential twist movie. If you haven't seen it already, close this window and make sure that you watch it. Then read on.

So, now that you've seen it, you know what happens: girl steals money; she runs to her boyfriend; she stops overnight at a seedy motel; she gets slashed in the shower;  her sister, boyfriend, and a private investigator look for her and they suspect the owner. They couldn't be more wrong. Or could they?

Empire magazine once wrote about Gone with the Wind that it was monumental enough to be beyond criticism. Psycho should enjoy a similar accolade. But, like the former film, it is by no means perfect. In fact, it has one of the most nonsensical plots of Hitchcock's career. Its denouement is so childishly in-your-face, it never ceases to be migraine-inducing with its bluntness and idiocy. The twist is so glaringly obvious that you can't help but stop caring for the characters for their unforgivable stupidity. And you can toss out everything after the car is dealt with behind the motel.

Psycho is the greatest horror film of all time. It's not the scariest or the most clever, but it's the most complete. It is the archetype that defines the genre more than any other film, before or after. Its ominousness is almost unbearable. And its nifty little touches ...

Did you see that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) changes to a black bra when she packs up to leave with the money? Isn't it progressive of Hitchcock to let her wear the angelic white bra when (gasp!) she is canoodling with a man that she is not married to? Hasn't she been warned three times before reaching the motel by men to turn back and remedy the situation? Why wouldn't she make a sandwich instead of deconstructing what Norman has prepared for her in the parlour? She eats like bird. Of course she does, her last name is Crane! Did you see the drapes behind Arbogast (Martin Balsam) referencing the opening credits with their thin vertical lines? Did you realize that there is a dialogue-free 15-20 minutes or so in the middle of it all?

It is something to be experienced and if it's playing anywhere near you, go see it - it is re-released this month with a fantastic digital transfer. Even if you've seen it ten times already, see it as it was meant to be seen - on a huge screen, in a darkened room, and hopefully with newbies who will jump at the very scene that they know is coming.

1 comment:

DubMC said...

I wonder if the twist was less translucent when the film already came out.

I'd really like to watch this again. IS psycho the greatest horror film of all time? Is it even the greatest SLASHER film of all time? I feel a debate a-Bruing.


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